National COVID-19 data now sent to HHS; local leaders frustrated

Data collection changing for COVID-19

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - National data on COVID-19 will be kept in a new department. The US Department of Health and Human Services confirmed it will be collecting data from hospitals, instead of the CDC, as originally reported by the New York Times. The move is leaving some local officials confused and frustrated.

“It becomes harder when, not only we as policy makers, but our medical…and scientific community can’t get the information nationally that we need, for no good reason that I can tell,” said Ramón Valadez, Pima County Supervisor.

The CDC’s database is accessible to the public, something researchers use to make projections. The HHS’s database is private. A spokesperson for HHS said in a written statement to KOLD that each state and US territory health department has access to reports and data within HHS Protect, and an up-to-date dashboard of allocations for commercially available Remdesivir by state and US territory is publicly available on the phe.gov website.

“We simply don’t know why this is being done, and I can’t think of a good reason to do this,” said Valadez. “What are you trying to hide?”

According to CNN, HHS said the CDC’s database is inadequate to store and process the necessary information. HHS said hospitals will have a decreased burden of reporting and will no longer be required to enter COVID-19 hospital data into CDC’s National Healthcare Safety Network for the purpose of receiving allocations of Remdesivir. Remdesivir, made by Gilead Sciences Inc., has been shown to shorten recovery time for COVID-19 patients. HHS said because data will now be input daily, HHS can follow the most recent hospital admissions for COVID-19 and allocate based on these new-onset patients, for whom Remdesivir appears most beneficial. According to the site, Arizona has received 534 cases of the drug between July 10-19, the second most in the nation. Texas has received the most with nearly 860 cases of Remdesivir during the same time frame.

The Pima County Health Department said healthcare systems in Arizona are still required to provide information to the state outlined in an executive order from the governor—that includes the number of ICU beds and ventilators in use for COVID-19 patients, estimated amount of PPE used per day and other items. PCHD says this data is what is used to inform local operations.

Northwest Medical Center said in an email to KOLD the new mandate will not affect their reporting, since they send their information directly to the state. Banner UMC said in a statement that they will comply with the order and “are hopeful that national COVID-19 data will continue to be accessible to health care providers and the public.”

The move comes as Arizona has had a record month for positive COVID-19 cases—sparking leaders to bring in help from other states. ADHS announced Wednesday they signed a contract with Vizient, Inc. to bring 600 healthcare workers from out of state. ADHS told KOLD, they hope to make the final decision on where all these workers will go, within the next day. Pima County is hoping some assistance will come their way—from workers to testing sites much like the governor has put in Maricopa County.

“We’re trying to get some of those things that he announced so proudly last week down here because we have a need as well,” said Valadez.

Pima County said they have asked the Governor and are working with Arizona’s congressional delegation to get a FEMA testing site, but said they have not heard back.

TMC declined to comment for this piece.

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