'No one is taking access or data away from CDC': CDC director, HHS CIO explain COVID-19 data transfer decision

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CDC Director Robert Redfield, MD, and HHS CIO Jose Arietta held a press briefing on July 15 to address the agency's recent change in how COVID-19 data is reported and tracked.

HHS updated its reporting guidance for hospitals on July 10, directing hospitals to report data through the state or state contractor, which would then report data directly to HHS. Previously, hospitals reported COVID-19 data on a daily basis to the CDC through its data system, National Health Safety Network. Now, the data is reported through a TeleTracking system and sent directly to HHS.

The NHSN dashboard that included COVID-19 hospital capacity information as well as ventilator use has stopped daily reporting, but the CDC website still publicly reports information including COVID-19 case and death rates. Although Mr. Arietta said one of the core principles of HHS Protect was transparency, he did not address whether hospital capacity data would reappear, but he did say that the new system would give users a better idea of where the information comes from.

"We recognize that experts creating and using these datasets want to know their sources and the lineage of the datasets and how they're being used," he said. "We do that through HHS Protect and we also give the actual owners of the datasets — CDC for NHSN, for instance — control over who within HHS Protect has access to those data sets."

In the press briefing, Dr. Redfield said HHS developed its new system, HHS Protect, in April and at that time accepted information funneled from NHSN, directly to the project from states or through the TeleTracking system; the move streamlines data flow so all information goes directly to one spot.

"This reduces the reporting burden," he said. "It reduces confusion and duplication of reporting. Streamlining reporting enables us to distribute scarce resources using the best possible data. TeleTracking also provides rapid ways to update the type of data we are collecting, such as adding, for instance, input fields on what kind of treatments are being used. In order to meet this need for flexible data gathering, CDC agreed that we needed to remove NHSN from the collection process."

NHSN will now focus on gathering information on COVID-19 from nursing homes and long-term care facilities. He said federal, state and local health departments have access to HHS Protect information. He also said about 1,000 CDC experts can still access the raw data and the agency plans to keep up with daily data reports. "No one is taking access or data away from CDC," said Dr. Redfield.

Mr. Arietta said HHS is working with Congress to give access to elected officials as well.

Mr. Arietta said that the CDC NHSN received data from 3,000 of the 6,200 of the hospitals regularly while HHS Protect received data from a separate 2,000 hospitals and another 1,100 hospitals reported directly through the TeleTracking system.


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