[guest post by Dana]
What could possibly go wrong?
The Trump administration has ordered hospitals to bypass the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and send all Covid-19 patient information to a central database in Washington beginning on Wednesday. The move has alarmed health experts who fear the data will be politicized or withheld from the public.
The new instructions were posted recently in a little-noticed document on the Department of Health and Human Services website. From now on, the department — not the C.D.C. — will collect daily reports about the patients that each hospital is treating, the number of available beds and ventilators, and other information vital to tracking the pandemic.
The Trump administration defended its decision to change from what is perceived to be an antiquated system to one that would make for more efficient collection of vital data:
Officials say the change will streamline data gathering and assist the White House coronavirus task force in allocating scarce supplies like personal protective gear and remdesivir, the first drug shown to be effective against the virus.
Michael R. Caputo, a Health and Human Services spokesman, called the C.D.C.’s system inadequate and said the two systems would be linked. The C.D.C. would continue to make data public, he said.
“Today, the C.D.C. still has at least a week lag in reporting hospital data,” Mr. Caputo said. “America requires it in real time. The new, faster and complete data system is what our nation needs to defeat the coronavirus, and the C.D.C., an operating division of H.H.S., will certainly participate in this streamlined all-of-government response. They will simply no longer control it.”
While the administration claims that this will result in a more efficient system, the concern of scientists focuses on the real impact the move will have on researchers working on diseases if there isn’t transparency and access to critical data concerning Covid-19 and infection rates:
[T]he Health and Human Services database that will receive new information is not open to the public, which could affect the work of scores of researchers, modelers and health officials who rely on C.D.C. data to make projections and crucial decisions.
“Historically, C.D.C. has been the place where public health data has been sent, and this raises questions about not just access for researchers but access for reporters, access for the public to try to better understand what is happening with the outbreak,” said Jen Kates, the director of global health and H.I.V. policy with the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation.
“How will the data be protected?” she asked. “Will there be transparency, will there be access, and what is the role of the C.D.C. in understanding the data?”
But the instructions to hospitals in the department guidance are explicit and underscored: “As of July 15, 2020, hospitals should no longer report the Covid-19 information in this document to the National Healthcare Safety Network site,” the C.D.C.’s system for gathering data from more than 25,000 medical centers around the country.
Details about the new system:
The CDC currently collects coronavirus data through its system, the National Healthcare Safety Network, which tracks COVID-19 by having medical professionals register their facilities and report new cases, deaths, hospital capacity, and other pertinent information. At the outset of the pandemic, this program expanded to meet demands and track hospital capacity and COVID-19-specific patient information.
The new system, which reportedly will be used to collect the same information, is managed by health data firm, TeleTracking. Like the National Healthcare Safety Network, the TeleTracking system will rely on daily push data, meaning that hospital employees must manually enter the information. One caveat is that if hospitals are already in the habit of reporting information at a state level first, they could obtain a written release to continue that process, giving the state the responsibility of reporting on a federal level.
The root conflict seems to be one of trust, as health care professionals don’t necessarily trust the White House to freely provide what should be seen as “apolitical” data:
[F]our of the CDC’s former directors expressed concerns that the Trump administration will politicize data and continue to undermine health experts. Furthermore, information sent to the new database will not be open to the public which raises questions about how researchers, health officials, and reporters will be able to access data. Among several things that haven’t been made clear in this new system, is how the CDC will be involved and what its role will be in helping understand the data collected.
U.S. coronavirus data that was available to the public has been stripped from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website, one day after the Trump administration took control of the information… CNBC reports that HHS spokesman Michael Caputo said in a statement to CNBC that the CDC has been ordered to make the data available again. “HHS is committed to being transparent with the American public about the information it is collecting on the coronavirus,” he said. “Therefore, HHS has directed CDC to re-establish the coronavirus dashboards it withdrew from the public on Wednesday.” The CDC has yet to comment.
The data project was initiated by Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, who said back in May: “There is nothing from the CDC that I can trust.”
A reminder about Trump’s view of the CDC:
Trump’s retweet below now makes all the sense in the world, given that it came just days before the data collection switch was announced:
The CDC has also been viewed with suspicion and distrust by prominent Trump boosters, including John Cardillo to Sebastian Gorka to Fox News on-air personalities.
At the end of the day, it’s not as if CDC advisories have been fatally undermined or buried by the Trump administration or the president’s own pronouncements, right???