As 64,000 new U.S. coronavirus cases were reported Tuesday and states struggled to control the spread of the virus, the Trump Administration stripped the country's leading public health agency of the ability to collect hospitalization data on COVID-19.
Instead of patient information going to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it will now be sent to a central database in Washington, The New York Times reported. The unprecedented move has alarmed health experts who fear the data will be politicized or withheld from the public, the newspaper said.
From now on, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will collect daily reports about cases, available beds and available ventilators, the Times reported.
But the HHS database is not open to the public, which could affect the work of researchers, modelers and health officials who rely on CDC data to make projections and crucial policy decisions.
"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, director of global health and HIV policy with the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, told the Times.
HHS spokesman Michael Caputo insisted the change was made to streamline the flow of information.
"Today, the CDC still has at least a week lag in reporting hospital data," Caputo told the Times. "America requires it in real time. 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."
In addition to changing where hospitalization data will be sent, the Trump administration has also asked governors to consider using the National Guard in hospitals to help improve data collection on patients, supplies and capacity, the Washington Post reported.
In a letter to the nation's governors that says the National Guard could help improve hospitals' data flow, HHS Secretary Alex Azar and coronavirus task force response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx said some hospitals have failed to report information daily or completely. But hospital industry leaders say any data collection problems lie primarily with the HHS and constantly shifting federal instructions, the newspaper reported.
"I worry greatly about cutting CDC out of these reporting efforts," Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health's Center for Health Security in Baltimore, told the Post. "I see little benefit from separating reporting of hospitalizations from reporting of cases, which CDC currently coordinates."
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on the new coronavirus.
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