The U.S. federal government is seemingly calling for a do-over on how they want hospitals to report new covid-19 cases, at least according to reporting by the Wall Street Journal on comments recently made by Deborah Birx, the White House’s response coordinator on the Coronavirus Task Force. However, the Department of Health and Human Services on Thursday denied that any change in the reporting process would be taking place.
On Thursday, the Wall Street Journal reported that the government will once again require hospitals to report their data to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) instead of directly to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The move comes only a month after the new policy was implemented, following criticism by public health experts and others about the switch and continued struggles by the government in collecting and making this hospitalization data publicly available.
According to the WSJ, Birx recently told hospital executives and other government officials in Arkansas this week that the data collection process would be returning to the CDC soon. Birx is said to have framed the initial decision to send hospitalization data to HHS as “solely an interim system” and added that the CDC has been “working with us right now to build a revolutionary new data system so it can be moved back to the CDC,” the WSJ reports.
The CDC has long overseen the tracking of relevant infectious disease threats in the country through its National Healthcare Safety Network, and both public health experts and state officials were quick to condemn the sudden decision to move that process away from the agency.
In the month since the move, there have been repeated delays and inconsistencies in the data compiled by HHS—problems that have impeded efforts to reliably track the course of the pandemic in recent weeks and which could, experts have warned, lead to gaps in allocating important resources to hospitals, including the drug remdesivir, which has shown promise in shortening the length of symptoms among hospitalized patients.
However, when reached for comment today, HHS denied the characterization of the WSJ article. The data collection system will reportedly still be processed through HHS, according to the agency, while the CDC’s involvement is said to be limited to the creation of an automated reporting process that will ease the burden on the daily reporting of this data by hospitals.
“HHS made repeated attempts to explain to the Wall Street Journal that the process for COVID-19 data reporting has not and is not changing. This false reporting will sow more confusion and only undermines the public health response,”said Michael Caputo, HHS assistant secretary for public affairs.
The HHS spokesperson did not directly respond to a question about why Birx would have said that the new data-reporting system would be “moved back to the CDC” if indeed that is not the case.
This article has been updated with a response from the HHS.