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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- Thurs., Nov. 4: The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions held a hearing discussing the road ahead for Covid-19 response. Chief medical adviser to the president Dr. Anthony Fauci, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, FDA acting Commissioner Janet Woodcock, and HHS Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Dawn O’Connell provided testimony.
- Wed., Nov. 10: The House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis will hold a hearing in Chicago about combating vaccine hesitancy and increasing vaccinations in the city, in Illinois, and across the country. Witnesses include Mayor Lori Lightfoot and other state and local leaders.
The State of the Pandemic
Last week, the CDC formally endorsed doses of the Pfizer vaccine for children ages 5 through 11. Immunizations, which have already begun, are expected to help keep schools open and prevent an estimated 600,000 new cases from November 2021 to March 2022.
The Biden administration issued two different vaccine mandates last week, covering more than 100 million workers. Workers at companies with more than 100 employees are required to either get vaccinated by Jan. 4 or get tested weekly, and health care workers are required to get vaccinated by the same deadline with no option for weekly testing. Employers must provide paid time off for workers to get vaccinated, but are not required to pay for testing.
The new rules triggered a wave of lawsuits, including a challenge from the attorneys general of Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee against the administration’s earlier mandate for federal contractors. An additional 11 states — Missouri, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming — filed suit on Friday against the new requirements, with at least 27 states in all having filed lawsuits challenging the administration’s measures. On Saturday, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stay temporarily suspending the mandate.
Cases and deaths in the U.S. have been on the decline over the past two weeks, but the partisan gap in deaths from the virus grew faster last month than at any other point in the pandemic: In counties where Donald Trump won at least 60 percent of the vote, the rate of deaths was more than three times higher than the rate in heavily Biden counties, thanks to partisan attitudes toward vaccinations.
A recent study found that among high-income countries, the United States saw the second-steepest decline in life expectancy in 2020. Life expectancy fell by nearly 2.3 years for U.S. men and more than 1.6 years for women, a trend the researchers said was primarily driven by the deaths of young people.
The global Covid-19 death toll has officially surpassed 5 million, which experts say is an undercount of the number of people actually killed by the virus.
In the States
- Two of Florida’s largest school districts have eased mask mandates. Parents in Orange County can opt out their children from wearing a mask, and in Broward County masks are now optional for high schoolers while still required for younger students.
- Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte canceled plans for the state to run a public messaging campaign over the summer promoting vaccinations for teenagers, according to a former state health official.
Other recent headlines:
- Pfizer says Covid-19 pill cut hospital, death risk by 90% (Associated Press)
- Air Force is first to face troops’ rejection of vaccine mandate as thousands avoid shots (Washington Post)
- How Puerto Rico achieved the highest vaccination rate in the U.S. — without a political fight (Time)
- Here’s why rapid Covid tests are so expensive and hard to find (ProPublica)
- Federal government cuts ties with troubled vaccine maker, Emergent BioSolutions (New York Times)
Deborah Birx on Trump Pandemic Response
The House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis recently released transcripts of interviews with former White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx, in which Birx said that the Trump administration failed to do everything in its power to stop the spread of coronavirus and, as the subcommittee wrote, “undermined the nation’s ability to respond effectively” to the pandemic. The subcommittee conducted the interviews about the federal government’s response on Oct. 12 and 13.
Birx noted that more than 130,000 American lives could have been saved if the Trump administration and certain governors had listened to scientists and implemented mitigation measures to stop the virus’s spread. She also said that the White House’s overwhelming focus on Trump’s reelection campaign “distracted them … from the pandemic,” and discussed how Trump adviser Dr. Scott Atlas pushed for a “herd immunity” strategy during meetings with senior officials.
In the Documents: BOP Officers and Covid Testing
American Oversight obtained records from the Federal Bureau of Prisons regarding Covid-19 testing protocol for officers deployed to Washington, D.C., to respond to the racial justice protests in the summer of 2020. Emails indicate that there was no requirement that staff be tested after returning from deployment, and that out of 667 staff members who were offered a test from the BOP’s Health and Safety division, only 111 officers (16.6 percent) agreed to be tested. However, staff were provided with an informational memo about getting tested in their local communities upon returning home and may have chosen to get tested on their own.
