Trump cuts CDC COVID counting

President Donald Trump has taken responsibility for counting coronavirus cases away from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Just as the number of people hospitalized for COVID-19 approaches new highs in some parts of the country, hospital data in Kansas and Missouri is suddenly incomplete or missing.

The Missouri Hospital Association reports that it no longer has access to the data it uses to guide statewide coronavirus planning, and the Kansas Hospital Association says its hospital data reports may be delayed.

Earlier this week, the Trump administration directed hospitals to change how they report data to the federal government and how that data will be made available.

Hospital data related to the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. will now be collected by a private technology firm, rather than the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — a move the Trump administration says will speed up reporting but one that concerns some public health leaders.

The CDC director said that he’s fine with the change — even though some experts fear it will further sideline the agency.

The CDC has agreed to step out of the government’s traditional data collection process “in order to streamline reporting,” Dr. Robert Redfield said during a call with reporters set up by the agency’s parent, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

HHS officials recently posted a document on the agency’s website that redirected hospitals’ daily reporting of a range of data meant to assess the impact of the coronavirus on them.

TeleTracking Technologies, based in Pittsburgh, will now collect that information.

The Trump administration’s new order means that information vital to tracking the COVID-19 pandemic, including daily reports about patients and the number of available ventilators, will no longer go to the CDC—a federal agency with the expertise to collect this data—but to a new centralized system managed by the health data firm TeleTracking, which received a “noncompetitive, multimillion-dollar contract” for this “duplicative health data system.”

Unlike the CDC database, the HHS database is not open to the public, which undermines researchers, health officials, and others who depend on this data to conduct research and make crucial public health decisions, and hinders the efforts to curtail our nation’s surging COVID-19 cases.

Many are also concerned that if the Trump administration wanted to withhold or skew data, with this new private company running the database, they could do so with impunity.

Four of the CDC’s former directors, from both Republican and Democratic administrations, wrote a joint letter commending the CDC’s commitment to providing sound public health guidance and condemning politicians who are attempting to undermine the agency.

“The CDC is home to thousands of experts who for decades have fought deadly pathogens such as HIV, Zika and Ebola,” CDC’s former directors wrote. “These are the people best positioned to help our country emerge from this crisis as safely as possible. Unfortunately, their sound science is being challenged with partisan potshots, sowing confusion and mistrust at a time when the American people need leadership, expertise and clarity.”

The letter was signed by Tom Frieden, Jeffrey Koplan, David Satcher and Richard Besser.

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