National Consumers League

NCL expresses concerns over COVID-19 data transparency

July 17, 2020

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242 or Taun Sterling, tauns@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC—The nation's oldest consumer advocacy organization reacted today to the announcement by the Trump Administration that it is dissolving the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) role in key COVID-19-related data collection. The CDC is the nation’s premier health care data collection agency and has developed the critical body of information related to COVID-19 hospitalizations, intensive care bed capacity, and availability of personal protective equipment (PPE).

But now that is slated to change with this poorly explained and abrupt decision. Hospitals are now mandated to send all COVID-19 related data to a separate federal database. The role of data collection will now be transferred to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), an agency that oversees the CDC, with the intention of streamlining data and informing the White House Coronavirus Task Force. The National Guard may be enlisted to gather and record data, which makes little sense since it is not a health care agency. This redirection of data will not be open to the public.

"This change in policy is not in the best interests of fighting the COVID-19 pandemic and comes without adequate explanation," said National Consumers League Executive Director Sally Greenberg. "The Trump Administration has sowed chaos and disseminated confusing and conflicting information to the public from the start of this pandemic. There is no reason to trust that this change in direction will improve what is a woefully tattered record on the COVID-19 response."

The CDC’s current data collection system serves 25,000 medical centers nationwide. These data collection policies have existed for decades with years of expertise involved in collecting and analyzing the data. "It is crucial that the public and the CDC have access to hospital records and statistics; this is critical to informing domestic and to international efforts to fight against the coronavirus," said Greenberg.

Public health experts have voiced concerns that the Administration’s effort to usurp CDC’s role in data collection could undermine the nation’s efforts to fight the pandemic.

University of Arizona epidemiologist, Saskia Posescu: “It’s really hard not to see this as interference or snub [to] the CDC. With so many concerns over the politicization of data right now, this is concerning.”

Jen Kates, director of global health and H.I.V. policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation" “How will the data be protected? Will there be transparency, will there be access, and what is the role of the CDC in understanding the data?”

"NCL believes that the CDC needs greater access to updated technology to address an existing problem in its current data collection system, not to have its role in fighting the pandemic sidelined," said Greenberg. "The National Consumers League is deeply concerned with these developments that run the risk of compromising transparency and eroding of public trust. NCL will continue to advocate for transparency and access to necessary information to stay safe and healthy as the nation does battle with this raging pandemic."

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About the National Consumers League (NCL)

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America's pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.