U.S. COVID Data Disappears As Trump Admin Shifts Control From CDC To HHS

CDC Director Redfield and President Trump at an April coronavirus briefing.Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead / Public Domain

PMH

The hospitalization data dashboard has since reappeared, but the temporary loss raises questions about the transition.

CNBC reports that previously public data on COVID-19 hospitalizations and intensive care unit capacity disappeared from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website on July 14.

  • Although the data dashboard has since reappeared as of July 16, the temporary loss raises questions about how the federal government is handling a recent decision to transition COVID-19 data reporting from the Centers to the Department of Health and Human Services.
  • Centers for Disease Control Director Robert Redfield told reporters in a July 15 conference call that states had been instructed to stop sending hospital data to the National Healthcare Safety Network site, the Centers’ data-gathering system, starting that day.
  • Officials have said that data will instead be reported through the Department of Health and Human Services’ reporting portal. They explain that the decision was made to streamline reports and provide Department officials with real-time data.
  • At the time of writing, however, the Department website’s “COVID-19 cases in the U.S.” link, visible in the left hand sidebar, is a redirect to the Centers’ portal.
  • When reached for comment on July 16 by CNBC, Health and Human Services spokesperson Michael Caputo said in a statement that the Department will provide “more powerful insights” and “is committed to being transparent with the American public about the information it is collecting on the coronavirus.”
  • At the time of writing, Centers representatives have not responded to CNBC requests for comment.
  • While the hospitalization data was missing from the Centers’ dashboard, Ryan Panchadsaram, a researcher who helps run a data-tracking site called Covid Exit Strategy, said, “The intent of just switching the data streams towards HHS, that’s fine. But you got to keep the data that you’re sharing publicly still available and up to date.”

Dr. Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University, told CNBC that this hiccup in data presentation left her concerned that the administration did not seem to have a complete plan as to how the transition in data reporting would happen, raising questions about transparency and about the role of the Centers at a time when clarity is needed to understand the pandemic.

What worries me is that we seem to be pushing rather suddenly in the midst of what feels like a very urgent time in terms of surging cases that we’re seeing across the country… what are we going to lose in this transition, and in particular at a moment where we really don’t want to lose any ability to understand what’s happening in hospitals…

  • Notably, Johns Hopkins University runs one of the most popular third-party COVID-19 data dashboards. However, Nuzzo explained to CNBC that the university sources its data directly from states, making Centers-to-Department transition in reporting irrelevant to the university’s own dashboard.
  • Finally, some have gone so far as to express concerns about data integrity. CNBC points out that President Donald J. Trump has faced accusations of undermining the nation’s public health professionals.
  • Dr. Jen Kates, senior vice president and director of global health and HIV policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, said that “There’s been concerns raised about when CDC has the leeway to offer its advice as a public health agency, really based on the evidence and the data, and there’s been several examples where we’re not clear that that’s been the case… that is a concern that many have; is there any political significance to this change?”

Currently, the Centers’ data dashboard on hospitalizations is appended with the following note:

Data displayed on this page was submitted directly to CDC’s National Healthcare Safety Network (NHSN) and does not include data submitted to other entities contracted by or within the federal government.

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