Masks sold by former White House official to Navajo hospitals don’t meet FDA standards

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox. The Indian Health Service acknowledged on Wednesday that 1 million respirator masks it purchased from a former Trump White House official do not meet Food and Drug Administration standards for “use in healthcare settings by health care providers.”

The IHS statement calls into question why the agency purchased expensive medical gear that it now cannot use as intended. The masks were purchased as part of a frantic agency push to supply Navajo hospitals with desperately needed protective equipment in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. ProPublica revealed last week that Zach Fuentes, President Donald Trump’s former deputy chief of staff, formed a company in early April and 11 days later won a $3 million contract with IHS to provide specialized respirator masks to the agency for use in Navajo hospitals.

You don’t need invasive tech for successful contact tracing. Here’s how it works.

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox. I want you to mentally prepare yourself for a phone call that you could receive sometime over the course of this pandemic: in the next few months or year. Your phone might ring, and when you pick it up, you may hear someone say, “Hi, I’m calling from the health department.” After verifying your identity, the person may say something like, “I’m afraid we have information that you were in close contact with someone who tested positive for the coronavirus.”

The person calling is what’s known as a contact tracer. As most states begin to lift restrictions on movement and people once more start to eat in restaurants, work in offices and get on public transit, these phone calls will become more frequent.

COVID-19 cases at one Texas immigration detention center soared in a matter of days. Now, town leaders want answers.

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox. It was a historic occasion for the South Texas town of Pearsall when officials broke ground in 2004 on what would become one of the country’s largest immigration detention centers. Not only would it help improve border security, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn said then, it would also bring employment to the small rural community, about 60 miles from San Antonio. Hundreds of good jobs for a region that desperately needed them.

The TSA hoarded 1.3 million N95 masks even though airports are empty and it doesn’t need them

The Transportation Security Administration ignored guidance from the Department of Homeland Security and internal pushback from two agency officials when it stockpiled more than 1.3 million N95 respirator masks instead of donating them to hospitals, internal records and interviews show.

Trump hasn’t released funds that help families of COVID-19 victims pay for burials. Members of Congress want to change that.

Democratic members of Congress are urging President Donald Trump to authorize FEMA to reimburse funeral expenses for victims of the coronavirus pandemic, citing ProPublica’s reporting about the administration’s policies.

A conservative legal group significantly miscalculated data in a report on mail-in voting

In an April report that warns of the risks of fraud in mail-in voting, a conservative legal group significantly inflated a key statistic, a ProPublica analysis found. The Public Interest Legal Foundation reported that more than 1 million ballots sent out to voters in 2018 were returned as undeliverable. Taken at face value, that would represent a 91% increase over the number of undeliverable mail ballots in 2016, a sign that a vote-by-mail system would be a “catastrophe” for elections, the group argued.

What we know — and don’t know — about possible coronavirus treatments promoted by Trump

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox. President Donald Trump’s excitement about decades-old anti-malarial drugs to treat the coronavirus has touched off widespread interest in the medications, hoarding by some doctors, new clinical trials on the fly and desperation among patients who take them for other conditions. Many experts say there isn’t enough evidence that the drugs work for the coronavirus, but at least a few say there’s little to lose in giving hydroxychloroquine to patients who are severely ill with coronavirus. “It’s unlikely to worsen COVID-19, and given that it might help …

This VA hospital cited “misleading” data to restrict mask use for healthcare workers

Hospital employees across the country have been blocked from wearing surgical masks in certain situations to protect against infection by the new coronavirus — including those they bring to work themselves. Workers at the Raymond G. Murphy VA Medical Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico, have been told not to wear face masks unless they have lingering respiratory symptoms after an illness, are under surveillance following COVID-19 exposure or are treating patients showing signs of COVID-19. 

The restriction on wearing masks comes amid widespread shortages of personal protective equipment for health workers and confusion over shifting guidelines from federal officials. Such restrictions are in place at other hospitals, but there’s no indication yet that the practice is widespread. “There is little data that wearing surgical masks in general protect[s] the wearer from becoming infected with COVID-19, while giving the wearer a false sense of protection,” Andrew M. Welch, medical center director for the New Mexico VA Health Care System, noted in a Wednesday email obtained by New Mexico In Depth and ProPublica. On Friday morning, Welch sent staff another email responding to workers’ concerns about the mask ban.

Internal emails show how chaos at the CDC slowed the early response to coronavirus

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox. On Feb. 13, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sent out an email with what the author described as an “URGENT” call for help. The agency was struggling with one of its most important duties: keeping track of Americans suspected of having the novel coronavirus.

As doctors and nurses grow desperate for protective gear, they fear they’re infecting patients

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox. Emergency room physician John Gavin can’t identify the exact patient from whom he contracted the coronavirus, but he’s confident he picked up the illness working one of his 12-hour shifts in Amite, Louisiana’s small, rural emergency room. “There were just so many people who had so many vague symptoms that any of them could have been that person,” he said. “We see a lot of viral-type illnesses.”

But Gavin, 69, is certain that before his coronavirus diagnosis on March 9, officials at Hood Memorial Hospital, where he works, hadn’t made any specific changes to protocols or procedures to protect doctors and nurses from contracting the disease.