New Trump Administration Policy Takes Coronavirus Data Away From CDC
Hospitals will no longer report COVID-19 patient information to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but will instead pass the details to a central database in Washington under a new Trump administration policy.
Going forward, the Department of Health and Human Services will collect daily reports from hospitals about the number of coronavirus patients being treated, amount of available beds and ventilators and other important statistics.
While the change is design to optimize data collection, the new database has faced some concerns, as the information is no longer open to the public.
“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,” Jen Kates, the director of global health and H.I.V. policy with the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, told the New York Times. “How will the data be protected? Will there be transparency, will there be access, and what is the role of the C.D.C. in understanding the data?”
Dr. Daniel Pollock, a medical epidemiologist and surveillance branch chief for CDC’s Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion, criticized the change, saying it glosses over the quality checks the agency performs and their longstanding relationships with hospitals.
“We have high confidence in the consistency and completeness of the data that hospitals are reporting using the [existing] system,” Pollock told NPR. “We have a long standing working relationship with the hospitals, we have means to do quality checks over the incoming data, as well as rapidly getting to hospitals where we have identified data gaps.”
An HHS spokesperson told the Times that the CDC would continue to make data public, and that the new system is designed to increase efficiency.
“Today, the CDC still has at least a week lag in reporting hospital data,” the spokesperson, Michael 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 CDC, an operating division of HHS, will certainly participate in this streamlined all-of-government response. They will simply no longer control it.”
Although, many have acknowledged flaws in the CDC’s methodology, including noting when the agency combined tests that detect active infection with those that detect recovery from COVID-19.
However, another concerned raised by the change is the privatization of data collection.
The new centralized system HHS will use is managed by TeleTracking, a private company that reaps over $50 million in sales annually.
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Washington) questioned TeleTracking’s “multimillion dollar contract” in a June 3 letter to wrote to CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield, and Robert Kadlec, the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response.
“Clear, accurate, comprehensive data is desperately needed in our fight against COVID-19. Given the importance of collecting this data as quickly as possible, I have several questions about the Trump Administration’s decision to award a multimillion dollar contract on a non-competitive basis to create a seemingly duplicative data collection system,” Senator Murray wrote.