With the United States’ tragic lead in new COVID-19 cases globally, transparency in our coronavirus data collection is of utmost importance. Unfortunately, the integrity of that process appears shaky.
Tensions between the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Center for Disease Control (CDC) have reportedly surged after HHS quietly but substantially altered procedures for hospitals reporting COVID-19 data to the government in early July. The HHS order diverted data reporting from CDC’s National Healthcare Safety Network (NHSN)—which has for decades been the premier clearinghouse for healthcare data and has proven a uniquely powerful resource for healthcare providers and public health officials combatting the pandemic—to HHS contractor-run systems and HHS state health departments, none of which are managed with direct CDC input. Almost immediately after the HHS order, the CDC took down its COVID-19 dashboard and daily reporting, citing concerns about the integrity of data submitted to systems maintained outside of CDC. Experts, national legislators and governors have urged HHS to rescind the order, but to date, the new guidance stands and the government continues failing to report back key health data to the public.
CREW has requested communications between the HHS and CDC employees on the switch in data collection systems.
The HHS order appears to threaten the integrity of the public’s access to vital public health information, and the public deserves to know what rationale HHS had in prioritizing HHS’s private contractors over CDC’s established reporting system. Obscuring data from the public amidst a global pandemic is not just a one-off affront to transparency, but part of a pattern of greater inadequacy from the Trump administration in responding to the deadly effects of the coronavirus.