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National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci (R) and Stephen Redd of the Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response participate in a briefing on the latest development of the coronavirus in March 12, 2020. Photo: Alex Wong via Getty Images

Management failures among federal agencies contributed to "health and safety risks" as the U.S. tried to return citizens from abroad and quarantine them domestically at the outset of the pandemic, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said in a report requested by Congress out Monday.

Why it matters: The 13-month investigation revealed that lack of preparation led to infighting at the Health and Human Services Department (HHS) as divisions repeatedly clashed about who should oversee rescue operations, according to the report.

Zoom in: The chaotic federal response led officials to delay issuing a mandatory quarantine for travelers returning from Wuhan in January 2020. The two-day delay increased the risk of the coronavirus spreading to the community surrounding the March Air Reserve Base in California where travelers were housed.

  • Disputes over terminology also negatively affected the federal government's ability to ensure enough protective equipment for federal workers and decide who would lead rescue efforts to evacuate Americans out of China.
  • The health agencies "operated independently of each other without coordinating their efforts at March Air Reserve Base," the GAO says.

"Until HHS revises or develops new plans that clarify agency roles and responsibilities during a repatriation in response to a pandemic, it will be unable to prevent the coordination and health and safety issues it experienced during the COVID-19 repatriation response in future pandemic emergencies," the GAO wrote, noting that HHS agrees with its recommendations.

The big picture: Prior probes have already documented federal failures, including an HHS review that found health officials were told to remove protective equipment when meeting with Wuhan evacuees to avoid "bad optics," the Washington Post notes.

Go deeper: U.S. life expectancy fell by a year in the first six months of the pandemic

Go deeper

CDC: Half of U.S. adults have received one COVID-19 vaccine dose

Data: CDC; Chart: Axios Visuals

Half of U.S. adults have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and about a third are fully vaccinated, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Why it matters: COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are still on the rise, CDC director Rochelle Walensky said during Friday's White House COVID-19 briefing. With cases in many states being driven by variants, public health officials have emphasized the need to ramp up vaccinations.

Apr 19, 2021 - Health

All U.S. adults now eligible for COVID-19 vaccine

Healthcare workers getting COVID-19 vaccines on Dec. 16, 2020 in Portland, Oregon. Photo: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

All 50 U.S. states, plus Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, have made U.S. adults over the age of 16 eligible for COVID-19 vaccines, successfully meeting the April 19 deadline set by President Biden.

Why it matters: The landmark speaks to the increased pace of the national vaccination campaign, but will increase pressure on the federal government, states and pharmaceutical companies to provide adequate vaccine supply and logistics.

Apr 19, 2021 - Health

When vaccine hesitancy becomes political

Data: CDC and New York Times; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

The counties with the most vaccine-hesitant residents generally also voted for Donald Trump in 2020 by large margins, whereas the counties with the lowest levels of hesitancy generally also had fewer Trump voters.

Why it matters: Your politics don't have anything to do with whether you're vulnerable to the coronavirus if you remain unvaccinated.