Democratic lawmaker calls out CDC for removing data on number of Americans tested for coronavirus

Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) is demanding information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about its decision to stop sharing data about the number of people tested for the novel coronavirus in the United States. 

In a letter sent to CDC director Robert R. Redfield on Monday, Pocan noted that up until Sunday, the agency had been publicly disclosing statistics related to the coronavirus and its spread in the U.S.

The data included numbers on the total confirmed and presumptive cases of the coronavirus, as well as stats on how many tests had been administered and how many deaths had been attributed to the disease. By Monday, the CDC stopped disseminating figures on the number of people tested and the death toll. 

Judd Legum, a journalist who authors the Popular Information newsletter, first reported the change. 

“Americans are dying,” Pocan wrote in the letter. “We deserve to know how many Americans have perished from COVID-19, and we deserve to know how many people have been tested for it.” 

Pocan said in a tweet Tuesday that he had yet to receive any information from the CDC over its decision, adding that the agency’s “silence is deafening.” 

Nancy Messonnier, the CDC’s director for National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters that the agency stopped sharing data on the number of people tested because of more testing happening at the state level. 

“We are no longer reporting the number of persons under investigation or those who tested negative,” she said. “With more and more testing done at states, these numbers would not be representative of the testing being done nationally.” 

The Trump administration and the CDC have been under intense scrutiny over their response to the coronavirus, which first appeared in China in December and has since infected more than 80,000 people across the globe. The U.S. has reported more than 100 confirmed cases of the virus, with 26 of them believed to have been contracted within the country, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Monday. 

Pocan’s letter invoked comments former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb made while discussing the possibility of a severe outbreak in the U.S. Gottlieb suggested on CBS’s “Face The Nation” this week that there were “probably hundreds or low thousands of cases” that have yet to be reported yet. 

“Knowing that CDC testing is keeping pace with the likely number of cases is imperative to maintaining public trust,” Pocan said.

The current FDA commissioner, Stephen Hahn, said Monday that he expects the U.S. will be in a position to perform nearly 1 million coronavirus tests by the end of the week. While briefing reporters, Hahn said that a new regulatory guidance would allow academic centers and private companies to more quickly develop and verify their own tests for public use. 

The announcement came as states reported more more coronavirus cases of unknown origin. Washington state health officials also announced Monday that four more deaths in the state had been attributed to the disease, bringing the total to six. 

As of Monday, the CDC had reported 43 confirmed and presumptive positive cases of the coronavirus. The stats do not include patients who were returned to the U.S. via State Department-charted flights. The CDC noted that states are reporting presumptive positive cases independently and that their information would be the most up-to-date. 

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