The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has issued a frequented asked questions (FAQ) document to hospitals and similar facilities on how they should report their Covid-19-related data. And one thing that’s clear from document. It’s no longer going to be as easy as CDC. Nope, the document includes the following statement:
“As of July 15,, 2020, hospitals should no longer report the Covid-19 information in this document to the National Healthcare Safety Network site. Please select one of the above methods to use instead.”
The “above methods” are basically four different variations of “send it to HHS instead.”
All of these methods essentially bypass the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Healthcare Safety Network, which has long been the nation’s healthcare-associated infection tracking system. It is not perfect but has been by far the most comprehensive method of tracking infectious disease cases in health care facilities across the country. This network already has a Covid-19 module that includes a dash board where you can see such things as a snapshot of current hospital capacity estimates and the percentage of inpatient beds occupied by Covid-19 patients – Change in 14 Day Period.
So now HHS is telling hospitals to report data such as hospital inpatient bed occupancy, mechanical ventilators in use, number of suspected or confirmed Covid-19 cases, and N95 masks available directly to HHS. Or at least through their states to HHS. But not to CDC.
Here are three questions that weren’t included on the HHS FAQ: what’s going on here, what the heck is going on here, and why?
This announcement, if you can call a document quietly appearing on a web site an announcement, has come at an interesting time. The relationship between President Donald Trump’s White House and the CDC hasn’t exactly been like Rose and Jack from the movie Titanic. It’s been a little more like a ship and an iceberg. There have been claims that the White House has tried to muzzle the CDC, and not in a bondage sense, according to this CNN report:
And Trump’s re-tweets of Chuck Woolery’s tweets criticizing the CDC haven’t exactly seemed like endorsements of the agency:
Woolery was the original host of Wheel of Fortune, which may have had “CDC “as one of its word puzzles that doesn’t require you to buy a vowel. Otherwise, the show had little to do with a public health response to a pandemic. He also has hosted Scrabble, Lingo, Greed, and Love Connection. Saying “everyone is lying” is typically not what you do to establish a love connection.
Trump has disagreed with the CDC’s warnings about the severity of the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic and most recently the CDC’s guidance to the re-opening schools. For example, Trump did tweet out the following:
He didn’t explain how exactly schools will and should re-open. That can be a bit like saying “money must fall into my lap now” without really specifying how. As this Today show segment covered, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has been re-iterating Trump’s message in similar fashions, without providing details on how to deal with the fact that opening schools could fuel further spread of the virus:
So with this backdrop, there have been concerns that this new HHS requirement may be a way of controlling the data and information that scientists, public health experts, and the public can access:
The Washington Post has reported that the Trump administration may ask states to have the National Guard collect hospitalization data instead of the CDC. The National Guard? Really? Is that why you join The National Guard?
Even if this were being done to “streamline” data reporting and collection, many questions remain. Has the CDC been involved in these decisions? If not, why not? Will the public and the public health scientific communities have access to this data? How will this data be shared and with whom? How transparent will the system be? What safeguards will there be to prevent data from being manipulated and hidden for political reasons? What will the system look like now? Who will run it? What will happen to the CDC’s system? What will happen to the CDC? How will the public know how many Covid-19 hospitalizations and deaths are really occurring and which hospitals do not have proper resources and capacities?
So, so many questions that the FAQ is not answering. There could be a Frequently Unanswered Questions (FUQ) document.
As they say, information is power. So there needs to be more info on where this info will go and what will be done with it. This is a pandemic. It is a public health emergency. It is a public health emergency that requires everyone to work together. It is a public health emergency in which everyone needs to really know what’s going on.