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S. 4351 (116th): TRUST CDC Act

The data collection system for COVID cases changed in July, but was the old system better?


The federal agency Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has perhaps never been more in the public eye than during the COVID-19 pandemic. Their public website National Healthcare Safety Network (NSHN) calls itself “the nation’s most widely used healthcare-associated infection tracking system.”

Hospitals had been reporting their COVID-related data on a daily basis to the network, including the number of hospital beds and occupancy, the number of ICU (intensive care unit) beds and occupancy, number of mechanical ventilators and number in use, number of confirmed and suspected COVID cases for both adult patients and pediatric patients, and number of deaths.

In July, the Trump Administration issued a new directive that hospitals should report this data to a new website through the Department of Health and Human Services called HHS Protect that won’t be public, leading to concerns that the administration may be seeking to tamp down on the official fatality numbers during an election year.

Since then, there’s been some confusion about whether hospitals would resume giving data directly to the CDC. The Wall Street Journal had reported that they would, but then the Department of Health and Human Services denied the report.

What the bill does

The TRUST CDC Act would overturn the Trump Administration directive, by requiring hospitals to once again submit data to a reinstated CDC website that must be updated daily.

It’s short for the Transparent Reporting and Use of Statistics in the Transmission of Coronavirus Data Collection Act.

It was introduced in the Senate on July 29 as bill number S. 4351, by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).

What supporters say

Supporters argue the existing data reporting system had been working, and there was no reason to upend that.

“I can think of no good motivation for why the Trump administration would upend the CDC’s trusted system for reporting COVID-19 data in the middle of an accelerating pandemic that has already claimed the lives of more than 148,000 Americans,” Sen. Whitehouse said in a July press release. The statistic is now more than 200,000 Americans.

“President Trump’s dystopian hostility toward facts and science has already wrought so much needless suffering,” Sen. Whitehouse continued. “While this administration has tried to obscure its bungling of the pandemic, we need to make sure the American people have at their fingertips the most accurate and up-to-date numbers on which to base decisions about their own health and safety.”

What opponents say

Opponents counter that the new system was created just since the pandemic began, specifically to respond to the needs of this deadly virus.

“Before HHS Protect, CDC NHSN received data regularly from 3,000 hospitals related to COVID 19. However there are approximately 6,200 hospitals in the United States,” Department of Health and Human Services Chief Information Officer Jose Arrieta said in a statement.

“Through [the new system], HHS was able to start collecting additional data from 1,100 hospitals. HHS Protect collects data directly from 20 states and approximately 2,000 hospitals for COVID data,” Arrieta continued. “The additional capabilities… provided increased visibility rapidly.”

Odds of passage

The bill has attracted two cosponsors, both Democrats. It awaits a potential vote in the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee.

Odds of passage are low in the Republican-controlled chamber.

Last updated Oct 5, 2020. View all GovTrack summaries.

The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Jul 29, 2020.

Transparent Reporting and Use of Statistics in the Transmission of Coronavirus Data Collection or the TRUST CDC Act

This bill nullifies specified guidance issued by the White House Coronavirus Task Force on July 10, 2020, concerning the reporting of state and hospital COVID-19 (i.e., coronavirus disease 2019) data.

Specifically, states and hospitals must revert to reporting this data directly to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Under the task force guidance, they report it to the Department of Health and Human Services.

In addition, the CDC must reinstate, and update daily, a particular website that reported certain COVID-19 data, including the number of cases and deaths in each state.