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White House Strips CDC of Data Collection Role For COVID-19 Hospitalizations

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WASHINGTON, D.C. (NPR) — The Trump administration has mandated that hospitals sidestep the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to send critical information about COVID-19 hospitalizations and equipment to a different federal database.

The CDC has collected data on COVID-19 hospitalizations, availability of intensive care unit beds and personal protective equipment from the start of the pandemic. But hospitals must now report the information directly to the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the CDC. The change sparked concerns that the administration was sidelining the nation’s public health agency by removing key data gathering and analysis from its jurisdiction in the midst of a pandemic.

Michael Caputo, HHS assistant secretary for public affairs, defended the administration’s decision and said that CDC’s system was too slow.

“The CDC’s old data gathering operation once worked well monitoring hospital information across the country, but it’s an inadequate system today,” Caputo said in a statement shared with reporters. “The President’s Coronavirus Task Force has urged improvements for months, but they just cannot keep up with this pandemic.”

A top CDC scientist in charge of collecting and analyzing COVID-19 data from hospitals said the new reporting system ignores the agency’s valuable expertise and disrupts the CDC’s decades-long relationships with hospitals.

“We have high confidence in the consistency and completeness of the data that hospitals are reporting using the [existing] system,” said Dr. Daniel Pollock, a medical epidemiologist and surveillance branch chief for the CDC’s Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion, “We have a long-standing working relationship with the hospitals — we have means to do quality checks over the incoming data as well as rapidly getting to hospitals where we have identified data gaps.”

Since March, hospitals have reported daily information on the availability of hospital beds, ventilators and personal protective equipment to an established data collection network run by the CDC called the National Healthcare Safety Network or NHSN, which has operated for years.

As of Wednesday, hospitals are being instructed by HHS not to use that system and instead to report to a new site set up by the department using a private contractor called TeleTracking.

The new system was set up by TeleTracking, a private company based in Pennsylvania, which was awarded the $10 million contract in a noncompetitive bid in April. Sen. Patty Murphy, D-Wash., the ranking member of the Senate health committee, wrote a letter to CDC Director Robert Redfield on June 3 asking why TeleTracking was awarded the contract on a noncompetitive basis.

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