IDSA, APHA Call on White House to Reverse Handling of COVID-19 Data

July 24, 2020
Brian Dunleavy

Organizations believe the CDC is best positioned to collect, analyze and distribute information that is vital to research and response efforts.

A letter sent by the leadership of the Infectious Disease Society of America (IDSA) and the American Public Health Association—among dozens of other organizations—calls on the Trump administration to reverse its decision to bypass the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in “the collection and analysis of COVID-19 patient data.”

The letter, dated July 17, was issued in response to a White House guidance advising all US hospitals to submit data on patients admitted as a result of coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) infection to centralized database in Washington, DC, managed by the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The guidance came to light a few days earlier.

As a result of the new policy, HHS will collect daily reports from all hospitals nationwide that include information on the numbers of COVID-19 patients, the number of available beds and ventilators, among other data.

Proponents of the plan within the Trump administration argue that the new approach will streamline data collection—which has been described as “incomplete and inconsistent” since the outbreak began in the US—and enable the Coronavirus Task Force to better allocate needed supplies, such as personal protective equipment and ventilators as well as, hopefully, future drug and/or vaccine supplies.

However, critics note that the HHS database will not be open to the public, which could serve to stifle research efforts and projects designed to predict the future course of the pandemic. Their criticism, they emphasize, is procedural—not political.

“Our position is that public health should be managed by public health experts and, in our country, the CDC are the public health experts,” Helen Boucher, MD, Chief of the Division of Geographic Medicine and Infectious Diseases at Tufts Medical Center and an IDSA board member and spokesperson, told Contagion®. “We see having clear, transparent, and up-to-date data available to public health officials to guide how to best treat patients with COVID-19 as vital to having an effective response to the pandemic.”

As of the evening of July 21, there had been no official response to the letter, which was addressed to Vice President Mike Pence, who also serves as the head of the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

The letter asks administration officials to strengthen the CDC by providing the agency with more resources, enabling it to bolster and modernize its public health data collection activities. It also suggests the agency is best positioned to deliver accurate, credible data.

“What we all have in common is a patient and public health voice,” Dr. Boucher said of the letter’s signatories. “We all believe that we need to keep public health data public. The data needs to be transparent and available. That’s the only way we are going to be able to communicate with the public in a credible fashion to effect change.”