Vital coronavirus data immediately vanishes after Trump administration removes control from CDC
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Vital data showing whether US hospitals have the resources to deal with the coronavirus pandemic has already vanished from a government website after the Trump administration quietly shifted responsibility for the statistics to another department.
Figures tracking the prevalence of free hospital and intensive care beds, and the number of available health care workers, ventilators and personal protective equipment across the US have been compiled – and published – by the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) since the start of the pandemic.
But on Wednesday, it was reported that hospitals had been told they should now send their daily data – not to the CDC – but to a private company in Pittsburgh called TeleTracking Technologies, and that the information would be published instead by the CDC’s parent agency, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
Trump administration officials – who have sought to pass blame to the CDC for the severity of the Covid-19 crisis – insisted the move was merely intended to ensure faster and more “streamlined” reporting of the data, citing week-long delays. An HHS spokesperson later claimed their agency would provide “more powerful insights” than the “inadequate” CDC operation.
While most acknowledged the CDC needed overhauled and would still have access to the data, some analysts and former senior officials voiced concerns that the move could result in less transparency. They appear to have been proven correct.
On Tuesday – even before the change was publicly announced – data-trackers noticed that all of the information had disappeared from the CDC website.
“We were surprised because the modules that we normally go to were empty,” Ryan Panchadsaram, who regularly uses the data for the Covid Exit Strategy website, told CNBC. “The data wasn’t available and not there. There was no warning.”
By Thursday, the data on hospital bed capacity was once again being displayed on the CDC site, and HHS acknowledged that it had been temporarily removed.
“Yes, HHS is committed to being transparent with the American public about the information it is collecting on the coronavirus,” said HHS spokesman Michael Caputo in a statement given to CNBC.
“Therefore, HHS has directed CDC to re-establish the coronavirus dashboards it withdrew from the public on Wednesday.”
However, a notice next to the data on the CDC’s National Healthcare Safety Network website stated: “This file will not be updated after July 14, 2020 and includes data from April 1 to July 14.”
Some accused the Trump administration of trying to obscure the available data from the public.
“You cannot sweep this under the rug. You cannot hide the facts,” tweeted New York Democratic senator, Chuck Schumer, in response to the news.
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“More than 130,000 Americans have died from Covid-19. President Trump: Get to work fighting this virus, and stop trying to undermine public health experts.”
The CDC, which will still collect data on the number of US-wide cases and fatalities, has historically been the core gatherer and provider of information during health crises.
While most experts agree that the CDC data-collection system is struggling, some suggested that efforts should be directed to shore up the system, rather than shift control to another government agency entirely.
However, CDC director, Dr Robert Redfield, said the change will enable it to focus on collecting other data, such as information from nursing homes, adding that the CDC will still have access to the information.
But Gregory Koblentz, a biodefence expert at George Mason University, said the change appears to be consistent with recent efforts by the Trump administration to sideline the agency from its typical role as the public’s primary source of information.
“We know the administration has been trying to silence the CDC,” he told The Associated Press. “Now it looks like the administration might be trying to blind the CDC as well.”
—— AUTO – GENERATED; Published (Halifax Canada Time AST) on: July 17, 2020 at 06:41PM