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.
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.
- Pandemic Relief Funding: The House Financial Services Committee will hold a hearing about the Treasury Department’s and Federal Reserve’s pandemic response on Tues., March 23. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell will testify. On March 24, Yellen and Powell will report on the CARES Act to the Senate Banking Committee.
- Veterans Affairs: The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee will hold a hearing about VA compensation and pension exams on March 23. On Wed., March 24, the committee will hold a hearing about the VA’s medical supply chain during the pandemic. Also on Wednesday, the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee will hold a hearing about veterans’ mental health during the pandemic.
- Small Businesses: The Senate Small Business Committee will hold a hearing to examine the Small Business Administration’s Covid-19 relief programs on March 24. On March 25, the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis will hold a hearing about fraud in small business relief programs.
- DOJ Response: The House Appropriations Committee will hold a hearing on March 24 about the Covid-19 response at the Department of Justice. DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz will testify.
100 Million Doses
On Friday, the Biden administration announced that 100 million shots of the coronavirus vaccine had been administered since Biden took office. As more Americans are inoculated, nearly 90 percent of those who have received the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines have gotten their second shot. White House officials are facing pressure from private companies that want a standardized “vaccine passport,” which raises thorny questions about privacy and data protection.
Last week, Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, predicted that researchers would have enough data about immunizations for children 12 and under by the first quarter of 2022, allowing those inoculations to begin that year. Already, Moderna has begun studying its vaccine in children aged 6 months to 11 years.
Waiting for Vaccines in Prisons
The Marshall Project and the Associated Press reported that across the country, many correctional officers and people working in prisons have refused the coronavirus vaccine when offered. Testifying before Congress last week, Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) Director Michael Carvajal acknowledged that less than half of federal prison staff have accepted vaccines from the BOP, but said he could not compel staff to take the vaccine. Meanwhile, many incarcerated people, who have been disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus, continue to wait for a shot.
In the States
- In Oklahoma, the Chickasaw Nation and other Native tribes have opened up Covid-19 vaccine appointments to all residents of the state.
- The Georgia General Assembly approved a bill that would prevent lawsuits against businesses when a worker or customer catches the coronavirus.
- Mother Jones reported that a coronavirus outbreak at a Smithfield Foods meat-processing plant in Los Angeles County, California, that began in February 2020 has surged multiple times — with 300 cases being reported in January. Across the country, more than 80,000 meatpacking workers have tested positive for Covid-19.
- American Oversight launched an investigation into allegations of preferential treatment for wealthy supporters of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in the state’s Covid-19 vaccine rollout. We submitted public records requests to DeSantis’ office, the Florida Department of Health, and the Florida Division of Emergency Management for communications with representatives of the wealthy, gated communities that received early access to the vaccine while other elderly Floridians waited in long lines.
In the Documents
American Oversight has obtained thousands of pages of documents from the Florida Department of Health that shed light on the state’s pandemic response last spring. These documents show early disagreements between Florida health officials and officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with Florida officials having resisted using the CDC’s system to track Covid-19 data for at least one month.
The Pandemic’s Impact
- A study showed that roughly one in three Covid-19 deaths and more than 40 percent of all Covid-19 infections were associated with health insurance gaps, yet another way the pandemic has exacerbated existing inequities. By Feb. 1, 2021, 10.9 million Covid-19 infections may have been associated with health insurance gaps.
- After lockdowns and overwhelmed hospitals delayed many cancer screenings for months, the New York Times investigated how doctors are now seeing advanced cancers emerge that were not caught earlier.
- A new report showed that the CEOs of the nation’s largest real estate, investment, and private equity firms have seen their wealth increase by $24.4 billion since the beginning of the pandemic. At the same time, nearly 18 percent of American renters were behind on rent payments and owed an estimated $57.3 billion in overdue rent.
The Trump Administration’s Covid-19 Response
Last week, Vanity Fair reported that as former President Trump’s time in office ended, multiple top administration officials scrambled to receive a Covid-19 vaccine. Also last week, the CDC released a review of Covid-19 public health guidance issued under the Trump administration, concluding that multiple documents were not primarily authored by CDC staff and weren’t clearly supported by scientific evidence. The review identified three pieces of guidance that had previously been removed from the agency’s website, including one from July that downplayed the health risks of resuming in-person learning.
Report: Duplicate Loans Made Under the Paycheck Protection Program
The SBA Inspector General (OIG) found that the agency did not always have sufficient controls in place to detect and prevent duplicate Paycheck Protection Program loans. The OIG found that lenders gave 4,260 borrowers more than one PPP disbursement, with those potential duplicate disbursements totaling $692 million.
- The CDC revised social distancing guidelines for schools, saying that 3 feet of distance between students is sufficient for all elementary and most middle and high schools. The new standard would make it easier for school districts to resume in-person classes, but has sparked criticism from teachers unions.
- The Occupational Safety and Health Administration updated its interim enforcement response plan, to prioritize doing on-site workplace inspections when feasible. During the pandemic, many on-site inspections were discontinued, likely leading to missed opportunities to identify violations.
- Deaths of Incarcerated Individuals: 22 Senate Democrats urged the DOJ Inspector General to review all coronavirus-related deaths of incarcerated individuals in BOP custody since the start of the pandemic.
- Canceled PPE Contracts: The House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis renewed requests related to its investigation into a $35 million contract to provide N95 masks to the VA during the Trump administration — a contract that was canceled when the company failed to deliver any masks. The subcommittee asked for documents related to federal contracts for PPE, medical supplies, and testing supplies.
- Assessing Employment Inequities: The coronavirus subcommittee also urged acting Office of the Management and Budget Director Rob Fairweather and acting Labor Secretary Al Stewart to closely track unemployment data for vulnerable groups during the pandemic. The subcommittee asked about the metrics being used by the Biden administration to assess inequities in employment and also requested information on strategies being pursued to reduce these disparities.
- Covid-19’s Impact on FOIA: The Senate Judiciary Committee asked Comptroller General Gene Dodaro for information about how Covid-19 has impacted Freedom of Information Act processes and procedures.