How Did Burning Down The CDC's COVID-19 Data System Work Out? Probably Just Fine We Bet!
It's been a month (roughly six years for beings not traveling in hyperspace with us) since the Trump administration ordered hospitals to stop reporting COVID-19 data to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention but to instead send all their data to a new, privately contracted system set up for the Department of Health and Human Services. So how are things going? As any middle manager might say after their boss walked into an office where everyone is half naked, coked to the gills, and betting on ocelot fights in the break room, IT'S JUST GREAT, though we're still working out some kinks in the process. Or as the Wall Street Journal puts it, far more boringly,
Public release of hospital data about the coronavirus pandemic has slowed to a crawl. [...]
Key indicators, such as estimates of the portion of inpatient beds occupied by Covid-19 patients, are lagging by a week or more, making it harder for citizens and local officials to get a handle on how the pandemic is progressing and for agencies to allocate supplies of antiviral drugs and personal protective equipment, public-health experts say.
And a lot of public health experts say it was a terrible, irresponsible idea to completely switch information systems in the middle of a goddamned pandemic, much less to let the ocelots handle data entry.
In related news, the New York Times reports that 34 current and former members of a top US government health advisory committee have sent a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar warning that the new data regime is making it harder for hospitals to do their jobs, and that the switch will have "serious consequences on data integrity." Seems lots of hospitals haven't even trained their ocelots in 10-key, and worse.
The Journal piece had no difficulty finding worrywarts who said "reliable data" are useful during a "national emergency," probably because they don't want Donald Trump to get credit for the fabulous job he's done of managing the crisis. Sure, his policies have led to more than 169,000 deaths in this country, but most of those had nothing to do with tracking hospital data, OK? Just look at this whiner:
"The transition has been a disaster," as hospitals typically take time to adjust to new data systems, said Jeffrey Engel, senior adviser to the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists, an association that represents state public-health officials. "What HHS said was that the CDC was not nimble enough and couldn't handle new data elements, and that's simply not true."
HHS insists the new system, built under a no-bid contract by Teletracking Technologies Inc., a plucky little data firm that's never handled a national data-crunching task of this scope, is the bees' knees, because it collects a wider set of data, from many more hospitals, than the prior CDC system did. But golly, it's a new system and they're still getting all the hospitals to figure out how to get the data, and that can lead to little backlogs in processing and some "quality control" issues at first.
In the middle of a fucking pandemic.
A "senior HHS official" explained that everything will eventually get sorted out:
"We've been at it for a month now, so we're starting to see the data stabilize and shake out. It's why the data has only been updated on a weekly basis," the official said. "In being more transparent, it creates some level of confusion [in the short term]."
The Journal got a less cheerful assessment from Tom Frieden, who headed the CDC from 2009 to 2017. Frieden, a deep state Obama holdover who thinks "public health" matters more than the vital mission of praising Donald Trump and making sure he's "reelected," said the data switch (in the middle of a rat-felching pandemic) has been "chaotic":
"There's been inconsistent reporting, there have been serious lags in the reporting. The last time I reviewed it, some data was 11 days old, and now it's three days old," Dr. Frieden said. "They pulled it away from CDC because it was updated three times a week, and now they update it once a week. Give me a break." [...]
"We're not doing a good job of tracking either the virus or our response to it, and because of that we're flying blind," Dr. Frieden said. "That's the big picture."
The WSJ reporters, all designated by Donald Trump as enemies of the people, went to the HHS Protect website and found that, for instance, hospital data on several important measures weren't updated at all between August 3 and August 10. The unreported data, they note, "includes indicators such as inpatient and intensive-care beds occupied by Covid-19 patients, which researchers say are key to understanding the pandemic."
But did the Journal point out that a lot of doctors are Democrats who don't support Donald Trump and want him to lose? It did not.
Also, we're pretty sure we hadn't seen this reported yet, had we? The switch to the new system was as sudden and badly planned as it seemed a month ago when the administration imposed the new data system with just a few days' notice:
In early July, the White House coronavirus task force asked the CDC to add dozens of new elements to its National Health Safety Network system, which has been in place for about 15 years. The White House gave the CDC a deadline of two to three days, the HHS official said, but the CDC said it needed two to three weeks to implement changes.
HHS, on orders from the White House task force, on July 10 instructed hospitals to switch from the CDC's system to a new one operated by a private contractor called TeleTracking Technologies Inc., the HHS official said.
Remember, we were told shortly after the switch took place that it had been planned for months. Maybe so, but nobody seems to have told the CDC or the hospitals. Just the usual weaponized incompetence from the wrecking crew.
In the middle of a deadly pandemic that Trump had lost interest in and wanted to go away.
The New York Times report on that letter from current and former members of the CDC's "Healthcare Infection Control Practices Advisory Committee" provides more evidence that people in the federal public health system are worried as hell that, even if — if — the administration isn't actively suppressing or altering data, the new system is hurting the nation's ability to address the pandemic. Beyond the worries about politicizing the data or just not allowing transparency,
[The] authors of the letter expressed additional concerns. They said that the transition from the C.D.C. to the private vendor, TeleTracking Technologies, has left hospitals "scrambling to determine how to meet daily reporting requirements" and that C.D.C. data experts had been sidelined.
"The U.S. cannot lose their decades of expertise in interpreting and analyzing crucial data," the authors wrote, adding that the C.D.C.'s experts, from its Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion, must "be allowed to continue their important and trusted work."
At least nine of the signatories of the letter were appointed or re-appointed to the panel by Azar, and that includes both of the committee's co-chairs, Dr. Lisa Maragakis of Johns Hopkins Hospital and Dr. Hilary Babcock of the Washington University School of Medicine (the one in St. Louis, not Washington State). Guess they'll have to be silenced for disloyalty.
But if you want to see something really scary, get a load of how Azar's official spokesperson, Roger Stone disciple Michael Caputo, replied to the Times's request for comment:
"If the writers of that letter want the C.D.C. to be more involved in the hospital data, they should tell the C.D.C., because the C.D.C. has refused to be involved in something that they don't control," Mr. Caputo said. When the shift occurred, he added, "they had a tantrum."
Don't worry, the data is all great, especially now that those losers at CDC aren't messing around with it. We're all in the hands of the Very Best People, and their turf wars can't possibly affect our health, the end.
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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.