Remember when hospitals and agencies were told not to send statistics about COVID-19 to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention but instead to a different agency? Well, apparently it has been a mess.

It seems so long ago, but it was only in July. There was quite a bit of uncertainty when the administration wanted the data in their own little corner. 

Last night, after trying to wean myself from watching political programs, I figured it would be OK to watch one little hour. And that’s when the host – Rachel Maddow – brought up the subject of how the new stats have not been as believable as the ones that had been sent to the CDC. Instead, they had been sent to the Department of Health and Human Services, a totally different entity.

The topic here was a story in Science, a magazine that is well-respected. Reporter Charles Piller began the story like this:

“In mid-November, as the United States set records for newly diagnosed COVID-19 cases day after day, the hospital situation in one hard-hit state, Wisconsin, looked concerning but not yet urgent by one crucial measure. The main pandemic data tracking system run by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), dubbed HHS Protect, reported that on 16 November, 71% of the state’s hospital beds were filled. Wisconsin officials who rely on the data to support and advise their increasingly strained hospitals might have concluded they had some margin left.

“Yet a different federal COVID-19 data system painted a much more dire picture for the same day, reporting 91% of Wisconsin’s hospital beds were filled. That day was no outlier. A Science examination of HHS Protect and confidential federal documents found the HHS data for three important values in Wisconsin hospitals—beds filled, intensive care unit (ICU) beds filled, and inpatients with COVID-19—often diverge dramatically from those collected by the other federal source, from state-supplied data, and from the apparent reality on the ground.”

As I read that story, I thought, Why are they hiding something, or downplaying, or trying to pacify those of us who are concerned about the HHS and its data tracking system. Was it not working the way it should? It’s not just the data, but it is also a bellwether to learn about PPE for nurses and doctors, and other items that could be helpful – especially during this winter surge.

And, for the kicker, Dr. Deborah Birx, who was all over the place during those afternoon press conferences (if that is the correct term). And she wanted the change. From the Science story: 

“CDC had a long-running, if imperfect, hospital data tracking system in place when the pandemic started, but the Trump administration and White House Coronavirus Task Force Coordinator Deborah Birx angered many in the agency when they shifted much of the responsibility for COVID-19 hospital data in July to private contractors.”

This is why politics should not be part of a pandemic, except to help people. One would assume that change would be coming fairly soon. 

Below are links to the Science stories written by Charles Piller and a story in The New York Times, and a link to the blog from July 15.

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