Experts warn that new U.S. rules on virus data collection are creating problems for hospitals and data integrity.

 
 
 
Alex M. Azar, the health secretary, during a visit to Taiwan this week. Several of his appointees to a federal health advisory committee have raised concern about new virus data reporting rules. 
Credit…Pei Chen/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Nearly three dozen current and former members of a federal health advisory committee — including some appointed or reappointed by Health Secretary Alex M. Azar — are warning that the Trump administration’s new coronavirus database is placing an undue burden on hospitals and will have “serious consequences on data integrity.”

The advisers, all current or former members of the Healthcare Infection Control Practices Advisory Committee, issued their warning in a previously unpublished letter obtained by Sheryl Gay Stolberg, a Washington correspondent for The New York Times.

The administration last month ordered hospitals to send daily reports about virus cases to a central database in Washington — controlled by Mr. Azar’s department — instead of to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Such reports include information about current patients, the number of available beds and ventilators, and other information vital to tracking the pandemic. The order raised alarm that the data could be politicized or withheld from the public.

The transition left hospitals “scrambling to determine how to meet daily reporting requirements,” the authors of the letter wrote. They urged that the C.D.C.’s data experts “be allowed to continue their important and trusted work” of gathering, analyzing and disseminating the daily reports, which help the government track the pandemic and guide crucial health care decisions, including how to allocate scarce supplies and medication like remdesivir, the only drug that has federal approval to treat Covid-19.

“The U.S. cannot lose their decades of expertise in interpreting and analyzing crucial data,” wrote the authors, who include the current co-chairs of the panel reappointed by Mr. Azar — Dr. Lisa Maragakis of Johns Hopkins Hospital and Dr. Hilary Babcock, a professor in the Infectious Disease Division at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

 

The 34 signatories are “the elite of the infection control personnel from hospitals all over the country,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University (not Emory University, as an earlier version of this item said) who is not affiliated with the group.

The letter amounts to a sharp rebuke to Mr. Azar. It should be taken “very seriously,” said another expert, Michael T. Osterholm of the University of Minnesota.

Hospital officials around the country questioned the wisdom of switching systems in the middle of a pandemic, and said that the shift in reporting requirements has been time-consuming and difficult. And because the metrics are different, it is hard to compare current data with information collected earlier in the pandemic.

The C.D.C. referred questions to its parent agency, the Department of Health and Human Services, run by Mr. Azar.

A spokesman for Mr. Azar, Michael Caputo, said the C.D.C.’s health care network “was unable to keep up with the fast-paced data collection demands of the Covid-19 pandemic.” And while the C.D.C. no longer collects the data, Mr. Caputo said, the agency has “access to all the data it once had and more.”

New York Times