Coronavirus data is funneled away from CDC, sparking worries

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FILE - In this May 27, 2020, file photo, a medical worker wearing personal protective equipment cleans gurneys in the emergency department intake area in New York. Hospital data related to the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. will now be collected by a private technology firm, rather than the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention a move the Trump administration says will speed up reporting but one that concerns some public health leaders. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

NEW YORK – Hospital data related to the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. will now be collected by a private technology firm, rather than the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — a move the Trump administration says will speed up reporting but one that concerns some public health leaders.

The CDC director said Wednesday that he's fine with the change — even though some experts fear it will further sideline the agency.

The CDC has agreed to step out of the government's traditional data collection process "in order to streamline reporting,” Dr. Robert Redfield said during a call with reporters set up by the agency's parent, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

HHS officials recently posted a document on the agency's website that redirected hospitals' daily reporting of a range of data meant to assess the impact of the coronavirus on them. TeleTracking Technologies, based in Pittsburgh, will now collect that information.

However, if hospitals are already directly reporting to state health departments, they can get a written release from the state to keep doing that.

The information includes bed occupancy, staffing levels, the severity level of coronavirus patients, ventilators on hand, and supplies of masks, gowns, and other personal protective equipment. The CDC will continue to collect other data, like information about cases and deaths, from state health departments.

Michael Caputo, an HHS spokesman, said the CDC has been seeing a lag of a week or more in data coming from hospitals and that only 85% of hospitals have been participating. The change is meant to result in faster and more complete reporting, he said.

It's not clear how that will happen. HHS officials on Wednesday did not answer questions about whether there would be added government incentives or mandates to get more reporting from busy hospitals.