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New COVID-19 Data Reporting Rule Sparks Confusion At Hospitals

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Hospitals around the country are scrambling to figure out a new data reporting requirement from the Trump administration. They were told this week to send critical information about COVID-19 directly to the Department of Health and Human Services, bypassing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The move created confusion at hospitals and alarmed public health experts who worry about public access to important data. We're joined now by NPR's Pien Huang. Thanks so much for being with us.

PIEN HUANG, BYLINE: Morning, Scott. Good to be here.

SIMON: This new reporting change has been in effect since Wednesday. Can we tell how it's going?

HUANG: Yes. So it's been a mixed bag. I've heard from a few hospitals around the country. Some say it's been really hard. Some say it's been really confusing. And others say it's been OK, but they're still sorting out the details of the change. But according to HHS, more hospitals have been reporting this week than have in the recent past. And they say that was one of the reasons they wanted to implement this new system.

SIMON: Step back, Pien. What's changed for a hospital?

HUANG: Well, for a couple of months since the beginning of the pandemic, hospitals have been reporting this daily data about the number of cold patients they have, the number of beds and ventilators they have available to the CDC. And the CDC has been gathering this data. They've been analyzing it. They've been putting up on their website to give updates on hospital capacity, which is, you know, whether hospitals have enough resources and protective gear to take care of the COVID-19 patients that are coming in. But under this new rule, hospitals are now supposed to report this data either to their state health departments or to a different system called TeleTracking, which has been set up by a private company and which provides that data directly to HHS.

SIMON: So hospitals still report the data - just somewhere else. What has some experts and officials so concerned?

HUANG: Yeah, so hospitals are still required to report the data, but they say it's been a big burden to change things up right now, especially for those facing certain coronavirus cases. And doctors have also pointed out that the administration seems to be saying hospitals have to use this new reporting system to gain access to the federal supply of remdesivir, which is one of the only drugs known to work against COVID-19. Top scientists at the CDC says these new reporting methods ignore valuable experience that the CDC has in gathering this data. Here's Dr. Daniel Pollock.

DANIEL POLLOCK: We have a long-standing working relationship with the hospitals. We have means to be able to do quality checks over the incoming data.

HUANG: He's not sure that the information coming in from these other methods will be as good as the data CDC was collecting. And public health experts have also been raising concerns. They see this in the context of the administration fighting federal scientists over coronavirus advice. And they say this could be part of a pattern in which the administration is trying to sideline the CDC, the nation's public health agency, in the middle of a pandemic.

SIMON: NPR's Pien Huang, thanks so much for being with us.

HUANG: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.