Hospital data on coronavirus patients will now be rerouted to the Trump administration instead of first being sent to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Health and Human Services confirmed to CNN on Tuesday.
The move could make data less transparent to the public at a time when the administration is downplaying the spread of the pandemic, and threatens to undermine public confidence that medical data is being presented free of political interference.
Michael Caputo, the assistant secretary for public affairs at the department, confirmed the change first reported by The New York Times earlier in the day, saying in a statement that the "new faster and complete data system is what our nation needs to defeat the coronavirus and the CDC, an operating division of HHS, will certainly participate in this streamlined all-of-government response. They will simply no longer control it."
"The CDC's old hospital data gathering operation once worked well monitoring hospital information across the country, but it's an inadequate system today," Caputo said in the statement.
The Times said hospitals are to begin reporting the data to HHS on Wednesday, noting also that the "database that will receive new information is not open to the public, which could affect the work of scores of researchers, modelers and health officials who rely on C.D.C. data to make projections and crucial decisions."
CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta said the change is "going to lead to more opaqueness" about coronavirus data.
"What logic does this have, other than to take away the data from the epidemiologists that are the best in the world at looking at this data, making sense of it, translating it for people, versus giving it to HHS," he asked on CNN's "New Day" Wednesday morning.
The Trump administration continues to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic -- which has already claimed the lives of more than 136,000 Americans -- in moves that are increasingly being seen as political.
On Tuesday, four former CDC directors blasted the administration's efforts to disregard and politicize guidelines from the agency in a scathing Washington Post op-ed.
The four former CDC officials warned against what they called a "tragic indictment" of the CDC's efforts as President Donald Trump and top coronavirus task force officials seek to reopen the nation's schools.
Trump has said he will "pressure" governors to reopen schools, despite internal documents from the CDC separately obtained by the Times warning that reopening K-12 schools and universities would be the "highest risk" for the spread of the deadly virus.
"Unfortunately, their sound science is being challenged with partisan potshots, sowing confusion and mistrust at a time when the American people need leadership, expertise and clarity. These efforts have even fueled a backlash against public health officials across the country: Public servants have been harassed, threatened and forced to resign when we need them most. This is unconscionable and dangerous," the former CDC officials wrote.
Public health experts, they said: "Face two opponents: covid-19, but also political leaders and others attempting to undermine" the CDC.