CDC director says his agency was not involved in decision to divert COVID-19 hospital data to HHS

Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), wears a protective mask during a House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis hearing on July 31, 2020 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Erin Scott-Pool/Getty Images)

Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said on July 31 that the organization was not “directly involved” in the Trump administration’s decision to reroute hospital data on coronavirus patients to the White House first, rather than to the health agency.

Earlier this month, Michael R. Caputo, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, told the New York Times 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.”

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Speaking before a House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Response, Redfield said, “We weren't directly involved in the final decision but what I can say is this: CDC then and now continues to have access to all data, does all the data analytics, so there's no restriction of any of the data.”

Hospitals were instructed on July 15 to start bypassing the CDC and send their daily patient information directly to a central database operated by the HHS in Washington, D.C. 

According to the HHS, it was the intent of the Trump administration to use the hospital data, including information about the allocation of personal protective gear and the drug remdesivir, to inform decisions at the federal level.

In an op-ed published Tuesday in the Washington Post, four former CDC directors – who served during both Republican and Democratic administrations – accused President Trump and top coronavirus task force officials of politicizing scientific data released by the National Public Health Institute.

"We cannot recall over our collective tenure a single time when political pressure led to a change in the interpretation of scientific evidence," they wrote, claiming public health experts now "face two opponents: covid-19, but also political leaders and others attempting to undermine" the CDC.

Several House subcommittees have launched an investigation regarding the changes in where the hospital coronavirus data is being sent.

On July 17, officials from select subcommittees sent a letter to Redfield and HHS Secretary Alex Azar, calling on the Trump Administration to reverse the decision to divert coronavirus data away from the CDC.

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“We urge you to reverse this decision, restore this data collection role to the CDC, and take all necessary steps to ensure that essential data is collected and publicly reported free from political interference,” the officials wrote. “We are concerned that this decision may represent yet another example of the Administration’s continuing politicization of public health during the coronavirus pandemic.” 

As COVID-19 confirmed cases and death counts rise across the United States, there continue to be contradictory reports on coronavirus data among officials in Trump’s cabinet and some of the country’s leading medical experts. 

On Friday, Dr. Anthony Fauci dismissed a tweet by Trump claiming the U.S. global lead in coronavirus cases is because of increased testing.

Responding to questioning by a House Democrat, Fauci said the scale of the U.S. outbreak is the result of multiple factors, including how some states reopened too quickly and disregarded federal guidelines. Those recommendations called for a phased approach to easing restrictions on restaurants, bars and gyms based on state case counts.

Fauci’s warnings about the scope and dangers of the outbreak have drawn the ire of some of Trump’s supporters and prompted calls for his firing. But he’s avoided open confrontations with the White House.

Fauci was joined at the Friday hearing by Redfield and HHS testing czar Adm. Brett Giroir.

Giroir acknowledged that currently it's not possible for the U.S. to return all coronavirus test results to patients in two to three days. He blamed overwhelming demand across the nation.

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Many health experts say that COVID-19 results are almost worthless when delivered after two or three days because by then the window for contact tracing has closed.

The latest government data shows about 75% of testing results are coming back within five days, but the remainder are taking longer, Giroir told lawmakers.

Rapid, widespread testing is critical to containing the coronavirus outbreak, but the U.S. effort has been plagued by supply shortages and backlogs since the earliest days of the outbreak.
The panel, the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, is divided about how to reopen schools and businesses, mirroring divisions among Americans. Committee Chairman Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., said the White House must come up with a comprehensive national plan to contain the virus. Ranking Republican Steve Scalise of Louisiana said the Trump administration has plans already on vaccines, testing, nursing homes and other coronavirus-related issues.

A rebound of cases across the South and the West has dashed hopes for a quick return to normal life. Problems with the availability and timeliness of testing continue to be reported. And the race for a vaccine, though progressing rapidly, has yet to deliver a breakthrough.

As of July 31, nearly 4.5 million Americans had been been infected since the start of the pandemic, and more than 150,000 had died, according to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

The Associated Press and FOX News contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.