Doctors Respond to Trump’s Redirection of COVID-19 Data: ‘It’s Chaos’

We have talked about President Trump’s decision to redirect coronavirus data to the HHS, instead of the system that has worked for over 40 years with the CDC. Since the new system has been put in place, doctors and health experts have expressed confusion over the reason for changing an already working and widely used system. Some even collaborated by writing a letter to HHS about explaining their concerns of the change.

Health experts band together

The former CDC Director, Dr. Richard Besser, led almost three dozen current and former members of the Healthcare Infection Control Practices Advisory Committee (HICPAC) that shared that same opinion of the President’s new order. The general agreement was that it is “step backwards” for the country’s coronavirus response to redirect the coronavirus data to HHS instead of the CDC. A strongly worded letter was signed by the independent group of experts.

The HICPAC acts as a committee of independent health experts that provide guidance to the HHS and the US Centers of Disease Control and Prevention on infection control practices and strategies.

“We are extremely concerned about this abrupt change in Covid-19 reporting. Retiring the CDC system that was in operation would have serious consequences on data integrity.”

The letter

The letter addressed the severe chaos that has been the result of changing a working system that has been in place since 1970, a system that has also been the country’s most widely used system on the subject, according to the group. It also tracks flu vaccination rates, blood safety errors and more. 

It is a complex patient safety and quality improvement system that is maintained by an experienced team of doctors, epidemiologists and infection prevention and control professionals.

“By removing the data collection from the CDC, the country would lose decades of expertise in interpreting and analyzing information about infectious disease and it would jeopardize the department’s goals of developing interventions that would improve public health,” the letter said.

The letter went on to say, “The system that had been tracking the information, housed in the CDC’s Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion, is not merely a software system. It is a complex patient safety and quality improvement system that is maintained by an experienced team of doctors, epidemiologists and infection prevention and control professionals.”

Disapproval of change

“As past and present HICPAC members, we are troubled by the Administration’s unexpected decision to divert Covid-19 data reporting from CDC to DHHS,” the letter said. “We strongly advise that the CDC’s DHQP data experts be allowed to continue their important and trusted work in their mission to save lives and protect Americans from health threats.”

One of the doctors who signed the letter, chief of the division of hospital medicine at the University of Michigan, Dr. Vineet Chopra, said the CDC’s National Healthcare Safety Network data is essential to the work hospitals do.

“We knew how to input data, how to extract data, and we knew how to access it for prediction purposes,” Chopra said. “In contrast, the new data system has many inconsistencies,” including cases reported, bed occupancy numbers, and that data itself is often out of date.

“In other words, the new system has made intelligent calculations to inform real time decisions almost impossible,” Chopra wrote.

“I think the core problem that bothers many of us is it’s unclear why this change was made,” Chopra wrote. “The system as we knew it worked very well and did inform us in the height of the pandemic. We see no real reason to change it and certainly no good appears to have come from it.”

Response from HHS, blame the CDC

In a statement to CNN, an HHS official said the CDC system “was unable to keep up” with the demands of the pandemic.

“Today, CDC has access to all the data it once had and more. The CDC’s NHSN was unable to keep up with the fast-paced data collection demands of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Michael Caputo, HHS assistant secretary for public affairs, said in an email. “Using this new, innovative and flexible collection mechanism, we have far more COVID-related real data, far faster, giving us increased capacity for life-saving projects like therapeutics distribution. And we are now poised to move to automated data collection for the use of every relevant expert at HHS, particularly the CDC.”

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