The Case of the Disappearing Covid Data
Health Care

The Case of the Disappearing Covid Data

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A sudden change by the Trump administration in how coronavirus data is reported is raising concerns among political leaders, public health experts and state and hospital officials that it could lead to increased burdens on already strained facilities and reduce transparency about the state of the pandemic.

“To have the CDC not be able to distribute publicly the number of hospitalizations and the number of deaths is going to hurt us in our bid to end this crisis,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement. “Because when you don't know the truth, and you don't go after the truth, inevitably, you lose out.”

Health care watchers noted Wednesday that previously public data like a dashboard tracking hospital capacity were no longer available on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. The change came after the Trump administration transferred control of the information to the Department of Health and Human Services. The CDC reportedly restored the site’s previous dashboards later in the day, with data through Tuesday and a note saying: “This file will not be updated after July 14, 2020 and includes data from April 1 to July 14.”

HHS spokesman Michael Caputo told CNBC the CDC was directed to make the data available again. “Yes, HHS is committed to being transparent with the American public about the information it is collecting on the coronavirus,” he said. “Therefore, HHS has directed CDC to re-establish the coronavirus dashboards it withdrew from the public on Wednesday.”

Some experts expressed concerns that the change could lead to the data being politicized, or could hamper tracking of the pandemic.

Dr. Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University, told CNBC she was concerned that the administration didn’t appear to have detailed planning for the sudden transition in data reporting from the CDC to HHS and didn’t give hospitals or researchers a warning about the change. “The question is, what are we going to lose in this transition, and in particular at a moment where we really don’t want to lose any ability to understand what’s happening in hospitals,” she said. “I think it’s reasonable to worry that it could lead to erosion of capacities at a moment where we very much can’t afford to lose any abilities.”