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CDC restores COVID-19 hospital data website, but may not update going forward

It comes as the Trump administration has instructed hospitals to stop sending some critical coronavirus-related data to the CDC.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention restored a web page Thursday with national hospitalization data, including that related to COVID-19. The Trump administration reportedly received backlash after it was taken down, but the restored information may not be updated going forward.

This came after the Department of Health and Human Services told hospitals last week to no longer submit its COVID-19 information to the CDC's National Healthcare Safety Network and to send it to HHS instead. It has sparked concerns about transparency and public access to the data.

Several media outlets began inquiring after the CDC page with the previous data disappeared, according to ProPublica. The CDC re-posted data from Tuesday back onto its website by mid-day Thursday. 

The top of the page reads, "Dashboards last updated as of July 14, 2020." A downloadable dataset further down the page reads, "This file will not be updated after July 14, 2020 and includes data from April 1 to July 14." 

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CNN reported it received a statement from HHS, saying the department was "committed to being transparent with the American public" and that it directed the CDC to re-establish the dashboards.

A federal health official reportedly told The Washington Post the CDC was reluctant to maintain the dashboard because it would no longer receive the information firsthand.

Hospital data related to the coronavirus pandemic will now be collected by a private technology firm, rather than the CDC — a move the Trump administration says will speed up reporting but one that concerns some public health leaders. 

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.

A CDC official, who is familiar with the agency’s system, disputed Caputo's figures, saying only about 60% of the nation's hospitals have been reporting to the CDC system, but most data is collected and reported out within two days. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk about it.

Some outside experts expressed suspicion and concern about the decision to drop CDC from the data-collection mix.

The data “are the foundation that guide our response to the pandemic,” Dr. Thomas File, Jr., president of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, said in a statement.

Collecting and reporting public health data has always been a core function of the CDC, he added. “The administration should provide funding to support data collection and should strengthen the role of CDC to collect and report COVID-19 data," he said.

Gregory Koblentz, a biodefense expert at George Mason University, said the change appears to be consistent with administration moves in recent months that have sidelined the CDC from the role it has played in other epidemics, as the public's primary source of information.

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“We know the administration has been trying to silence the CDC," he said. “Now it looks like the administration might be trying to blind the CDC as well.”

The White House directed a request for comment to HHS.