Trump administration 'strips' CDC of COVID-19 data control amid rising infections
The Department of Health and Human Services is telling hospitals to report data such as hospital inpatient bed occupancy, mechanical ventilators in use, number of suspected or confirmed COVID-19 cases, and N95 masks available directly to it, or at least through their states to HHS. But not to CDC.
As the Donald Trump administration continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic -- which has already claimed the lives of more than 136,000 Americans -- it has now ordered hospitals to bypass the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and send all patient information to a central database in Washington beginning on Wednesday.
The development has alarmed health experts who worry that the data will be politicized or withheld from the public. The new instructions were posted recently in a little-noticed document on the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) website.
From now on, the department — not the CDC — will collect daily reports about the patients that each hospital is treating, the number of available beds and ventilators, and other information vital to tracking the pandemic, according to a New York Times report.
Michael Caputo, the assistant secretary for public affairs at the department, confirmed the development to CNN, saying in a statement that 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."
"The CDC's old hospital data gathering operation once worked well monitoring hospital information across the country, but it's an inadequate system today," Caputo said in the statement.
The Times reported that the "database that will receive new information is not open to the public, which could affect the work of scores of researchers, modelers and health officials who rely on CDC data to make projections and crucial decisions".
TRUMP 'UNDERMINING COVID-19 RESPONSE'
Earlier Tuesday, four former CDC directors lambasted the administration's efforts to disregard and politicize guidelines from the agency in a scathing Washington Post op-ed.
The four former CDC officials warned against what they called a "tragic indictment" of the CDC's efforts as Trump and top coronavirus task force officials seek to reopen the nation's schools.
"As America begins the formidable task of getting our kids back to school and all of us back to work safely amid a pandemic that is only getting worse, public health experts face two opponents: COVID-19, but also political leaders and others attempting to undermine the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention," wrote former CDC Directors Tom Frieden, Jeffrey Koplan, David Satcher and Richard Besser in the Post op-ed.
Trump had tweeted last week that the CDC's guidelines on school reopening were "too expensive and onerous", and said they needed to be revised. He also threatened cutting funding to public schools if they do not open fully in the fall.
“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," said Jen Kates, the director of global health and HIV policy with the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, said the New York Times report.
“How will the data be protected?” she asked. “Will there be transparency, will there be access, and what is the role of the CDC in understanding the data?”