The Pandemic in the Meatpacking Industry
The select subcommittee released a staff memo highlighting evidence that the number of Covid-19 infections and deaths among meatpacking workers at five of the largest companies was almost three times higher than previously reported, thanks to executives having prioritized profits and production over worker safety, even as infection rates soared.
The subcommittee held a hearing last week that examined how the meatpacking industry failed to put adequate preventative measures in place at the start of the pandemic, leading to deaths and illness for essential workers, their families, and their communities.
Stimulus Money to Billionaires
ProPublica obtained and analyzed Internal Revenue Service records revealing that 18 billionaires and about 250 ultra-wealthy people received CARES Act stimulus payments intended to help the middle class. Using business write-offs or large deductions, many of these individuals reported taxable income under the government’s threshold to qualify for the checks.
- The Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis sent letters to Simone Gold, the founder of America’s Frontline Doctors, and to Jerome Corsi, the founder of SpeakWithAnMD.com, seeking documents and information related to these businesses’ spreading of misinformation and facilitating access to disproven Covid-19 treatments, such as hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin. The subcommittee also sought records related to their business practices and profits, and penned a separate letter to Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan requesting an investigation into whether the online businesses violated federal law.
- A bicameral group of Democrats wrote letters asking for clear targets and an outline of steps on how the Biden administration plans to reach its goal of vaccinating 70 percent of the world’s population by September 2022. The letters were sent to the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the Office of Management and Budget.
- A group of Senate Democrats sent letters to the CEOs of three student loan servicers, asking them to correct past errors with borrowers’ accounts and to address concerns about the servicers’ preparedness for transferring millions of borrowers to new servicers. Student loan payments have been on pause for federal borrowers since March 2020, but will resume on Jan. 31, 2022.
Government Accountability Office Reports
- In its eighth comprehensive report on the pandemic, the GAO made 16 new recommendations for the federal government to implement, related to fiscal relief funds for health care providers, recovery funds for states and localities, worker health and safety, and fraud risks to unemployment insurance programs, among other issues.
- The GAO assessed federal agencies’ initial workplace reentry plans from 2020 and found that at least 10 plans did not fully address employee training on reentry, office ventilation controls, and face-covering requirements, as recommended by federal guidance. In January 2021, the Biden administration established the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force to provide guidance to agencies, which the GAO said increased clarity and oversight with regard to workplace safety planning.
- The GAO examined the new regulations granted during the pandemic allowing agencies to hire workers, and recommended that the Office of Personnel Management develop and implement a process for collecting and sharing lessons learned across agencies.
- The Departments of the Interior and the Treasury faced challenges distributing more than $8 billion in certain CARES Act funds for Native American tribes, the GAO found in a recent report. The GAO recommended that the Treasury update its tribal consultation policy, finding that the agency had to set up a new program to distribute CARES Act funds and used certain data without first consulting tribes about the data’s limitations, resulting in delays in emergency relief.
- In a review of Department of Health and Human Services programs, the GAO examined stakeholder perspectives and efforts to inform health officials, providers, and the public about vaccines. GAO learned that stakeholders found CDC education materials such as provider toolkits to be useful when addressing public concerns about vaccines, but would have preferred to receive them sooner.
- From January to June 2020, the State Department helped repatriate more than 100,000 individuals in 137 countries seeking to return to the U.S. The GAO examined the agency’s “historic” repatriation effort, and found that State did not follow some of its policies on the matter, and lacked guidance for certain aspects of this effort.
Inspector General Reports
- The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration released findings from an audit of the Taxpayer Advocate Service’s (TAS) work to assist taxpayers in response to the implementation of the CARES Act. The inspector general found that while TAS helped thousands of taxpayers with issues, it faced challenges in identifying and tracking applicable cases. Several hundred cases were misidentified or miscoded. The inspector general recommended that TAS reinforce existing employee guidance about issue criteria.
- The Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery released its quarterly report to Congress. The report, which covers July to September 2021, details the inspector general’s audit of the CARES Act’s Direct Loan Program, which gave assistance to air carriers and businesses critical to national security, as well as the Main Street Lending Program, which supported small and mid-sized businesses and nonprofit organizations.
- USDA Funding Tracker: The Department of Agriculture unveiled a tracker allowing the public to explore the sources and uses of the agency’s Covid-19 funding. It includes data on the amount of USDA Covid-19 funding enacted, budgeted, obligated, and spent.