Hospitals are now to send all COVID-19 patient information to a Department of Health and Human Services database in Washington, D.C., through a new policy that is alarming health experts who say they are concerned that the information will be withheld from the public or politicized.
"Historically, CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] has been the place where public health data has been sent, and this raises questions about not just access for researchers but access for reporters, access for the public to try to better understand what is happening with the outbreak," said Jen Kates, the director of global health and HIV policy with the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, in a comment to The New York Times. "How will the data be protected? Will there be transparency, will there be access, and what is the role of the CDC in understanding the data?”
The policy was posted in a document on the HHS website. Beginning Wednesday, the department and not the CDC will collect daily reports about patients, the number of available beds and ventilators, and other information on the pandemic.
The report said the change will streamline data gathering while helping the White House Coronavirus Task Force allocate supplies. However, the database is not open to the public, which medical officials fear will hinder researchers who rely on CDC data for projections and other decisions.
HHS spokesperson Michael Caputo, however, said the CDC's system is inadequate, but that the agency will still make data available to the public. However, he added, the CDC "has a week lag" in reporting hospital data, but the United States needs it in "real-time."
"The CDC, an operating division of HHS, will certainly participate in this streamlined all-of-government response. They will simply no longer control it," Caputo added.
The change came after a conference call between White House coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx and hospital executives. She said hospitals were not being adequate while reporting data and brought together a working group to devise the new plan.
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