HHS is set Monday to restore public access today to coronavirus data that hospitals report to the government, senior department officials said, in a bid to end a flap over missing dashboards that tracked critical information on hospitalizations.
The data will go live Monday on its new data system, HHS Protect, and officials say they have implemented safeguards to prevent tampering, such as keeping a record of all changes that were made.
The system replaces a CDC system and relies on outside vendors who have received at least $35 million combined. Democrats and public health experts have expressed alarm about the move, concerned it would sideline the federal public health agency and cause confusion among hospitals and states amid a pandemic.
The background: The administration on July 10 ordered hospitals to change how they reported coronavirus data to the government, bypassing the CDC and sparking concern from watchdogs that the agency was being pushed aside in favor of outside vendors.
The move reflected senior officials’ frustration with the CDC’s system, which White House coronavirus coordinator Deborah Birx and others faulted for being ill-suited to the pandemic. It was the latest manifestation of broader turf battles within the administration between HHS and CDC.
On Wednesday, the CDC’s coronavirus dashboards disappeared, to the apparent surprise of HHS officials. The data was restored the next day.
HHS Secretary Alex Azar touted the administration’s new approach on a 2 p.m. call today with governors, arguing that it would be more transparent and capture a wider range of health information than was possible through the CDC’s systems, according to a person with knowledge of the discussion.
Azar also sought to quell fears that the new data reporting procedures would cut the CDC out of the process, telling the governors that the public health agency would be given access to all of the information the administration collects through HHS Protect.
The political implications: House Democrats on Friday pressed for information on the Trump administration’s decision to shift collection of Covid-19 hospital data away from the CDC.
“We urge you to reverse this decision, restore this data collection role to the CDC, and take all necessary steps to ensure that this essential data is collected and publicly reported free from political interference,” wrote House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), and Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), who are all playing a role in oversight of the Trump administration’s coronavirus response.
Open questions: The new dashboards include the same information that was on the CDC’s system, as well as other data, since the department is requiring hospitals to input more information, HHS officials told POLITICO.
Meanwhile, data advocates like COVID Tracking Project have flagged reporting hiccups and raised other concerns about lack of access since HHS ordered the data switchover last week.
Senior HHS officials conceded that there has been some turbulence, saying that an unnamed state’s data had a “pretty massive error” over the weekend. But they claimed that the structure of HHS Protect allowed users to work out problems within an hour.
Adam Cancryn contributed to this report.