U.S. coronavirus data has already disappeared after Trump administration shifted control from CDC to HHS

An empty bed is moved back to the emergency room after brining in another COVID-19 patient. At United Memorial Medical Center in Houston, Texas, Dr. Joseph Varon leads a team to fight the increasing number of coronavirus patients in the expanded Covid-19 ward on July 1, 2020.

Carolyn Cole | Los Angeles Times | Getty Images

Previously public data has already disappeared from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website after the Trump administration quietly shifted control of the information to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Since the pandemic began, the CDC has regularly published data on availability of hospital beds and intensive care units across the country. But when Ryan Panchadsaram, who runs a data-tracking site called Covid Exit Strategy, tried to collect the data from the CDC on Tuesday, it had disappeared.

“We were surprised because the modules that we normally go to were empty. The data wasn’t available and not there,” he said. “There was no warning.”

CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield said Wednesday on a conference call with reporters that states were told to stop sending hospital information to the National Healthcare Safety Network site, the CDC’s system for gathering data, beginning Wednesday. Instead, all data will now be reported through HHS’ reporting portal, officials said, adding that the decision was made to streamline data reporting and to provide HHS officials with real-time data.

Public health specialists and former health officials acknowledged the limitations of CDC’s data reporting infrastructure and said it needs to be overhauled to meet the demands of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, they expressed concern in interviews with CNBC that the change could lead to less transparent data.

When reached for comment Thursday by CNBC, HHS spokesman Michael Caputo said in a statement that CDC has been directed to reestablish the data. He added that in the future, “more powerful insights” will be provided by HHS.

“Yes, HHS is committed to being transparent with the American public about the information it is collecting on the coronavirus,” he said. “Therefore, HHS has directed CDC to re-establish the coronavirus dashboards it withdrew from the public on Wednesday.”

Representatives of the CDC did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

On the CDC site where data on available hospital beds and ICU was previously stored, a note now reads, “Data displayed on this page was submitted directly to CDC’s National Healthcare Safety Network (NHSN) and does not include data submitted to other entities contracted by or within the federal government.”

“We don’t have this critical indicator anymore,” Panchadsaram said. “The intent of just switching the data streams towards HHS, that’s fine. But you got to keep the data that you’re sharing publicly still available and up to date.”

Panchadsaram said he and his team, which includes researchers from the Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy and from Resolve to Save Lives, a public health initiative led by former CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden, have been tracking the data since April. 

Panchadsaram thinks of the project as something of a “progress czar” as they grade different states on the overall progress they’ve made in fighting Covid-19. Available hospital beds and ICU capacity is a key indicator they use to assess states, he added.

“It’s disappointing. It happened a lot quicker than expected,” he said. “The picture that we’re presenting to the world is incomplete.”

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