The Department of Health and Human Services is denying a report by the Wall Street Journal which stated that hospitals would return to the practice of sending critical COVID-19 data to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Data collection was moved to HHS in July.
“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," said Michael Caputo, HHS Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs in a statement to TEGNA. "This false reporting will sow more confusion and only undermines the public health response."
The report cited Dr. Deborah Birx, a top White House coronavirus official, who reportedly told hospital executives and government officials this week that reporting to HHS was "solely an interim system."
“CDC is working with us right now to build a revolutionary new data system so it can be moved back to the CDC, and they can have that regular accountability with hospitals relevant to treatment and PPE,” Dr. Birx said, according to WSJ.
In a statement to TEGNA, an HHS spokesperson said that when Birx mentioned an interim system, she was referring to the "current method of requiring hospitals to manually collect and then manually enter data every day."
HHS said the CDC is collaborating with the U.S. Digital service in building a "modernized automation process." The data will still go to the HHS Protect system, where it has been going since last month, "where all users in the response will have access to it."
The move in July to switch the reports from CDC to HHS was met with controversy.
The Trump administration said it would speed up reporting. But critics said the data was important to guiding the pandemic response and suggested the move was aimed at silencing the CDC, which President Donald Trump has sometimes disagreed with during the coronavirus outbreak.
The information includes bed occupancy, staffing levels, the severity of coronavirus patients, ventilators on-hand, and supplies of masks, gowns and other personal protective equipment.
When the switch to HHS first occurred the CDC took down a web page with national hospitalization data, a decision that received backlash. The page was later restored with a note that the information would not be updated going forward.