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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The Pandemic’s Spread Continues in the New Year
On Jan. 1, the United States surpassed 20 million Covid-19 cases. On Sunday, Jan. 3, more than 125,000 Americans were in the hospital due to Covid-19 — a record high. The same day, 1.3 million travelers went through the nation’s airports, the highest count since last March.
As the pandemic continues to spread, the virus itself is posing new challenges. As of writing, at least four states have reported cases of a new, more contagious, Covid-19 strain (known as B117) that was first identified in the United Kingdom (and a new strain that was first identified in South Africa has been reported in the U.K. and other countries as well). Though scientists believe existing vaccines will protect against the B117 strain, more research is needed.
Vaccination Efforts Fall Short
In November, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said that 40 million coronavirus vaccine doses would be available in the United States by the end of the year. Operation Warp Speed officials later amended the goal to 20 million distributed doses. But by the final day of 2020, only around 14 million doses had been distributed, and fewer than 3 million people had been inoculated.
In the absence of an integrated federal plan, the slow distribution pace has frustrated local officials. It also runs the risk of wasting millions of doses. Currently, most Covid-19 vaccines are held in storage units that have only been cleared to store doses for 30 days, so much of this first batch will expire by late January. If vaccinations continue at the current pace, millions of doses may not be used by this date.
Inequities in the Paycheck Protection Program
A ProPublica investigation found that at least 15 large companies collectively received more than half a billion dollars in Paycheck Protection Program loans, which were designed to support struggling small businesses during the pandemic. Each of these companies applied for loans through multiple smaller companies they own, and were able to get multiple loans as a result, with one company even receiving loans for 51 entities. Additionally, data analyzed by the Associated Press showed that many minority small business owners did not receive a PPP relief loan until the program’s last few weeks in July and August.
The Trump Administration’s Misplaced Priorities
Even in his administration’s waning days, President Donald Trump continues to reject facts about the pandemic. Over the weekend, Trump falsely stated that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “exaggerated” it’s Covid-19 data, a claim that was rejected by Surgeon General Jerome Adams.
Before the holidays, Vice President Mike Pence spoke in front of thousands of people, many not wearing masks, at an indoor summit hosted by conservative youth group in Florida. Pence told the crowd, “We’re healing America.” Just a few days before the event, he had encouraged Americans to maintain social distance to mitigate Covid-19’s spread.
Trump’s administration is also rushing to finalize a rule to make permanent faster slaughterhouse line speeds in poultry plants, a policy that boosts poultry production. In April, the administration allowed 15 poultry line plants to increase line speeds, despite the fact that the faster speeds increase the risk of injury and make it difficult for workers to remain distanced.
The Eighth Report of the Congressional Oversight Commission
The eighth report of the Congressional Oversight Commission focused on the Treasury Department and Defense Department’s $700 million loan to YRC Worldwide Inc., which was made under a coronavirus relief loan program for businesses deemed critical for maintaining national security. The commission recommended that these agencies use more robust criteria and processes for designating a business as such.
Covid-19’s Toll on VA Medical Centers
ProPublica investigated the pandemic’s toll in the medical centers run by the Department of Veterans Affairs, which together comprise the nation’s largest hospital system. The investigation revealed that even as the VA publicly claimed to have sufficient personal protective equipment, hospital staff were rationing masks and re-using PPE. The agency and its medical personnel also suffered due to the depletion of the Strategic National Stockpile, which last February had less than 1 percent of the needed N95 masks. American Oversight previously wrote about documents we obtained showing that in the spring and summer of 2020, VA officials were privately acknowledging PPE scarcity while publicly claiming to have sufficient equipment.
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