Editorial: With the Trump Administration in Control of COVID-19 Data, Will the Virus Disappear “Like a Miracle”?

The Trump administration has seized control of hospital data related to COVID-19, prohibiting hospitals from sending their data to the CDC. Hospitals are now required to send their data directly to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) instead. No doubt, we can expect to see an astonishing and fast drop in the number of positive cases, hospitalizations, and deaths related to COVID-19.

We should prepare to see numbers so low that schools will scramble to open, the economy will be better than ever, and churches will be packed once again. Heck, we may even see evidence that hydroxychloroquine is effective against COVID-19, after all.

The federal government claims that it will use the data from hospitals “to inform decisions at the federal level, such as allocation of supplies, treatments, and other resources. We will no longer be sending out one-time requests for data to aid in the distribution of Remdesivir or any other treatments or supplies. This daily reporting is the only mechanism used for the distribution calculations, and the daily is needed daily to ensure accurate calculations.”

Translated, this directive means that in order for hospitals to receive federal aid, supplies or access to certain drugs used to treat COVID-19, they must comply with the Trump administration’s directive. The directive also prohibits hospitals from sending data to the CDC in addition to sending it to HHS.

Donald Trump, in his continued efforts to not only ignore science, but to bend it to his will, has now found the perfect way to make science work for him (or at least, manipulate scientific data to work for him). Now that the Trump administration will get to the data before the CDC does, the health experts will stop with their bothersome statistics, guidelines, and warnings. They’ll stop disagreeing with Trump when he says the virus is under control, that the U.S. has done the best job in the world at testing, and that the virus is disappearing “like a miracle.” They won’t be able to correct him when he makes statements like, “Ninety-nine percent of cases are harmless,” because they won’t have the latest hospital data to prove otherwise.

Jen Kates of the Kaiser Family Foundation says, “Historically, CDC has been the place where public health data has been sent, and this raises questions about not just access for researchers but access for reporters, access for the public to try to better understand what is happening with the outbreak.”

No doubt, this is exactly what Donald Trump has hoped for.

Americans are already confused about COVID-19. There is no national plan for dealing with the virus, though the Trump administration has indicated that those pesky guidelines the CDC created are getting in the way of  holding church services and bringing students back to schools in the fall.

Various parts of the country are responding to the pandemic in various ways, and state and local responses are often governed by the dominant political party there (and where they get their news). With data coming from the White House instead of the CDC, however, perhaps all states will look to Florida (would it be surprising if Florida’s numbers soon improved sharply?) and emulate Florida’s reopening success story.

With the CDC out of the way, at least for the purposes of receiving and analyzing data so that they can create sound recommendations, maybe people will stop harping on wearing those tyrannical masks. Maybe we won’t have to worry any more that more testing will produce more cases.

One has to wonder if Donald Trump got his inspiration from another authoritarian wannabe, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro’s administration removed almost all COVID-19 related data from government websites, and barred researchers from access to the data. In the case of Brazil, however, its Supreme Court just two days later ordered that the public data be restored. Can we have faith that our Supreme Court might act similarly?

Michael Caputo, HHS assistant secretary for public affairs, said in a statement earlier Wednesday the new coronavirus data collection system would be “faster.”

Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the CDC, said, “We at CDC know that the life blood of public health is data,” he said. “Collecting, disseminating data as rapidly as possible is our priority and the reason for the policy change we’re discussing today.”

If only anything else—anything at all—about the Trump Administration’s response to the pandemic to date demonstrated that we could believe Caputo and Redfield that data collection and analysis by the same administration would be faster and more efficient. Trump downplayed the coronavirus from the beginning and now simply doesn’t speak of it, let alone lead a response in any way. He has denied that states lacked equipment. He has blamed China for the virus, though it’s preposterous to blame them for the COVID-19 tidal wave resulting from Trump’s incompetence. He has done all of this while the CDC’s data, guidelines, and warnings were staring him in the face. So, faster and more efficient response to the pandemic if the Trump administration controls the data? Not a chance.

The U.S. has more than 3.5 million reported cases of COVID-19, with more than 70,000 new reported cases per day, and more than 138,000 COVID-19 related deaths, as of July 17. The CDC, based on its data, estimates that there are 10 times the number of cases in the U.S. than reported. (But we can get those numbers down, as long as the CDC stops getting that data.) No wonder the Trump administration wants to get to the data before the CDC can.

Doctor weighs in on Trump administration stripping CDC of control of COVID-19 data | CBS News [2020-07-15]

Trump Cuts Off CDC From Coronavirus Data | HuffPost [2020-07-15]

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