State audit faults oversight of $3.1 billion in coronavirus relief

State Auditor Beth Wood

The state Pandemic Recovery Office did not monitor spending of $3.1 billion in federal pandemic funds in a way that would catch misuse in a timely way, according to a state audit released Thursday.

The recovery office required recipients provide receipts and monthly spending reports with supporting documentation, the audit said. But the office did not independently verify the spending by comparing the reports to the supporting documents until November 2020, after most of the money had been spent.

Additionally, the recovery office sent out money without making sure all recipients had goals for accomplishing their objectives or ways to measure results.

In response, state budget director Charles Perusse and recovery office executive director Stephanie McGarrah said the state legislature funded the office at half the requested amount, which resulted in understaffing and a delay in full verification of recipient spending. The office established a nine-step process that balanced release of money to recipients with monitoring expenditures, they wrote. The office is adding staff in response to the audit findings.

In December, the Auditor’s Office released a report  critical of the state Department of Public Instruction’s monitoring of coronavirus relief fund spending. The audit faulted DPI oversight of the summer learning program and the school nutrition program.

The state legislature started the distributing the federal money in May 2020. Initially, federal law required it be spent by December 2020.

Thursday’s audit looked all 490 recipients of Coronavirus Relief Act money. Forty-three recipients did not report objectives, 302 of 447 reported objectives but no goals, and 57 of 145 reported objectives and goals, but had no way to measure progress, the audit said.

In their response, Perusse and McGarrah wrote that lack of staffing and funding, and the temporary nature of the recovery office contributed to the finding that performance measures “were not as robust as they could have been.”

The recovery office is set to dissolve in December.

CDC advisory panel signs off on Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for kids 12 to 15

Leading Duke pediatrician: I would definitely vaccinate my children against COVID

Good news in the battle against COVID-19 this week as the Food and Drug Administration on Monday granted Pfizer’s request to allow their vaccine to be given to 12-15 years olds under an emergency use authorization.

Dr. Michael Smith, a Duke University pediatrician and infectious disease specialist, was involved in the pediatric trials of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.

Smith told the media during a Tuesday video conference that he would trust the vaccine with his own children.

Duke University pediatrician Dr. Michael Smith

“For me personally, I have no doubts about that. I wish my children were old enough to get this vaccine. I would definitely vaccinate them,” said Dr. Smith.”But I think there’s a lot of myths and rumors out there we need to work on dispelling.”

Roughly 2,300 hundred children nationwide took part in the initial study, with half receiving the Pfizer vaccine and half receiving a placebo. Just over 100 of those children enrolled in the study got the vaccine at Duke.

“If you got the vaccine in this trial, you did not get COVID.”

If the CDC signs off on emergency authorization on Wednesday, Thursday would be the first day shots could become available for children 12 to 15 years old.

It’s worth noting in that age group, the dosage of the Pfizer vaccine will be the same as what adults have received. Also, as with adults, this will be two shots, given three weeks apart.

Side effects are similar to what has been seen in adults, a sore arm, in some cases a mild fever.

“Once we get younger, we have to slow down things down a little bit and make sure we have the right dose that is safe for younger children and effective for younger children,” Smith explained.

The Duke clinic is currently conducting a smaller trial on children younger than 12-years-old to make sure they find that right dose for a smaller person.

Once they have than answer, they will begin work on a larger randomized, controlled trial of the vaccine down to children as young as six-months.

And even with thousands of  additional young people soon eligible to get a protective vaccine, Dr. Smith believes there will not be a shortage.

“This would be a great problem to have that there’s so much demand that we run out of vaccine, but again there’s plenty of vaccine that can be made. I don’t see this being a problem down the road.”

Since March of 2020, North Carolina has recorded 39,053 (4%) COVID-19 cases in the 10-14 age group. Nearly 34,000 cases (3%) fall in the 15-17 age bracket.

Source: NCDHHS

 

Bill to block Governor from from mandating vaccinations passes state House

Measure targets powers that Gov. Cooper has never sought to exercise

Backed by Republicans, a bill that would prohibit the Governor from mandating vaccination through executive orders passed the state House Monday. The bill (HB 572) also adds a highly specific provision to the statutes governing the rule-making process of government agencies — prohibiting agencies from penalizing those who refuse to be vaccinated when the agency requires vaccination as a condition of license receipt, renewal or reinstatement.

“This bill prevents the Governor or any of his agencies from mandating COVID-19 vaccinations through executive action,” said Rep. Keith Kidwell, R-Beaufort, one of the primary sponsors of the bill, said in a statement. “This decision should be up to each individual, not the Governor.”

The bill cleared the House 74-39 Monday, welcomed by dozens of supporters of the bill who applauded at its passage, most without any face covering.

As Policy Watch previously reported, some Democrats voiced their opposition to the bill at a committee hearing. Rep. Verla Insko, D-Orange, said the executive branch has a role in emergencies such as widespread deadly diseases.

Gov. Roy Cooper has encouraged North Carolinians to seek vaccines. In an ad urging North Carolinians to claim their spots for available shots, Cooper was joined by leadership from both parties — Republican House and Senate leaders Tim Moore and Phil Berger, as well as their Democratic counterparts Robert Reives and Dan Blue, all stressing the importance of vaccination to protect public health.

Cooper set a goal of achieving a vaccination rate of two-thirds of all adults before lifting the mask mandate, according to a press release. However, he has not issued any mandates ordering any groups to be vaccinated.

Rep. Larry Pittman, a Cabarrus Republican who co-sponsored the legislation, proposed an amendment adding a section granting businesses immunity from civil lawsuits if they treat employees and customers equally regardless of whether they’ve received a vaccine approved by the FDA for emergency use.

Yet the amendment was ruled out of order and failed to be adopted.

Ken Sweet

“The vaccines need to be fully tested in experiment,” Ken Sweet, a supporter of the bill said. “It hasn’t been tested and they’ve also been eliminating all the liabilities on it.” He said he is not against vaccines in general but has not gotten any of the COVID vaccines.

The bill made headway on the same day that the FDA authorized the Pfizer-bioNTech vaccine for children ages 12 to 15, after testing its safety on 2,260 participants, including 1,131 who received the vaccine and a 1,129 control group.

More than $350B in federal recovery cash starts rolling out to states, cities, counties