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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- Tues., June 15: The House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing about enhancing public health through vaccine legislation.
- Wed., June 16: The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee will hold a hearing about homelessness among veterans in the wake of the pandemic.
- Thurs., June 17: The House Education and Labor Committee will hold a hearing to examine the policies and priorities of the Department of Health and Human Services. HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra will testify.
- Thurs., June 17: The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee will hold a hearing on how to support the needs of students in higher education and safely reopen college campuses. Administrators from the University of California, Los Angeles; Xavier University of Louisiana; Miami Dade College; and Baldwin Wallace University will testify.
The Delta Variant
Experts are increasingly emphasizing the importance of vaccination in light of the spread of the Delta coronavirus variant. The variant, which was first identified in India and now accounts for about 10 percent of Covid-19 cases in the United States, puts those who aren’t vaccinated at increased risk of hospitalization and death. Health officials are worried that the spread of more dangerous variants combined with low immunization rates in certain parts of the country may result in increased hospitalizations, and in some regions, may even cause a summer surge of Covid-19.
- Novavax announced that its coronavirus vaccine candidate is 90 percent effective at preventing illness. Novavax’s candidate requires two doses and may cause more mild side effects than other vaccines.
- The Food and Drug Administration extended the expiration date of millions of Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses, many of which were initially set to expire at the end of this month. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, 21.4 million doses of the company’s vaccine have been delivered to states so far, but only 11.2 million have been administered. The federal government has temporarily halted new shipments of the vaccine to states because of this surplus.
- The Biden administration pledged to buy 500 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to donate to other countries over the next year. The first 200 million doses will be delivered by the end of 2021.
- HHS officials recently told lawmakers that they are taking steps to vaccinate the more than 10,000 unaccompanied migrant children who are in the agency’s custody. According to Politico, HHS started sending out shots last week.
New Documents: Deportations That Spread Covid-19 to Guatemala
American Oversight obtained communications from the State Department in which federal officials discussed clear cases of potential Covid-19 symptoms among migrants who were deported to Guatemala in March and April 2020. At this time, Immigration and Customs Enforcement did not adopt sufficient mitigation measures: The agency didn’t test Guatemalan migrants prior to deportation until late April, and didn’t require those aboard the flights to wear masks until May.
In the States
- Gaps in vaccination rates are growing between urban and rural areas, with rates in urban counties outpacing rural ones in nearly every state. Florida, Massachusetts, and Nebraska have the largest disparity, with rates in rural counties 14 percent lower than in urban ones.
- In recent months, Arkansas, Florida, Montana, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Utah have all passed laws that limit Covid-19 vaccine mandates.
- Around two dozen states have scaled back daily tracking of Covid-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. While most of these states are now doing five updates a week, Alabama and Kansas are releasing updates three times a week and Florida is only doing one.
- As Hawaii fully reopens to tourists, an overcrowded jail has been hit by a sudden coronavirus outbreak, with more than one-third of the jail’s occupants infected. Less than half of those incarcerated in the jail had consented to be vaccinated.
New Challenges Arise
A new CDC report showed that routine childhood vaccinations dropped dramatically during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic, causing many children and adolescents to have fallen behind on their shots. According to the report, this could pose “a serious public health threat” by enabling outbreaks of illnesses like measles and whooping cough, which can be prevented by mass vaccination.
Covid-19 in Native American Communities
As the coronavirus spread across the United States in 2020, Native American communities were disproportionately affected. As of March 2021, 1 in 390 indigenous Americans had died due to the coronavirus, a proportion far higher than other groups. These deaths have been undercounted due to data reporting gaps and racial classification errors, and the true number may never be known. American Oversight has obtained documents that show there were 159 recorded cases and 10 deaths among contractors and employees across 54 of 183 Bureau of Indian Education schools in 2020. According to the documents, some of the highest case counts were in South Dakota.
New Guidance for Workers During the Pandemic
Last week, the Department of Labor announced its long-awaited Covid-19 workplace safety rules — but opted to limit guidance only to those in the health care sector. The rules require employers to develop a virus protection plan, improve tracking of Covid-19 cases among workers, and provide workers with paid time off for coronavirus-related absences. Also last week, a task force overseeing pandemic-related policies for the federal workplace stated that federal agencies should not require their employees to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or to disclose vaccination status in order to work in federal buildings.
Oversight of VA Pandemic Programs
- Covid-19 in VA Community Living Centers: The Government Accountability Office examined the Department of Veterans Affairs’ data of Covid-19 spread among VA community living centers’ residents and staff. The GAO noted that while the VA has facility-specific data on cases among residents, the agency does not have such data for staff. Without this data, the agency lacks information on the extent of the pandemic’s toll in these centers.
- VHA’s Financial Oversight of Covid-19 Supplemental Funds: The VA Inspector General (OIG) reviewed the Veterans Health Administration’s tracking and reporting of supplemental funding from coronavirus relief legislation. The OIG found that the VA could improve on its data completeness and accuracy, noting several issues, including the department’s initial two-month delay in reporting reimbursable obligated amounts and reports that misstated overall reported obligations.
- Potential Vaccine Price Hike: Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Chris Murphy, and Reps. Katie Porter and Mark Pocan, wrote to Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla expressing concern about public statements indicating that Pfizer would significantly raise the price of its coronavirus vaccine once the pandemic subsides. The members requested that Bourla provide answers to a series of questions pertaining to the potential price hike.
- Stopping Re-Detention: Eight Senate Democrats wrote to DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Acting ICE Director Tae Johnson urging DHS and ICE to issue new guidance for all ICE field offices and facilities to not re-detain individuals who were released over Covid-19 concerns. More than 3,700 such individuals are now being threatened with re-detention.