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The Trump administration announced it would republish COVID-19 hospitalization data on a publicly accessible website provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention hours after the site went dark on Thursday. But with any policy regarding an American hospital, the fine print is essential: The CDC site will only provide the data on availability of hospital beds and intensive care units up to July 14. Moving forward, the American public will have to access coronavirus hospitalization data from private sources.
The policy is part of a surprise effort unveiled this week to reroute information from over 25,000 medical centers to a database run by the Department of Health and Human Services via a private contractor. Public-health experts immediately decried the change from an administration that has sidelined — and trash-talked — its public-health officials and begun the process of withdrawing from the World Health Organization. “It’s really hard not to see this as some kind of interference or snub [to] the CDC,” University of Arizona epidemiologist Saskia Popescu told NPR. “With so many concerns over the politicization of data right now, this is concerning.”
Other concerns persist: Hospitals are currently scrambling to get the data to its proper place at HHS, after being informed on Monday of the change in protocol that went into effect yesterday. Senator Patty Murray has also questioned why the company that HHS has outsourced the data collection to was granted a $10 million contract in a noncompetitive bid months ago. “It’s entirely unclear why the Trump Administration has asked states and hospitals to upend their reporting systems in the middle of a pandemic — in 48 hours nonetheless — without a single explanation as to why this new system is better or necessary,” Murray told NPR in a statement.
The shift is consistent, however, with the administration’s habit of paying private contractors to do research or execute tasks that taxpayers are already paying for: A report from ProPublica published on Wednesday details how federal and state governments paid McKinsey over $100 million this year for pandemic advice, while the White House cast aside the recommendations of its own public-health experts.