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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In the States
- Coronavirus cases are again spiking in Michigan, with dramatic surges in infections among children and teenagers. Similar trends are occurring in other states, including Illinois and Massachusetts.
- A nationwide study found that most rural Florida counties reported a significant jump in deaths for 2020 but left many of them unexplained or attributed to non-coronavirus causes. As a result, more than 4,000 deaths that were likely due to Covid-19 were not counted in official tallies.
- Johnson & Johnson announced that up to 15 million of its vaccine doses made at a factory in Baltimore, Maryland, would be discarded because they didn’t meet quality standards. AP News reported that previous Food and Drug Administration inspections of the plant had found a series of quality control shortcomings.
The Changing Pandemic
Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention walked back comments made by Director Rochelle Walensky that were widely interpreted to mean that vaccinated individuals cannot spread the coronavirus. The CDC and other scientists clarified that vaccinated individuals can become infected, and it remains unclear whether they can transmit the virus to others. National coronavirus case counts have continued to increase, though the country at large is seeing diverging trends: Cases are rising in New York, for example, but dropping in California.
Now that nearly 100 million Americans have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, the Biden administration has begun developing guidelines for “vaccine passports,” which would help facilitate the reopening of certain activities. Some federal agencies, like the Department of Veterans Affairs, have already started providing vaccine passports to employees. The idea has been criticized by businesses that worry about the practicality of enforcing vaccination and by some public health experts who raise ethical concerns, and has become a subject of outrage among conservatives.
Updated CDC Guidance:
- On Friday, the CDC released updated guidance that said those who are fully vaccinated can travel within the United States without being tested before or after the travel (unless their destination requires it). The guidance also stated that vaccinated individuals do not need to self-quarantine after returning.
- In new guidance for the cruise ship industry, the CDC opted not to require vaccination of crews and passengers before U.S. cruises resume operating. The agency recommended that all crew and passengers get a Covid-19 vaccine, but did not specify a date for resumption of cruises.
New Evidence of Trump Administration Failures
The House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis released new information about the Trump administration’s contracts to procure and distribute medical supplies during the pandemic. The documents showed that then-President Donald Trump ignored an early warning from adviser Peter Navarro, who wrote a memorandum to the president in March 2020 that said the administration’s response to the crisis was “NOT fast enough.” The documents also showed that White House officials used ineffective strategies and relied on outside advisers to arrange contracts.
Also last week, the Government Accountability Office released a report examining federal contributions to the development of remdesivir, the first drug approved by the FDA to treat Covid-19. The agency found that the federal government did not receive patent rights because federal contributions to the research “did not generate new inventions.” As of December 2020, federal funding for preclinical studies and clinical trials involving remdesivir totaled about $162 million. In response, the House Oversight Committee said that remdesivir’s current price of $3,120 for a five-day treatment course was “unconscionable for a drug developed with millions in taxpayer-funded research.”
Pandemic Relief Money
- Nonprofit BailoutWatch found that 77 fossil fuel companies in the U.S. made $8.2 billion as a result of a CARES Act tax provision. Of those companies, 62 fired nearly 60,000 workers during the pandemic.
- The Treasury Assistant Inspector General for Audit sent a memorandum detailing its findings from an audit of Air Carrier Worker Support certifications under the CARES Act. The audit identified issues with the calculation of payroll amounts reported to the Treasury by passenger air carriers and contractors that do not report data to the Department of Transportation; these figures impacted the accuracy of recipient award amounts.
New Documents Reveal Lack of Covid-19 Mitigation Measures in Prisons
American Oversight received more documents from the Federal Bureau of Prisons that provide further details about the agency’s pandemic response in the spring of 2020. The documents showed that BOP officials conducted limiting testing even while knowing about the risk of asymptomatic transmission. The records also included information about BOP staffing and supply shortages early in the pandemic. Many states have lagged behind vaccinating people in prisons, even as the virus continues to spread in facilities.
Federal Pandemic Oversight
- GAO Report: The GAO released its sixth report on the federal response to the pandemic, identifying multiple ways to improve efforts. The GAO recommended that the Department of Health and Human Services ensure the complete reporting of race and ethnicity data for recipients of vaccinations and make its different sources of Covid-19 data accessible from a centralized web source.
- Commission Report: The Congressional Oversight Commission’s 11th report explored the Treasury Department’s airline industry loan program. The commission recommended that if Congress were to authorize new airline industry loan programs in the future, it should explicitly prohibit insolvent borrowers from being eligible for loans.
Federal Agencies’ Response to the Pandemic
- The Department of Interior: The Department of Interior Inspector General sent a management advisory memo that identified a “significant number” of possibly impermissible purchases through the DOI Purchase Card Program. The Inspector General also released a flash report detailing the department’s usage of the $900 million the agency received in CARES Act funds as of Jan. 31, 2021.
- The Defense Department: The Defense Department Inspector General conducted an audit that found the agency did not fully implement pandemic mitigation procedures at six of its basic training centers. The training personnel at the six locations reported they had challenges with screening and testing personnel, enforcing social distancing and mask-wearing, and maintaining the quality of recruit training due to basic training modifications.
- The Trump Administration’s Coronavirus Response: The House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis wrote to HHS, the National Archives and Records Administration, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Federal Emergency Management Administration seeking documents related to its ongoing investigation of the Trump administration’s efforts to procure and distribute medical supplies during the pandemic.
- Digital Divide: Sen. Ron Wyden wrote to Acting Federal Communications Commission Chair Jessica Rosenworcel asking that the FCC expand broadband internet access to all rural communities across the country. Wyden argued that helping communities recover economically from Covid-19 will require the country to close the digital divide and make broadband internet an essential service.