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Why the CDC stopped collecting COVID-19 data from hospitals

White House defends change as more efficient
Posted at 6:57 PM, Jul 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-16 22:26:11-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — The White House insisted Thursday that the CDC and the public will continue to have access to hospital data related to the COVID-19 pandemic, trying to quell concerns after the Trump administration directed a private technology firm to collect hospital data instead of the nation’s premier public health agency.

Since March, the CDC has been collecting data from hospitals on bed space, COVID tests and other key metrics, like the availability of personal protective equipment, ventilators, and certain drugs.

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Thursday the CDC-run system, the National Healthcare Safety Network, was only capturing 81 percent of the nation’s hospitals.

She said the new system, run by TeleTracking Technologies, will provide a more complete picture with faster reporting to the White House Coronavirus Task Force. Hospitals began sending data to the new database on Wednesday.

“The intent of this is we need to make sure there is daily data given to Dr. [Deborah] Birx and others running point on Remdesivir and identifying hotspots,” McEnany said.

The change comes at a time when President Trump has sparred with the CDC over school reopening guidelines, but CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield said he supported the move.

However, critics see the move as the latest effort by the president to politicize science. Four former CDC directors wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post this week raising concerns about the president's efforts to "undermine" the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“I see this as a big red flag. CDC has been sidelined throughout the response,” said Dr. Richard Besser, the former acting director under President Barack Obama.

Dr. Besser told ABC News the hospital data should be kept with the nation’s premier health scientists, although he acknowledged the CDC database had limitations.

“The data systems have to be improved. They've been underfunded, but why set up a system that bypasses the nation's public health agency? It doesn't make sense and it concerns me about the influence of politics on what should be good public health science,” he said.

McEnany said the CDC would still have access to the data along with the public, although the last update posted to the CDC website is from July 14.

Hospitals report data to the federal government in different ways. In some cases, hospitals manually input information to the federal database. In other cases, hospitals report data to the state or another intermediary, which passes the information along.

Scripps Health said it reports COVID-related information through an intermediary, the California Health Association, so the federal database change hasn’t affected its hospitals.

Sharp Healthcare and Palomar Health said the transition to the new system has been smooth on their end.

“We haven’t had any problems uploading our data,” said Palomar Health spokesman Derryl Acosta.