CDC and Data Control
“The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.” George Orwell, 1984 (published in 1949)
A recent Trump administration change in the national system for reporting Covid-19 data did not receive the news coverage it deserves. As of last Wednesday, July 15th, hospitals must report data on COVID-19 hospitalizations, availability of intensive care unit beds, and personal protective equipment directly to the Department of Health and Human Services, bypassing the expertise and procedures of the CDC.
During my entire time I practiced medicine it was the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) that gathered and organized this data. The expertise for getting this data gathering done properly resides with the CDC. Improvement in the quality of data gathering and reporting is welcome in scientific endeavors, but the Trump administration laid no groundwork for a wholesale shifting of data reporting from the CDC to a different agency, a move which smells of political motivation to control the narrative by controlling the data.
Is there reason to be suspicious? In any other administration a major shift in the handling of data would have been preceded by a detailed explanation of the need and logic for making the shift. No such explanation preceded this move. Instead, we see an administration at war with medical expertise at the CDC on the wearing of masks, a President saying we should just quit testing for Covid-19, and Peter Navarro, Trump's Director of Trade and Manufacturing Policy, penning an op ed criticizing Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of National Institutes of Health, and questioning Fauci's pandemic expertise. Dr. Fauci, a highly respected figure and part of the Coronavirus Task Force, hasn't had an audience with Trump in two months. We see an administration at war with medical expertise.
On the flip side we have Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Laura Ingraham, Tucker Carlson (and the right wing internet news site of which he is the co-founder, The Daily Caller), and parts of social media downplaying the seriousness of the pandemic, lobbying hard in their news silo for Americans to ignore scientific advice.
At the very least, this move to abruptly shift the handling of data on the pandemic reveals once again a highly dysfunctional administration, an administration unable to lay the groundwork necessary to build trust in its decisions. At worst this move is a thinly disguised attempt to control and massage data to suit the narrative Trump wants to sell. In short, a step toward telling us to "reject the evidence of your eyes and ears."
Heather Cox Richardson in her July 15 email Letters from an American tackles the same subject from a slightly different angle. I encourage you not only to read her analysis but sign up for her daily email. Her email is the first national news analysis I read every day. She is a Professor of History and Boston College specializing in American history. I find her perspective extremely valuable.
Keep to the high ground,
P.S. This data shift of the Trump administration angers and frightens me in the same way that reports of the early Trump administration efforts to defund the gathering of climate data and remove all references to climate change at government websites--another example of ideology suppressing scientific expertise.