American Oversight’s Covid-19 Oversight Hub provides news and policy resources relating to the investigations into the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. 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.
Latest Congressional Investigations: The House Oversight Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy has opened an investigation into all coronavirus-related federal contracts negotiated by White House trade adviser Peter Navarro, who was tasked in the spring with coordinating the administration’s efforts involving the Defense Production Act. This comes on the heels of the subcommittee’s investigation that revealed evidence of hundreds of millions of wasted dollars in a deal for ventilators, which was negotiated by Navarro. American Oversight previously published records in which Navarro circulated emails suggesting that China was “exploiting” the coronavirus pandemic.
Upcoming Congressional Hearings: The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee will hold a hearing on Wed., Sept. 9, to examine how a vaccine rollout can best meet public health needs. Also on Wednesday, the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis will discuss the necessary steps to ensure a fair and safe election during the pandemic. Links to watch both of those hearings live will be posted in our Covid-19 Oversight Tracker.
Political Pressure at FDA and CDC? The same week that the Trump administration confirmed that the United States will not join the World Health Organization’s international coronavirus vaccine effort, CDC Director Robert Redfield urged state governors to waive requirements so as to allow vaccine distribution facilities to become operational by Nov. 1. This sped-up timeline — not to mention the deadline being just two days before Election Day — has worried many health experts that safety is taking a backseat to political expediency.
Recent actions by the Food and Drug Administration have also led to questions about whether political pressure was harming the scientific independence of the nation’s science agencies. Late last month, the FDA broadened the allowed use of the experimental antiviral drug remdesivir as a treatment for Covid-19; earlier that week, FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn came under fire for using a misleading statistic to promote the use of convalescent plasma as a treatment. The National Institutes of Health has since released a statement strongly condemning claims of the efficacy of this treatment and saying that there are no trials proving that this treatment works.
Vaccine Rollout: The “when” of a vaccine is not the only question; there’s also the “who,” as any vaccine will likely not be widely available immediately after it hits the market. Many have called for taking into account racial or ethnic groups that have been hit hardest by the pandemic. Last week, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released a set of recommendations for the rollout of a vaccine, prioritizing health-care workers, people with serious medical conditions, and older adults in crowded living conditions.
Fraud in PPP Loans: In its investigation of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis found waste and fraud totaling more than $1 billion. Part of the CARES Act, the PPP was created to provide loans to small businesses struggling during the coronavirus crisis. The Trump administration’s rules only called for auditing loans of more than $2 million, which according to the subcommittee would have applied to just 65 of the more than 10,000 loans in which the companies had borrowed more than once. The subcommittee also found 600 loans went to companies that had been barred from doing business with the government. And in a deeper dive into CARES Act funding, corporate watchdog group Good Jobs First found that more than 43,000 CARES Act aid recipients have been involved in some form of corporate misconduct during the past decade.
Stay at Home: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention just announced a sweeping order to halt residential evictions until the end of this year. The ban, which many expect to be challenged in court, relies on the CDC’s public health powers to prevent the interstate spread of disease; according to the CDC, halting evictions will help facilitate self-isolation and will protect those who are more vulnerable to the virus. Although the announcement has been met with some optimism, many housing advocates and landlords say that without rental assistance, this is only a temporary solution that removes a source of income for landlords — and sets the stage for a crisis at the end of the year.
The White House’s Coronavirus Reports: The House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis released eight weeks of the White House Coronavirus Task Force’s reports from the summer, which make it clear that the White House’s dismissive messaging did not match up with the task force’s assessment of the pandemic’s spread. The reports include warnings about the increasing number of states that were reporting high positive test rates at the same time that the president kept telling reporters that the virus was going to “disappear.” This contrast is especially concerning in light of recent news that one of the president’s most trusted coronavirus advisers, Scott Atlas, has openly questioned whether mask-wearing is necessary and pushed for the CDC’s recent shift in testing guidelines.
GAO Report: Last week, the Government Accountability Office released a Covid-19 Update. The report found that as of August, the vast majority of U.S. states (38) had not met the World Health Organization’s recommended test-positivity threshold of less than 5 percent over a 14-day period. Failed policy has had real consequences: The report also cites CDC data showing that about 125,000 more people died from all causes from Jan. 1 to June 13 than would normally be expected, and economic conditions remain weak.
School’s In: School just got back in session, and there have already been huge jumps in coronavirus cases at colleges across the country. The University of Mississippi and Tulane University saw hundreds of new cases in a matter of just a few days, and have placed hundreds of students in quarantine. Many schools, like Louisiana State University and Central Michigan University, are forging ahead with in-person classes despite rapid increases in cases. Some colleges are opting to send students home, but the White House, which was instrumental in the push to bring students back on campus, is now instructing universities not to do so, warning that it could lead to renewed outbreaks.
Part of Investigation: