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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Trump Returns to the Stage
On Monday night, less than two weeks after announcing he had tested positive for Covid-19, President Donald Trump returned to the campaign trail in Florida. The packed rally was filled with individuals who were not wearing masks, and the president appeared on stage without one. The president’s “return” comes after he refused to take part in a virtual debate with Joe Biden last week, calling it a “waste of time.”
Meanwhile, the number of cases linked to the White House continues to rise, and a USA Today investigation shows that thousands across the country might have been exposed by Trump and his staffers in recent days. But the White House has remained cagey about key information surrounding the president’s diagnosis and has refused to disclose the date and time of Trump’s last negative test. Hiding the president’s medical information has been an ongoing concern: NBC News reported that Trump had required Walter Reed personnel to sign non-disclosure agreements in 2019 and that two doctors who refused to sign were not allowed to be involved in his treatment.
White House Continues to Interfere with CDC
The New York Times reported last week on Vice President Mike Pence’s leadership of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, finding that White House officials’ sidelining of CDC scientists in March led to confusion when the CDC and the task force issued different recommended limits on the size of social gatherings. In April, Pence’s chief of staff Marc Short directed CDC scientists to soften the language in a report to Smithfield Foods on guidelines to ensure worker safety during the pandemic. Olivia Troye, a former member of the task force, said that CDC Director Robert Redfield had told her, “My scientists are telling me what I need to do,” but “I want to make sure the vice president is happy.”
The interference with scientific guidance has continued: Just last month, the CDC drafted an order requiring all passengers and employees on public and commercial transportation to wear masks. The order was supported by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, but the task force refused to even discuss it, effectively blocking it, since the administration requires the task force to sign off on all coronavirus-related policies.
FDA Releases New Vaccine Guidelines
The Food and Drug Administration released its emergency use authorization standards for prospective coronavirus vaccines last Tuesday. In September, the New York Times reported that the FDA had been planning to release the standards, but the president then indicated that the White House might not approve them, saying they sounded “like a political move.” After weeks of hold-up, FDA officials circumvented the White House and published the criteria online as part of a briefing package.
The new requirements make it unlikely that a vaccine will receive authorization before the Nov. 3 election. The FDA is now advising vaccine developers to monitor trial participants for at least two months following their final dose of a vaccine or placebo before developers apply for emergency authorization. The new standards were released after American Oversight filed Freedom of Information Act requests for them.
Trump Officials Consult Scientists Who Support Herd Immunity
Last week, Secretary Azar met with three scientists whose views align with a “herd immunity” strategy that calls for reopening the economy and limiting broad testing, but that experts say would lead to significantly more deaths among vulnerable populations. Among the three scientists was Oxford epidemiologist Sunetra Gupta, who recently said on Fox News, “Three months, maybe six is sufficient time for enough immunity to accumulate … that the vulnerable could resume normal lives.” The meeting was reportedly set up by Trump adviser and herd-immunity promoter Scott Atlas. Atlas has been criticized by Redfield and Dr. Anthony Fauci, who have both said that the U.S. population’s coronavirus susceptibility remains very high.
As Pandemic Picked Up, Vulnerable Individuals Remained Trapped in Prison
NBC News and the Marshall Project reported that of the 10,940 people in prison who applied for compassionate release from March through May, wardens approved only 156. Some wardens denied all requests, while others ignored them entirely. Many requests came from medically vulnerable persons. According to the Marshall Project, more than 140,000 people in prison have tested positive for the coronavirus.
Detainee Transfers Caused Covid-19 Spread
In a draft Department of Homeland Security report, officials acknowledged that transfers of immigrants between different Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities had “contributed to outbreaks” of Covid-19. Previously, government officials said in court that transfers have not resulted in an increase of cases at detention facilities. But investigations by NBC News and the Washington Post showed that transfers in recent months led to outbreaks that infected hundreds of people. The report also recognized that poor information-sharing and lack of social distancing within ICE facilities contributed to the spread of the disease.
Aviation Companies Fired Thousands of Workers
The House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis released a staff report on the Payroll Support Program (PSP), which Congress created to preserve aviation jobs by providing payroll assistance to companies in exchange for keeping workers employed. The report revealed that the Department of the Treasury delayed disbursing PSP funds and permitted layoffs up to the execution date of a PSP agreement, which allowed aviation companies to fire thousands of workers before receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer funds intended to protect those workers’ jobs.
SBA Allowed Millions in PPP Fraud
The Project on Government Oversight reviewed the first six months of Paycheck Protection Program fraud cases, finding that in 56 cases brought by the Department of Justice, a quarter of a billion dollars in PPP loans were fraudulently sought. The Small Business Administration failed to prevent about $113 million from being successfully obtained by those accused of fraud.
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