Trump administration wants all coronavirus data to bypass the CDC

From The New York Times:

The Trump administration has ordered hospitals to bypass the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and send all Covid-19 patient information to a central database in Washington beginning on Wednesday. The move has alarmed health experts who fear 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 website. From now on, the department — not the C.D.C. — 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.

To make matters worse, the HHS data archives are not open to the public — meaning the American people cannot independently verify any of the information. In other words, the Republicans are consolidating control of data in the hands of a centralized big government, because it's one that they have power over.

A spokesperson for HHS told the Times that the decision was made because CDC's data collection was inefficient. That spokesperson claimed that CDC's data was lagging about a week behind, and that CDC and HHS would ultimately be sharing data. But this conflicts with a memo from the HHS, which states, "As of July 15, 2020, hospitals should no longer report the Covid-19 information in this document to the National Healthcare Safety Network site."

Instead, HHS will route their data through a private company called TeleTracking, based in Pittsburgh.

Upon seeing this news, I immediately thought about the curiously convenient uptick of pneumonia cases in Florida, where COVID-19 deaths had been fairly steady while pneumonia deaths were suddenly five times higher than normal. As Politifact reported, however:

  • The CDC's running tally of deaths for a given year can count multiple causes for each death. The single underlying cause is reflected in finalized year-end data issued the following year.
  • The deaths in the 900 range refer to cases where pneumonia was the final underlying cause of death. But the number cited for 2020 includes deaths where pneumonia is one of the causes listed on the death certificate.
  • Government officials have said that the national data on COVID-19 deaths is likely an undercount.

While the data situation in Florida might not be as disconcerting as it initially sounded, the Trump administration's authoritarian control over public data relating to the pandemic they have failed to handle is still a cause for worry.

Trump Administration Strips C.D.C. of Control of Coronavirus Data [Sheryl Gay Stolberg / The New York Times]

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