Hospitals will redirect their COVID-19 related data to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services rather than submitting it to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a move the agencies said was aimed to improve information gathering and resource allocation.
“It became clear we needed a central way to make data available,” Jose Arrieta, HHS’s chief information officer, said on a press call on Wednesday. The goal is to better “allocate resources in real time.” The change was announced in updated guidance posted on the HHS website late last week.
Arrieta and CDC Director Robert Redfield, who joined him on the call, addressed concerns about the redirection. Redfield said his agency proposed the change as a way to streamline the system. “No one is taking data or access away from the CDC,” he said. “This has no effect on CDC’s ability to use data and turn out daily data.”
As for concerns about the integrity of the database, the data can’t be manipulated, given the broad range of elements that are collected, Arrieta said. “If someone were to try to change the data outside the system, a record of that would be made.”
The data concerns statistics such as intensive-care capacity and bed utilization. By bringing it into the HHS database, the White House Coronavirus Task Force will be better able to reallocate resources quickly where they’re most needed, according to the HHS guidance.
The CDC database was often delayed with updating information, forcing decision-makers to use data from a tracker run by the Johns Hopkins University, a former administration official said. Deborah Birx, the White House Coronavirus Task Force coordinator, was impatient after months of asking for the system to be improved and insisted they find another solution, the former official said.
Moving responsibility for the data up the chain to HHS will bring higher-level staff into the effort, and should increase the resources devoted to it as other agencies will also be more involved, another former administration official said.
“The Task Force has repeatedly said that our response efforts are driven by the data, and those response efforts are hindered when a significant amount of hospitals are not reporting data to the federal government,” according to a statement from the office of Vice President Mike Pence, who runs the task force. “This has nothing to do with the CDC or any other agency.”