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HHS Rolls Out New COVID-19 Database to Replace CDC’s System

— July 30, 2020

The HHS has rolled out a new coronavirus tracking database meant to replace the CDC’s system.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has rolled out a new COVID-19 dashboard called the Coronavirus Data Hub.  The HHS version replaces the CDC’s National Healthcare Safety Network (NHSN), to which medical facilities had been responsible for submitting COVID-19 data such as intensive care unit (ICU) capacity, ventilator use, personal protective equipment (PPE) levels, and any staffing issues.  Available for public view is the ability for users to see the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. as well as the overall number of reported fatalities.  HHS ordered hospitals to stop submitting to the old database immediately and submit data to either the HHS or to their state health department, which will route it nationally.  Not everyone is happy with this decision.

“The move to cut CDC out of the loop is troubling and, if implemented, will undermine our nation’s public health experts,” Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) President Thomas File Jr. said. “Placing medical data collection outside of the leadership of public health experts could severely weaken the quality and availability of data, add an additional burden to already overwhelmed hospitals and add a new challenge to the U.S. pandemic response.”

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

However, José Arrieta, HHS’s chief information officer, noted that the CDC used data “from only 3,000 of the nation’s 6,200 hospitals to forecast coronavirus trends.”  He added, “Our goal is to take a different approach.  We’re reporting on over 4,500 hospitals and if a hospital doesn’t submit a complete dataset, we’re [still] going to provide the data.”

The IDSA, in collaboration with healthcare companies, drafted a letter to White House coronavirus task force members Deborah Birx, MD, HHS Secretary Alex Azar, and Vice President Mike Pence, asking them to give control of the data back to the CDC.

“Rather than investing in a new data collection mechanism and reporting infrastructure, we strongly urge the administration to provide funding to enhance data collection and strengthen the role of CDC to collect and report COVID-19 data by race and ethnicity, hospital and ICU capacity, total number of tests and percent positive, hospitalizations and deaths,” the letter read. “This critical function belongs with our nation’s top public health agency.”

Arrieta acknowledged that the new system “is a pretty big change,” but added that with it, “individuals will have…access to the raw data so they can do their own predictions, their own modeling, and get an understanding of how their own communities are faring.  We want to create a public discussion around the importance for data sharing and the importance for transparency.  There are still gaps in those data elements that hospitals aren’t submitting; we want to encourage them to submit it.  That’s one reason why we’re showing the missing elements.”  He added, the HHS plans to update the dashboard regularly.

“In the next couple of weeks, we’re going to post a time series record, so everyone can see what has actually happened with the data set,” Arrieta said. While government agencies, including the CDC, will control who within their structures can access the HHS Protect data, “from the moment the data hits HHS Protect, we create a record of all the behaviors associated with that data set…who curated it, who parsed, how they parsed it.  It’s a very powerful capability if somebody makes a mistake.  One state, for example, had an issue with some data they sent us, and we immediately looked at the time series and found that, in fact, they had submitted the information twice, and we were able to remedy it within one hour.”


HHS unveils new coronavirus hospitalization database, says it’s more complete than CDC’s

HHS Rolls Out New COVID-19 Data Dashboard

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