Coronavirus Roundup: Watchdog Slams Trump-Era ‘Project Airbridge’ For Medical Supplies
There's a lot to keep track of. Here’s a list of this week’s news updates and stories you may have missed.
The Health and Human Services Department laid out on Thursday what will and will not change with the ending of the public health emergency for COVID on May 11.
For example, “dependent on supply and resources, the [U.S. government] may continue to distribute free COVID-19 tests from the Strategic National Stockpile through the United States Postal Service, states, and other community partners,” said a fact-sheet. Meanwhile, “[The Food and Drug Administration's] ability to detect early shortages of critical devices related to COVID-19 will be more limited.” Also, “reporting of COVID-19 laboratory results and immunization data to [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] will change,” which the CDC director testified about before Congress this week.
HHS also released on Thursday a letter HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra sent to U.S. governors on the final renewal of the public health emergency. Here are some of the other recent headlines you might have missed.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency announced on Thursday that COVID-19 disaster declaration incident periods will close on May 11, when the COVID national and public health emergencies end, meaning the eligibility of work and reimbursable costs will sunset. “The COVID-19 disaster declarations are the longest in FEMA’s history,” said a press release from the agency. “FEMA will arrange programmatic briefing and share webinars as well as make experts available for all stakeholders impacted by the closure. More information will be available in the coming weeks.” FEMA also posted a corresponding notice in the Federal Register.
A new watchdog report says that FEMA didn’t provide sufficient oversight for Project Airbridge, an initiative started early in the pandemic by the Trump administration to mitigate medical supply chain issues and deliver personal protective equipment to locations in need that Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner played a big part in. While acknowledging the initiative was a “potential solution” for the crisis the Homeland Security inspector general report said, “FEMA went from concept to implementation of Project Airbridge in about one week, without assessing the capacity of the distributors’ commercial supply chains.” Also, the project “appears to have had little impact in reducing critical PPE shortages for healthcare workers who needed supplies most,” said the report. “The project’s $238 million may have been better spent on other COVID-19 initiatives.” FEMA leadership agreed with the IG’s recommendations, but disagreed with some of its alleged characterizations. FEMA announced in June 2020 it was phasing out Project Airbridge.
As part of the CDC’s reorganization it has established a Coronavirus and other Respiratory Viruses Division, according to a notice scheduled to publish in the Federal Register on Monday.
The incoming CDC principal deputy director was the State of the Union guest of Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine. Nirav Shah, most recently director of the Maine CDC, will join the federal CDC in March.
Settlements and judgments under the False Claims Act, which allows individuals or non-governmental groups to file lawsuits on behalf of the federal government to protect it from fraud, exceeded $2.2 billion in fiscal year, the Justice Department announced on Tuesday, a few of which were related to COVID-19. However, “the government also signaled that it continues to take pandemic-related fraud seriously, and we expect to see increasing FCA enforcement in response to conduct arising out of the pandemic,” according to an analysis by the law firm Gibson Dunn.
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