Wonkette photoshoop; background by Vecteezy, attribution license

In a triumph of propaganda over transparency, the Trump administration's move to require American hospitals to send daily coronavirus data to a server at the Department of Health and Human Services instead of to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has already seen results: As of Thursday morning, just one day after the new reporting requirement went into effect, the CDC's dashboard for reporting of hospital capacity looked like this, as ProPublica deputy managing editor Charles Ornstein tweeted.

https://twitter.com/charlesornstein/status/1283754463086481410

But don't worry! Go to the CDC dashboard now and you'll find a much friendlier message that includes data through Tuesday, along with a note telling you the information will no longer be updated ever again, and a link to the HHS guidance telling hospitals to stop submitting daily reports to the CDC. But it's definitely friendlier than a blank screen!

(red underlines added)



Another healthcare data nerd, Ryan Panchadsaram of the site Covid Exit Strategy, told CNBC the data on available hospital beds and ICU capacity was already gone by Tuesday.

"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."

Well that's probably not a big deal, considering that the site Panchadsaram works for seems determined to make Donald Trump look bad, what with its colored maps showing much of the nation "trending poorly" or experiencing "uncontrolled spread." Make the data go away and everything will be just fine!

Covid Exit Strategy screenshot July 16, 2020

Even with the CDC reports gone, there's still a lot of data out there that doesn't reflect well on Donald Trump, so clearly the White House needs to get to work hiding that stuff too.

The vanishing act alarmed many public health experts and researchers, especially since the change was imposed with so little warning, in the middle of a new surge in cases. Johns Hopkins University epidemiologist Dr. Jennifer Nuzzo said the HHS change won't affect the popular JHU coronavirus dashboard because the project gets information directly from states.

She added, however, that the policy change raises questions about the transparency of the data and the role of the CDC in the ongoing U.S. response.

"What worries me is that we seem to be pushing rather suddenly in the midst of what feels like a very urgent time in terms of surging cases that we're seeing across the country," she told CNBC. "The question is, what are we going to lose in this transition, and in particular at a moment where we really don't want to lose any ability to understand what's happening in hospitals."

We really liked this paragraph from CNBC for its apparent surprise at Team Trump's standard way of doing goddamned everything, through its strategy of weaponized incompetence.

Nuzzo expressed concern that the administration didn't appear to fully plan out how the transition in data reporting would work and didn't give hospitals or researchers a warning about the change or how it might affect them.

Is there anything this administration has done that was carefully thought out? One policy change, ever? Maybe some of the efforts to roll back environmental regulations, where rewriting rules requires some planning to finalize, but even there, chaos and improvisation are the norms.

In response to the anxious squawks from medical researchers and public health folks, HHS sent Roger Stone's political protégé, Michael Caputo, to do the spokesperson thing he does; Caputo issued a statement saying there was nothing to worry about, OK?

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

And lo, the very last tranche of information, through July 14, went back on the dashboard, as we noted above, along with that note pointing out no more updates will be made, ever, because that info is at HHS and you can't have it. HAPPY, NERDS? Caputo also said the new HHS system would deliver "more powerful insights on the coronavirus," although you'll note that his statement didn't say squat about those insights, or the data, being made available to the public.

Thursday saw a litany of not-very-reassuring reassurances coming from others, too. CDC Director Robert Redfield said in a press call that the change to the HHS system won't mean that CDC will be shut out of access to hospital data that's now going to HHS, explaining, "No one is taking access or data away from the CDC. [...] This has no effect on the CDC's ability to use data."

We like the part where he said absolutely nothing about public access to the data, which in our case we have no longer got.

Similarly, HHS chief information officer Jose Arrieta explained that the agency might make the data available to Congress, and is also "exploring the best way to make this information available to the public," which sure as hell doesn't sound like a commitment to restore or replicate the open access that the CDC system had prior to Wednesday.

For more on how all this data fuckery — the scope of which still hasn't been determined, even — may impact efforts to bring the pandemic under control, see this remarkably good overview at the medical news site Stat. The story points out that, yes, the CDC system was originally designed simply for "tracking hospital-acquired pneumonias and urinary tract infections," while the new HHS system, from an outfit called TeleTracking, was purpose-built for gathering COVID-19 data.

But there are major drawbacks, too: Hospitals are being asked to learn a new data system as they're struggling to keep up with a raging pandemic. Streams of data that the CDC was making available to researchers and the public have suddenly been cut off, exacerbating fears that the Trump administration is trying to stomp out any evidence that the pandemic is worse than ever.

One detail that jumped out at me: Even if there's no fuckery afoot (which is a pretty big if), the TeleTracking system is going to create a lot more work for many hospitals, especially those which will have to "abandon systems programmed to auto-load data into the CDC portal and now manually enter that data into the new HHS system." But then, chaos is the new normal, so like the pandemic, we'll just need to learn to live with it.

[CNBC / Covid Exit Strategy / Stat / The Hill / Photoshoop background by Vecteezy, attribution license]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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