Democratic lawmakers in the House and Senate are demanding that the Trump administration immediately reverse an order requiring hospitals to send Covid-19 patient information directly to a Health and Human Services database instead of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a change that threw the data-collection process into chaos as states struggle to cope with soaring infections.
NPR reported Friday that "hospital data in Kansas and Missouri is suddenly incomplete or missing" following the Trump administration's directive, which took effect on July 15 to the dismay of experts and local officials who previously relied on the CDC system to track the coronavirus and allocate resources.
"The Missouri Hospital Association reports that it no longer has access to the data it uses to guide statewide coronavirus planning, and the Kansas Hospital Association says its hospital data reports may be delayed," according to NPR. "The absence of the data will make it harder for health and public officials, as well as the general public, to understand how the virus is spreading."
Led by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), 46 members of the Senate Democratic caucus sent a letter (pdf) to Vice President Mike Pence and Coronavirus Task Force Coordinator Deborah Birx demanding that the White House reverse its decision to divert Covid-19 data from the CDC to an HHS database run by TeleTracking Technologies, a private contractor.
"In the midst of a global pandemic, these changes pose serious challenges to the nation's response by increasing the data management burden for hospitals, potentially delaying critical supply shipments, compromising access to key data for many states, and reducing transparency for the public," the senators wrote. "The Trump administration's mismanagement of the Covid-19 response and refusal to heed public health expertise continue to put the country in a dangerous position."
Nearly 70 House Democrats on Friday sent a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar urging the agency to reverse the new directive, which the Trump administration portrayed as an attempt to streamline the data-reporting process.
"This is another unethical and irresponsible effort to hinder public access to data and remove transparency and accountability from the administration's poor management of this pandemic," the lawmakers wrote.
At a time when we already have more than 3.5 million cases and more than 138,300 deaths, we should not allow health experts to be silenced.
I'm leading the House in calling on this administration to rescind their dangerous guidance to send COVID data to HHS instead of the CDC. pic.twitter.com/EZsceUzbjN
— Rep. Pramila Jayapal (@RepJayapal) July 17, 2020
The White House directive, first made public in a document (pdf) posted on the HHS website last week, reportedly "came as a shock at the CDC," which previously received the data and made it available to the public.
Critics immediately warned that submitting crucial coronavirus patient data to a system managed by HHS would leave the information vulnerable to political spin.
"It's hugely problematic," said Dr. Karen Maddox, public health researcher at Washington University in St. Louis. "The only way that we know where things are going up and where things are going down and where we need to be putting resources and where we need to be planning is because of those data."
Shortly after the administration's new directive took effect Wednesday, observers noticed that hospital data was removed from the CDC website. HHS had the information restored on Thursday but said the data would not be updated on the CDC site beyond July 14.
New HHS apology memo is worthless... HHS directs COVID hospital data “Re-establish the dashboard” to CDC website .... but only through July 14th.
But July 15th onward??? Still gone! pic.twitter.com/NTGluLjl2u
— Eric Feigl-Ding (@DrEricDing) July 16, 2020
The Missouri Hospital Association said in a notice on its website that it "will be unable to access critical hospitalization data during the transition" to the Trump administration's new data-collection system.
Dave Dillon, spokesperson for the Missouri Hospital Association, told NPR that the organization hopes to have access to the data it needs "within a few days or weeks."
"However, in the short term," Dillon said, "we'll be very much in the dark."