American Oversight’s Covid-19 Oversight Hub provides news and policy resources to help you keep track of the 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 Weakened CDC
Last week, more than 1,000 current and former members of the Epidemic Intelligence Service within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention signed an open letter calling for the agency to play a more central role in the United States’ pandemic response. New reporting has shown just how much the White House has marginalized agency officials.
ProPublica reported that in May, officials from Vice President Mike Pence’s office ordered the CDC to publish guidelines on church reopenings that were in line with White House talking points, and had CDC officials remove any information about the dangers posed by singing in churches. Science magazine also reported that White House Coronavirus Task Force Coordinator Deborah Birx made unilateral decisions that worsened the agency’s efficiency and caused morale to plummet. Birx replaced the CDC’s hospital data tracking system with a brand-new system that runs three to four days behind, has made data collection less efficient, and has shown errors and nonsensical numbers.
The White House Sidelines Science
On Saturday, Trump adviser Scott Atlas claimed on Twitter that masks do not work in reducing the spread of Covid-19. Though Atlas’ message was removed by the site, it pointed to the prevailing rejection of scientific evidence among top White House officials. The Washington Post reported that as Atlas’ profile has risen, he has marginalized other members of the White House’s task force, including Dr. Anthony Fauci and Birx, who have advocated for dramatically increasing the nation’s testing capacity by using $9 billion that Congress had allocated for testing, but that the task force still has not spent. In a recent 60 Minutes interview, Fauci confirmed that the administration has restricted his media appearances. Additionally, American Oversight recently published emails that provide new details of how political appointees have interfered with HHS public communications.
FDA Resists Politicization
After releasing emergency use authorization standards for prospective coronavirus vaccines despite White House opposition, officials at the Food and Drug Administration are once again facing pressure from Trump officials who want the emergency authorization to be rebranded as a “pre-licensure.” They argue that this would allow Medicare to cover the cost of the vaccine (Congress has only mandated that Medicare cover the cost of a licensed vaccine). But FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn and other senior officials are opposing the change over fears that the move would appear politicized and would conflate the emergency use authorization with full licensing, which requires substantially higher standards.
Congressional Oversight Commission Releases Fifth Report
The New York Times reported that partisan disagreements delayed for weeks the Congressional Oversight Commission’s September report, which was finally released last Friday. The commission was created to monitor $500 billion in federal aid as appropriated in the CARES Act, which included mandatory monthly reports.
The report — and the disagreement — focused on the implementation of the Municipal Liquidity Facility, which was created by the Federal Reserve to support state governments during the pandemic but which Democrats argue has been under-utilized because of high interest rates. The report noted that the MLF calmed the municipal markets and provided an emergency backstop, but also detailed changes that could be made, such as extending it into 2021, lowering interest rates, expanding the number of eligible borrowers, and offering more flexibility on loan use. The report referenced a commission hearing focused on the MLF at which three out of four witnesses backed the recommended changes, which are also supported by a broad coalition representing state and local governments.
House Report Shows PPP Favored Wealthy Customers
The House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis released a staff report providing preliminary findings from the subcommittee’s ongoing investigation of the implementation of the Paycheck Protection Program. The report discussed how the Treasury Department and Small Business Administration encouraged big banks to provide loans to their wealthy, existing clients, often excluding minority- and women-owned businesses in the process. The investigation also revealed that several lenders processed bigger PPP loans for wealthy customers at more than twice the speed of smaller loans for the neediest small businesses.
Is The Secret Service Social Distancing?
The Project on Government Oversight investigated the U.S. Secret Service’s safety precautions during the pandemic, raising questions about the degree of care taken by the Secret Service to prevent the virus from spreading. Based on communications with the Secret Service, requests for information, the agency’s social media posts, and other evidence, POGO found that personnel often failed to comply with masking and social-distancing guidelines, endangering colleagues and individuals with whom they interacted.
In July, American Oversight asked the Secret Service for any assessments of how the travel of the president and the vice president was affecting the spread of the coronavirus among Secret Service officers. The agency responded in August that it found no responsive records.
Prison Factories Spread Covid-19
The Los Angeles Times reported that in California, thousands of incarcerated people continued cleaning, cooking, and making products like masks and hand sanitizers in factories as the pandemic raged on. Many were housed in different units but were brought to work in the same factory, and those who were exposed to the virus were made to keep working. Thousands of people across the California prison system were infected as a result.
The Death Toll of Covid-19
New CDC reports have shown the disproportionate toll that the coronavirus is taking on people of color in the United States. An analysis focused on coronavirus deaths in the months of May through August found that Black Americans made up almost 19 percent of deaths, despite being only 12 percent of the U.S. population, and Hispanic Americans (18 percent of the population) made up 24 percent of these deaths. Another report showed that almost all the children who have died from the coronavirus are Black or Hispanic.
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