American Oversight’s Covid-19 Oversight Hub provides news and policy resources to help you keep track of investigations into the government’s pandemic response. The project brings together a public documents database, an oversight tracker of important ongoing investigations and litigation, regular news updates, and deeper dives into key issues.
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‘Things Will Get Worse as We Get into January’
Last Thursday, the day after a violent mob attacked the U.S. Capitol, more than 4,000 people in the country died of the coronavirus, the highest single-day death toll to date. While hospitals across the country battle a post-holiday surge, Dr. Anthony Fauci has predicted that the pandemic will continue to worsen in the weeks leading up to the transfer of power to the new administration.
Capitol Attack Could Spread Covid-19
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield warned that the attack on the Capitol could become “another surge event,” noting that unmasked individuals were crowded together and then traveled back to their home states. Dozens of Republican lawmakers also refused to wear masks when police officers took members of Congress and staff to secure rooms during the attack, which Congress’ attending physician said could have exposed others to the coronavirus. On Monday, Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman announced she had tested positive for Covid-19.
Last week, the Food and Drug Administration recommended providers limit the use of Curative’s Covid-19 test, which has been used by Congress and several large cities, because it has the “risk of false results, particularly false negative results.” Department of Health and Human Services officials have said they are working to provide alternative tests to Congress.
States Attempt to Expand Vaccine Distribution
As vaccine distribution continues to lag behind initial goals, states across the country, including Texas, Michigan, and Georgia, are expanding vaccine access to groups beyond health care workers, such as other essential workers and those over 65. But vaccine registrations fill up within minutes, raising concerns about those left waiting. And according to CDC data, less than 20 percent of the vaccine doses distributed to nursing home residents and staff have been administered.
President-elect Joe Biden has announced a plan to accelerate vaccinations that includes releasing nearly all available doses — thus freeing up supply to provide more Americans with first doses of the vaccine. Critics of the plan say it could result in increased time between doses, which FDA officials have recommended not be changed.
Vaccine Confusion Grows
The American Hospital Association expressed concern about the vaccine rollout in a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar last week. While state health departments struggle to plan and implement a mass vaccination campaign, AHA CEO Richard Pollack said that unclear communication was hampering distribution efforts, writing, “It is unclear who is responsible for answering questions or by what mechanism all interested parties will receive the answers to these questions that should shape their actions going forward.”
American Oversight’s own investigations into the government’s pandemic response have repeatedly uncovered evidence of inadequate planning and poor communication between the federal government and states.
Amid last week’s bleak news, new research offered greater understanding of how the virus spreads and how policies impact this spread.
Pentagon Spent Millions on Faulty Ventilators
The Washington Post reported that in the spring, the Pentagon paid AutoMedx, a Texas-based company, nearly $70 million for upgraded SAVe II ventilators, even though the upgraded version hadn’t been designed yet. Moreover, previous studies had found that the existing version of SAVe II was not fit to use in a respiratory pandemic, but Defense Department medical workers were still told to use it for Covid-19 patients. AutoMedx’s co-founder advised the Trump administration on ventilator purchases.
As Workers Died, OSHA Ignored Complaints
Reuters found that the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration disregarded dozens of pandemic-related worker complaints. In at least 106 workplaces, employees reported substandard pandemic safety protocols around the time of outbreaks, but OSHA didn’t inspect 70 of these workplaces. More than 4,000 workers at those 70 sites contracted the coronavirus and 26 died. Only 12 of the 106 facilities have been penalized.
Texas Attorney General Attempted to Deprive County of Pandemic Funding
In May 2020, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton urged Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to investigate CARES Act funds awarded to Harris County, Tex. In the letter, obtained by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Paxton told Mnuchin that Harris County intended to use the funds to buy millions of mail-in ballots to help residents vote during the pandemic. Paxton publicly attempted to limit mail-in voting efforts prior to the election, and was behind the lawsuit against four states wrongfully alleging voter fraud that was quickly rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court.
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