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.
For the latest news on the pandemic, as well as updates on various oversight investigations, sign up for our weekly Covid-19 Oversight News email.
- Wed., May 19: The House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis will hold a hearing to examine the failures that led to the contamination of millions of coronavirus vaccine doses in an Emergent BioSolutions factory. Emergent BioSolutions CEO Robert Kramer and Executive Chairman Fuad El-Hibri will testify.
- Wed., May 19: The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will hold a hearing about the medical supply chain and response gaps during the pandemic.
- Wed., May 19: The Senate Finance Committee will hold a hearing to discuss “Covid-19 health care flexibilities.” Jessica Farb, the director of health care at the Government Accountability Office, and Kisha Davis, a member of the American Academy of Family Physicians’ Commission on Federal and State Policy, will be among those testifying.
- Thurs., May 20: The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee will hold a hearing on the current labor shortage in the health care workforce.
Expanding Vaccine Access
Difficulty accessing vaccines may be playing a role in slowing vaccination rates, according to a new analysis by the New York Times. In counties with high poverty rates, crowded housing, and limited transportation, individuals may lack the time and resources to get their shot, even if they want to be vaccinated. Among those Americans who are willing to get the vaccine, the higher a person’s income, the more likely the person is to be vaccinated.
The Biden administration took steps to increase access last week and announced a new partnership with ride-sharing companies Uber and Lyft, which will now provide free rides to Covid-19 vaccine sites. And the vaccine is now available to even more Americans: Last Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended the use of the Pfizer and BioNTech coronavirus vaccine in adolescents aged 12 to 15.
New Guidelines for Vaccinated Individuals
Last week, the CDC announced that fully vaccinated people can stop wearing masks outdoors and in indoor settings. Though masks must still be worn on public transportation, vaccinated people do not need to get tested or self-quarantine before domestic travel. The new guidelines state: “If you’ve been fully vaccinated: You can resume activities that you did prior to the pandemic.” Several states lifted mask mandates in light of the new guidance, and there are concerns that unvaccinated people may now also abandon mask-wearing. Some vaccinated people, in contrast, are hesitant to take off their masks at all.
Also last week, a poll published by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that only 52 percent of Americans have “a great deal” of trust in the CDC. And only 37 percent said they have a great deal of trust in the National Institutes of Health or the Food and Drug Administration.
School Air Purifiers Alleged to Release Toxic Chemicals
A new federal class action lawsuit is alleging that high-tech air purification devices made by Global Plasma Solutions (GPS), purchased by thousands of schools, don’t work as advertised and could even produce toxic chemicals. The lawsuit cited an investigation by Kaiser Health News, which found that GPS shared misleading statistics about the efficacy of its devices. The company sold the devices to school officials across 44 states, many of whom have been inundated with advertisements for similar products during the pandemic.
In the States
- Almost six months into the vaccine rollout, only 7 percent of the nearly 9 million people who have been vaccinated in Florida are Black, and only 20 percent of Black people in Florida have received the vaccine. Latinos in the state have received just 17 percent of all shots, despite making up more than a fourth of Florida’s population.
- Last week, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster issued an executive order that prevents schools and local governments from establishing mask mandates. The order also prevents any local government, state agency, or state employee from requiring residents to provide proof of their vaccination status.
- In April of this year, Robin Vos, the leader of Wisconsin‘s State Assembly, and a top Assembly official rejected an immunocompromised member’s request to work virtually, saying falsely that Covid-19 could not be transmitted through the air. The Assembly’s human resources director wrote, “As you are aware, Covid-19 is not an airborne transmitted disease.” The CDC has repeatedly emphasized that the virus is spread through airborne transmission.
New Report on Global Pandemic
Last year, the World Health Organization established the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response to assess the global pandemic response and make recommendations for the future. The panel released its report last week, which found that the International Health Regulations, a legal framework that helps governments determine how to respond to public health emergencies, constrained the WHO and that many governments could have acted faster. The report also called for international action on vaccine equity and updates to the rules governing emerging health threats.
Report: Covid-19 in Correctional and Detention Facilities
The Pandemic Response Accountability Committee published a report summarizing inspector general offices’ oversight of actions by agencies to prevent the spread of Covid-19 among those housed in federal correctional and detention facilities. PRAC noted that these facilities were not designed for social distancing, quarantine, or medical isolation. PRAC also highlighted that transporting detained individuals to other facilities increased the risk of coronavirus spread, and that Covid-19 guidance and oversight varied by facility type.
- Federal Relief Funds: The New York Times reported that lawmakers and oversight groups attempting to conduct oversight of the trillions of dollars disbursed in coronavirus relief aid are facing multiple challenges. Due to insufficient accountability in the past, experts say that the exact scale of problems and fraud resulting from the March 2020 CARES Act is now impossible to determine. Overseers have also struggled with internal disagreements and lack of sufficient data.
- SBA’s Compliance with the Payment Integrity Information Act: The Small Business Administration Inspector General contracted the public accounting firm KPMG to conduct a performance audit on SBA’s compliance with the Payment Integrity Information Act of 2019 (PIIA). KPMG reported that SBA needs to improve the accuracy of its improper payment reporting and improve internal controls to prevent improper payments. KPMG also found that SBA’s Disaster Direct Loan Program disbursements were not compliant with the PIIA.
- OPM’s Pandemic Response: The Office of Personnel Management’s Inspector General examined OPM’s plans and procedures for returning employees to federal offices during the pandemic. The OIG identified several problems, including that OPM leadership did not require workers to wear face coverings and that improvements are needed to process suspected or confirmed Covid-19 cases.
- RER Solutions Contract: The House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis wrote to SBA Administrator Isabella Guzman seeking documents pertaining to its investigation of a $750 million contract the Trump administration awarded to consulting firm RER Solutions to manage aspects of the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program. The subcommittee obtained evidence that political appointees may have substantially expanded the scope of the firm’s contract without a competitive bidding process.
- The FDA’s Covid-19 Oversight: The House Energy and Commerce Committee asked Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra to restore the FDA’s premarket review authority and oversight over Covid-19 laboratory-developed tests. In October 2020, the committee wrote to then-HHS Secretary Alex Azar expressing concern over his decision to restrict the FDA’s authority to require premarket review of these tests.
- FEMA’s Funeral Assistance Program: Sens. Mike Braun and Chuck Grassley wrote to PRAC Chair Michael Horowitz asking the committee to conduct an audit or investigation into the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Funeral Assistance Program. The senators wrote that lack of federal oversight could allow rampant fraud in the program.