CDC No Longer In Charge Of The Nation’s Covid-19 Data

July 10, 2020

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has issued new orders requiring hospitals to send COVID-19 data directly to the agency, rather than to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which normally compiles the information.

These orders, posted on the HHS website, direct hospitals to send daily data on their reports of the previous day’s total number of COVID-19 patients, admissions, and related deaths, as well as information on their ICU bed occupancy rates, ventilators used, staffing shortages, and personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies. Previously, the CDC collected and shared such data on a publicly available database.

“A new, faster, and more complete data system is what our nation needs to beat the coronavirus,” HHS spokesman Michael R. Caputo told The New York Times.” The CDC, an operating arm of HHS, will certainly be involved in this streamlined, government-wide response. They just will no longer control it.” The order went into effect on Wednesday (July 15).

But some health experts have raised concerns that the change will limit the amount of data available to the public, including scientists and health officials, at a time when COVID-19 cases continue to spike in many states.

And, in fact, the immediate impact of the order became apparent when the CDC pulled data on U.S. hospital capacity from its website, according to ProPublica.The swift change, implemented July 15, prompted U.S. Congressman and former CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden to call for the data to be restored and for transparency to be maintained into the future.

“Covidien” broke out in Arizona, Texas, South Carolina, Florida and other states. And the government has chosen to sideline the CDC. Where did that data go?” Frieden wrote in a tweet on the morning of July 16. By noon, ProPublica reported, the CDC had restored the old data to its website, noting that they hadn’t been updated since July 14. Notably, the CDC explained that the published numbers “do not include data submitted to other entities contracted by the federal government or within the federal government” – meaning that the current statistics do not include any information that the federal government is now directing to be sent to HHS.

Time will tell if and how HHS makes its database available to the public, but in the meantime, some experts are expressing serious concerns about the shift.

“Only the CDC has the expertise to collect the data,” Rep. Donna E. Shalala of Florida, who served as health secretary under former President Bill Clinton, told the Times.” I think any move to take responsibility away from someone who has the expertise is politicized.”

The Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA), a national organization of doctors, scientists and public health experts, expressed similar views in a statement written by its president, Dr. Thomas Phillip Jr.

File wrote, “Placing medical data collection outside the leadership of public health experts could severely weaken the quality and availability of data, place additional burdens on already overburdened hospitals, and add new challenges to pandemic response efforts in the United States.”

Dr. Janis Orlowski, the chief medical officer of the Association of American Medical Colleges, attended a meeting prior to the new HHS order, and Orlowski told the Times that at the meeting between hospital administrators and Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, there was “verbal discussion” about making the data available to the public, or at least through the HHS provides data to hospitals. She called the order a “sincere effort to simplify and improve data collection.”

The new database, managed by a health data company called TeleTracking, will rely on hospital administrators to enter data manually – similar to the CDC’s National Healthcare Safety Network, which collects COVID-19 information – until the new order takes effect Wednesday. Experts say this manual entry method is cumbersome.

“The whole thing needs to be scrapped and started over,” Dr. Dan Hanfling, a healthcare and disaster preparedness expert and vice president of In-Q-Tel, a nonprofit strategic investment firm focused on national security, told The New York Times. According to the agency’s statement, HHS could set up an electronic system to automatically collect data from hospitals; it plans to eventually move from a “manual entry process to an automated one to ultimately ease the burden of data collection.”

“It’s ridiculous that this administration can’t find the ability to bring 21st century data management technology into the fight,” Hanfling said.

Instead of switching to the new HHS database, “the government should provide funding to support data collection and should enhance the CDC’s role in collecting and reporting COVID-19 data by race and ethnicity, hospital and ICU capacity, total number of tests and percentage of positives, hospitalizations and deaths,” File wrote in the IDSA statement.

Hospital representatives agreed that the process of sending data to the CDC has been cumbersome so far and could use improvement. Rush University Medical Center in Chicago needs four full-time employees on hand to send COVID-19 data to four different institutions, Dr. Bala N. Hota, the hospital’s chief analytics officer, told The New York Times. The reports, which include more than 100 different data points, help determine what resources the hospital will receive from the federal government.

What’s more, the CDC’s reporting requirements have been changing throughout the pandemic.

Carrie Williams, a spokeswoman for the Texas Hospital Association, told The New York Times, “It’s been an administrative hassle and confusion during the pandemic that hospitals were on the front lines and constantly shifting gears on reporting.” .

But despite the obvious flaws in data collection, “the CDC is the right organization to be on the cutting edge of data collection,” Hota told the Times. As Live Science previously reported, the CDC’s approach to sharing public data is sometimes flawed; in May, for example, the agency admitted to conflating positive results from diagnostic tests and antibody tests, a decision that blurred the true national testing rate and distorted the rate of new infections.

“Trust and accountability and transparency – those three go hand in hand,” Will Humber, executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association, told Time magazine. As the federal government begins to plan the new HHS database, “they better be transparent or people will think it’s an ulterior motive,” he said.