Although the Obama administration actually put policies in place that prevented states from testing for COVID-19 (Trump changed that), and his administration depleted the national stockpile of respirator masks and ignored calls to replenish them… democrats have requested the Health and Human Services Department watchdog investigate the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.
After a ‘whistleblower’ filed a complaint, the dye was cast again.
A spokesperson for the HHS inspector general told the Washington Examiner that investigators will carry out at least five reviews “related to HHS’s planning and response of the COVID-19 outbreak.”
The inquiries will scrutinize issues such as nationwide hospital responses, quarantine procedures, the training and protective gear provided to front-line health workers, nursing home standards amid a disease with an exponentially more deadly effect on the elderly and the already ill, and the ability to care for illegal border crossers and refugees during a public health crisis.
The HHS watchdog will also draw up recommendations for dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.
The investigative effort will be spearheaded by Christi Grimm, the principal deputy inspector general who leads HHS’s watchdog office. The office compromises 1,600 auditors, investigators, lawyers overseeing dozens of programs run by agencies, including the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Administration for Children and Families, the Food and Drug Administration, and the National Institutes of Health — all of which have played a role in the government’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak that has rattled the U.S. health system.
There were more than 454,000 confirmed coronavirus cases around the world as of Wednesday afternoon and at least 20,500 deaths tied to the infection, according to Johns Hopkins University. In the United States, there have been over 61,000 cases, which have resulted in at least 849 deaths.
The CDC has been criticized for weekslong COVID-19 testing delays, including a botched initial effort at producing a coronavirus test kit on a large scale, with the flaws only being discovered after the tests had been sent out to hundreds of labs across the country. The replacement took weeks, although the U.S. has ramped up its testing by orders of magnitude in the past week.
Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House coronavirus task force, addressed the botched test fiasco last week.
“You know, it was a complicated series of multiple things that conflated that just, you know, went the wrong way,” Fauci said. “One of them was a technical glitch that slowed things down in the beginning. Nobody’s fault. There wasn’t any bad guys there. It just happened … We’ve got it right, now, because we’re handing much of it over to the private sector to heavy hitter companies that do this for a living. And I think what you’re going to be seeing looking forward is a major, major improvement in the availability of testing.”
Deborah Birx, the response coordinator for the White House coronavirus task force, said on Tuesday, “We are continuing to accelerate testing at a record rate,” and, “We now have 370,000 tests that have been done.”
Birx touted how “the majority of those — over 220,000 in the last eight days, which, those of you who have been tracking the South Korea numbers, put us equivalent to what they did in eight weeks that we did in eight days … We’re very proud of those numbers, but we know that we have to do more.”
An HHS whistleblower claimed last month that more than a dozen healthcare workers who evaluated the first Americans arriving back in the U.S. from Wuhan, China, where the virus originated, did not have the appropriate training or personal protective equipment to treat possible COVID-19 patients safely. The Democrat-led House Ways and Means Committee sent letters to HHS and the HHS watchdog seeking an investigation.
Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, a state hit hard early by the coronavirus including deadly nursing home outbreaks, sent a letter to the HHS inspector general last week asking for an immediate investigation “into all parts of the processes undertaken by the Department of Health and Human Services to develop, deploy, and analyze diagnostic tests.”
Murray said, “We must understand where HHS has erred in this process and implement lessons learned as soon as possible to mitigate the spread of this infectious disease and future diseases moving forward.”
The HHS inspector general’s office said its five inquiries would include: a 400-hospital study about the COVID-19 fight to help “provide HHS operating and staff divisions with timely feedback on how they can support hospitals in responding to COVID-19”; a look at whether long-term care facilities that received Medicare or Medicaid funds “complied with new federal requirements for life safety and emergency and infectious disease control preparedness”; an evaluation of how HHS staff “were deployed, trained, and protected when assigned tasks that could entail potential exposure to COVID-19”; an investigation into the “emergency preparedness and response plans and procedures” at unaccompanied immigrant children facilities; and a review of the HHS watchdog’s preparedness plans “to inform and assist HHS in its ongoing response efforts.”
Last Friday, HHS Secretary Alex Azar defended the department’s work in fighting against the coronavirus.
“In January, within two weeks of China’s notifying WHO about the virus and with only 45 cases in China, we began screening travelers from Wuhan. Then, over time, as the outbreak evolved, the president restricted travel from China, Iran, and Europe. Our health experts say that these measures have been truly effective at slowing the virus’s spread to our shores,” Azar said, adding, “We have had precious time to continue our work around vaccines, therapeutics, and other preparations, while Italy has tragically been overwhelmed with critical patients for several weeks.