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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Too Little, Too Late
Last week, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar acknowledged that a top U.S. health official, Dr. Nancy Messonier, was correct when she warned in February 2020 that the coronavirus pandemic could cause “severe” disruption to everyday life. At the time, Messonier’s words enraged President Donald Trump, who reportedly threatened to fire her. She was later removed from future White House press conferences. Azar’s recognition came nearly a year after Covid-19 upended the country — a year in which more than 400,000 have Americans died from the virus, millions were infected, and disenfranchised communities faced massive health and economic challenges, all while Trump continually insisted the virus would “disappear.”
In the waning days of the Trump administration, officials continued to cause confusion about the distribution of vaccines. Last week, Azar announced that the government would release coronavirus vaccine doses that had been held in reserve, leading states to expect an increase in vaccine supply. Then the Washington Post reported that no real reserve existed, as Operation Warp Speed stopped stockpiling second doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in December. Governors across the country expressed outrage about the misleading information.
Also last week, Azar claimed that the United States has built the most extensive testing system in the world, and that the federal government “got out of the way of testing.” Johns Hopkins research shows the vast majority of U.S. states are testing below levels recommended by the World Health Organization. Previous reporting and documents obtained by American Oversight have shown that federal interference delayed testing in the early days of the pandemic, when tracking the virus’ spread was especially crucial.
The administration has also made several last-minute policy changes, including announcing the lifting of a ban on travelers from Europe and Brazil (a move President-elect Joe Biden’s team has vowed to block) and enlisting private companies to review Covid-19 tests in an attempt to bypass the Food and Drug Administration, a decision that also can be rolled back by the Biden administration.
On Friday, Biden pledged to administer 100 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine in the first 100 days of his administration, as part of his broader plan to combat Covid-19. The plan includes creating more vaccination sites, broadening the groups that are eligible to receive the vaccine, and increasing equitable distribution. Biden also announced a $1.9 trillion stimulus proposal that includes $1,400 in direct assistance to some Americans and improved unemployment benefits.
Wisconsin Struggled to Obtain Much-Needed Federal Support
American Oversight published documents showing that in the spring and summer of 2020, Wisconsin health officials repeatedly requested federal assistance in obtaining personal protective equipment as the state faced critical shortages of medical gowns and N95 masks. At the same time that state officials were pleading for assistance, our documents showed that Vice President Mike Pence held events in the state that flouted local health guidelines and social-distancing measures.
Restaurant Workers in Need of Aid
The Joint Economic Committee released a report detailing the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the restaurant industry and explaining why more relief for restaurants and restaurant workers is needed. Since the beginning of the pandemic, one in four (2.5 million) of the 10 million jobs lost across the U.S. have been restaurant jobs.
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