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Trump administration restores some COVID-19 hospitalization data to CDC website

The Trump administration has restored previously public data on COVID-19 hospitalizations after it disappeared from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website on Wednesday.

The CDC had been collecting that information from the start of the pandemic on its National Healthcare Safety Network (NHSN), which the agency describes as the country’s most widely used health care-associated infection tracking system.

Researchers, public health experts and reporters used the CDC data to track COVID-19 hospitalizations. 

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But the administration quietly changed its reporting rules, and as of Wednesday, information on availability of hospital beds and intensive care units is now being sent from hospitals directly to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) instead of to the CDC.

The change sparked an outcry from public health experts, who are suspicious that the Trump administration is trying to sideline the CDC. 

The change is an attempt to consolidate how hospitals report coronavirus data, and to make sure it gets sent to a database specifically designed for coronavirus tracking. 

The administration argues the new approach will streamline the compilation of patient data and improve tracking efforts, even though the HHS database is not public. 

As a result of that change, the information that was previously posted on CDC's website disappeared. 

In a statement to The Hill, HHS assistant secretary of public affairs Michael Caputo said CDC was directed to make the data available again.

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“HHS is committed to being transparent with the American public about the information it is collecting on the coronavirus. Therefore, HHS directed CDC to re-establish the coronavirus dashboards it withdrew from the public on Wednesday."

However, the dashboard only includes data through July 14. A notice on the webpage states the file will not be updated. Caputo said "going forward" the new database will deliver "more powerful insights on the coronavirus." 

Trump administration officials told reporters Wednesday they are looking into concerns about public health data.

Jose Arrieta, HHS’s chief information officer, said the agency is considering giving members of Congress access to the data and is "exploring the best way to make this information available to the public."

CDC Director Robert Redfield on Wednesday downplayed the impact of the change. He told reporters the agency will still have the same level of access to the data.

"No one is taking access or data away from CDC," Redfield said.