In the words of Marvin Gaye, what is going on?
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has issued a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) document to hospitals and similar facilities on how they should report their Covid-19 related data. And one thing is clear from the document. It will no longer be as easy as CDC. No, the document includes the following statement:
“As of July 15, 2020, hospitals are no longer required to report Covid-19 information in this document to the National Health Safety Network site. Please select one of the above methods to use instead. “
The “above methods” are basically four different variations of “submitting it to HHS”.
All of these methods essentially bypass the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Health Care Safety Network, which has long been the infection-tracking system associated with nation. It is not perfect, but it has been by far the most comprehensive method of tracking infectious disease cases in health centers across the country. This network already has a Covid-19 module that includes a dashboard where you can see things like a snapshot of current estimates of hospital capacity and the percentage of inpatient beds occupied by Covid-19 patients – change over a period of 14 days.
Therefore, HHS is now asking hospitals to report data such as inpatient bed occupancy, mechanical ventilators in use, the number of suspected or confirmed Covid-19 cases, and N95 masks available directly to the HHS. Or at least through their states to HHS. But not the CDC.
Here are three questions that were not included in the HHS FAQ: What is going on here, what the hell is going on here, and why?
This announcement, if you can call a document that appears silently on a website as an announcement, has come at an interesting time. The relationship between President Donald Trump’s White House and the CDC has not been exactly like Rose and Jack in the movie. Titanic. It’s been a little bit more like a ship and an iceberg. There have been claims that the White House has tried to silence the CDC, and not in a sense of slavery, according to this CNN report:
And Trump’s re-tweets of Chuck Woolery’s tweets criticizing the CDC didn’t exactly sound like the agency’s endorsement:
Woolery was the original host of Wheel of Fortune, which may have had “CDC” as one of their puns that don’t require you to buy a vowel. Otherwise, the program had little to do with a public health response to a pandemic. It has also hosted Scratch, Jargon, Greedand Love connection. Saying “everyone is lying” is not usually what you do to establish a love connection.
Trump disagreed with CDC warnings about the severity of the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic and, more recently, CDC’s guidance for reopening schools. For example, Trump tweeted the following:
He did not explain how exactly the schools will open and reopen. That may be a bit like saying “the money should be in my lap now” without actually specifying how. Like this Today According to the covered segment, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has been reiterating Trump’s message in a similar way, without providing details on how to deal with the fact that opening schools could fuel further spread of the virus:
Against this backdrop, there have been concerns that this new HHS requirement may be a way to control the data and information that scientists, public health experts, and the public can access:
the Washington Post has reported that the Trump administration may request states that 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 done to “streamline” reporting and data collection, many questions remain. Has CDC been involved in these decisions? If not, why not? Will the public and scientific public health communities have access to this data? How will this data be shared and with whom? How transparent will the system be? What guarantees will there be to prevent data from being manipulated and hidden for political reasons? What will the system be like now? Who will run it? What will happen to the CDC system? What will happen to the CDC? How will the public know how many Covid-19 hospitalizations and deaths are actually taking place and which hospitals do not have adequate resources and capabilities?
So, so many questions that frequently asked questions are not answering. There could be an Unanswered FAQ (FUQ) document.
As they say, information is power. Therefore, there should be more information about where this information 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 is happening.