Trump administration takes control of Covid-19 data from CDC, experts worry about limited info amid pandemic

The HHS has ordered US hospitals to upload daily Covid-19 data on testing, capacity and utilization and patient flows, into a central database, which is inaccessible to the public


                            Trump administration takes control of Covid-19 data from CDC, experts worry about limited info amid pandemic
(Getty Images)
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The Trump administration has taken control of Covid-19 data, setting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) free from the responsibility. Public health experts are worried that the move could limit access to information amid a raging pandemic.

The United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) put out an order demanding that hospitals across the country upload daily Covid-19 data -- on testing, capacity and utilization, and patient flows -- into a central database, which is inaccessible to the public. The HHS said it would use this data to make decisions on the allocation of supplies, treatments, and other resources.

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He said the CDC was reporting data from only 85 percent of hospitals."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," Michael Caputo, assistant secretary for public affairs at HHS, said. "They will simply no longer control it," he added.

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Many public health experts are not happy about the move. “Historically, CDC 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 HIV policy with the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, told The New York Times. She also questioned if the data would be secure.

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The CDC will no longer control Covid-19 data. (Getty Images)

The Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) -- a national organization of physicians, scientists, and public health experts -- also has a similar stand on the issue. In a statement, they said, placing the responsibility of collecting medical data outside of the leadership of public health experts could compromise the quality and availability of data. It could strain the already overwhelmed hospitals, thereby posing a new challenge to the US pandemic response. "As infectious diseases physicians, frontline providers and scientists we urge the administration to follow public health expertise in addressing this public health crisis," they added.

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A big concern is that hospital administrators will have to manually upload information on the central database, taking up a chunk of their time at a time when hospitals are already burdened. TeleTracking is responsible for managing the database. "The whole thing needs to be scrapped and started anew, " Dr Dan Hanfling, an expert in medical and disaster preparedness and a vice president at In-Q-Tel, a nonprofit strategic investment firm focused on national security, told the Times.

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The HHS said in a statement that it would gradually move away from the manual entry process and replace it with an automated one.  "It is laughable that this administration can't find the wherewithal to bring 21st-century technologies in data management to the fight," Hanfling added.

The IDSA said the Trump administration could have instead adopted a better measure: more funding to the CDC. It could support the agency to strengthen its data collection on race and ethnicity, hospital and ICU capacity, the total number of tests and percent positive, hospitalizations and deaths. 

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Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the CDC, said that the CDC continues to have access to the data. The move will "dramatically improve and modernize our public health data in America," he reportedly said at a press briefing.