Friday, July 17, 2020

Coronavirus data returns to CDC site, for a limited time, after outcry; HHS system will have more data, but . . .

"On the eve of a new coronavirus reporting system this week, data disappeared from a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website as hospitals began filing information to a private contractor or their states instead," Lena Sun and Amy Goldstein report for The Washington Post. "A day later, an outcry — including from other federal health officials — prompted the Trump administration to reinstate that dashboard and another daily CDC report on the pandemic."

The announcement appears to be a win for public transparency, "but with any policy regarding an American hospital, the fine print is essential: The CDC site will only provide the data on availability of hospital beds and intensive care units up to July 14," Matt Stieb reports for New York magazine's Intelligencer. "Moving forward, the American public will have to access coronavirus hospitalization data from private sources."

The administration insists the move is about efficiency, and that the data will remain available to the public. Instead of reporting data to the CDC and the Department for Health and Human Services, hospitals will share information only with HHS through a portal created and maintained by a private contractor. The contractor, TeleTracking Technologies, was awarded a $10 million no-bid contract in April, Jon Allsop reports for Columbia Journalism Review.

For some, the change could have merit. For example, they say the CDC system "was built for tracking hospital-acquired pneumonias and urinary-tract infections, and it wasn’t perfect for keeping up with coronavirus data," Nicholas Florko and Eric Boodman report for Stat. "The HHS system, however, was built specifically to track the covid-19 pandemic and it will compile far more data than just what’s currently being produced by hospitals. Plus, hospitals were already reporting similar data through the TeleTracking system. The federal government has been using those reports to determine each state’s allocation of Gilead’s covid-19 drug, remdesivir."

Many have concerns about the switch, though. "Hospitals are being asked to learn a new data system as they’re struggling to keep up with a raging pandemic," Florko and Boodman report. "Streams of data that the CDC was making available to researchers and the public have suddenly been cut off, exacerbating fears that the Trump administration is trying to stomp out any evidence that the pandemic is worse than ever."

However, the move is consistent "with the administration’s habit of paying private contractors to do research or execute tasks that taxpayers are already paying for: A report from ProPublica published on Wednesday details how federal and state governments paid McKinsey over $100 million this year for pandemic advice, while the White House cast aside the recommendations of its own public-health experts," Stieb reports for the Intelligencer.

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