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Analysis

Experts Warn Trump Administration is 'Politicizing' Pandemic Data

By John Commins  
   July 15, 2020

Critics say a move this week to bypass the CDC's role in reporting hospital data on COVID-19 volumes could "severely weaken" the quality and availability of data.

The Trump Administration's abrupt decision this week to bypass the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from collecting daily hospital COVID-19 data is "troubling" and could "undermine our nation's public health experts," the Infectious Diseases Society of America said Wednesday.

"COVID-19 data collection and reporting must be done in a transparent and trustworthy manner and must not be politicized, as these data are the foundation that guide our response to the pandemic," said IDSA President Thomas M. File, Jr., MD. "Collecting and reporting public health data is a core function of the CDC, for which the agency has the necessary trained experts and infrastructure."

The Department of Health and Human Services this week announced that – effective today – hospitals would no longer use the CDC National Healthcare Safety Network COVID-19 module for daily reporting.

Instead, hospital data would be sent directly to HHS, using a private company, TeleTracking, which has compiled data for HHS since April. Initially, no explanation was given for why the CDC was bypassed. However, as the announcement gained traction in the media, HHS and CDC issued a joint statement defending the switch.

"We have not changed the data ecosystem; we have merely streamlined the data collection mechanism for hospitals on the frontlines," CDC Director Robert Redfield said. "This reduces the reporting burden—it reduces confusion and duplication of reporting. Streamlining reporting enables us to distribute scarce resources using the best possible data."

"All elements of our public health system are being stretched right now, and streamlining the hospital reporting system allows the National Health Safety Network to concentrate its COVID-19 activity on the high-priority area of protecting the vulnerable in nursing homes," he said.

 File was not appeased.

"Placing medical data collection outside of the leadership of public health experts could severely weaken the quality and availability of data, add an additional burden to already overwhelmed hospitals and add a new challenge to the U.S. pandemic response," he said.  

HHS's move to bypass the CDC comes as critics note the increasing attempts to demonize anyone who contradicts the Trump administration's messaging, most notably, Anthony Fauci, MD, the government's top infectious disease expert.

"At this critical time when many states are experiencing surges, reliable, comprehensive data are essential to inform the distribution of supplies and treatment," File said. "The administration should provide funding to support data collection and should strengthen the role of CDC to collect and report COVID-19 data by race and ethnicity, hospital and ICU capacity, total number of tests and percent positive, hospitalizations and deaths."

The American Hospital Association and other hospital associations have stayed quiet on the new mandate, other than then AHA issuing an advisory to its members informing them of the changes.

That may be because hospital associations continue to press the federal government for emergency funding to offset massive losses brought on by the pandemic.

So far, hospitals and other providers have received more than $175 billion in emergency funding from the federal government, and the AHA projects that hospital losses could top $323 billion in 2020.

“COVID-19 data collection and reporting must be done in a transparent and trustworthy manner and must not be politicized.”

John Commins is a content specialist and online news editor for HealthLeaders, a Simplify Compliance brand.

Photo credit: II.studio / Shutterstock


KEY TAKEAWAYS

HHS this week announced that – effective today – hospitals would no longer use the CDC for daily reporting.

Instead, hospital data would be sent directly to HHS. No explanation was given for why the CDC was bypassed.

CDC and HHS defended the move, saying it would streamline the data collection process.

Critics have raised conccerns about attempts to demonize anyone who contradicts the Trump administration's messaging on the pandemic. 


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