STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
We live in a data-driven world. The biggest business decisions and government decisions turn on numbers. And this morning, a good part of the news centers on questions about those numbers. The Trump administration recently changed how it handles data about the pandemic. And NPR has found a lot of the information is no longer getting to people who need it most.
NPR's Pien Huang has been digging into this. Good morning.
PIEN HUANG, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: What is this data, and why does it matter?
HUANG: So the federal government has been collecting data from hospitals since the start of the pandemic, and it's information like how many COVID-19 patients they have and how many regular beds and ICU beds they have available. And when you have all this, health officials can start to see if a state hospital system is under stress and may be in danger of getting overwhelmed. So this information was being collected and shared by the Centers for Disease Control. But two weeks ago, the Trump administration surprised a lot of people. They said CDC would no longer be collecting this data, and the data would now be funneled straight up to the top to Health and Human Services, or HHS.
INSKEEP: Which doesn't automatically mean that it doesn't get to the right people. But what is going wrong?
HUANG: Yeah. So, you know, when HHS started posting this information, they put it up on a site called the HHS Protect Public Data Hub, and they said it was going to be updated daily. But as of this morning, none of the hospital bed estimates have been updated in over a week. And, remember, this is data that doctors and public health officials and policymakers need in close to real time to be able to make decisions. So here's Lisa Lee. She's a former CDC official who's now at Virginia Tech.
LISA LEE: If we know, for example, that a community's all ICU beds are taken up, that we're going to say, OK, emergency medical personnel, you know, you got to take them to the next town over or to the next county. So there are very real things that happen as a result of these data. And if they're not accurate, that could cost lives.
HUANG: Yeah. And the other issue is completeness. So Trump officials argue that CDC wasn't doing a good job of getting hospitals to report. And they claim that by switching to HHS, they could get 100% of hospitals. But now that the switch has happened, they haven't managed to get 100% of hospitals reporting yet. And there's nothing from - certain specialty hospitals like rehab and veterans facilities are not included in their lists, but they were for the CDC.
INSKEEP: Wow. So I'm thinking about all the ways that this could handicap public health officials, everything from allocating hospital beds to what advice they give to the public. What does HHS say about what they're no longer getting done?
HUANG: Yeah. Well, HHS just told me last night that they're only planning to update the hospital estimates once a week. And, remember, when they launched, they'd said it was going to be updated every day. And as for the rest of the issues about inaccuracies and inconsistencies, they said that some hospitals and states have made errors submitting the data and said they're going to work hard with them to collaborate to fix it.
INSKEEP: You have come up with some odd numbers, as I understand. What are you seeing when you look at the data that are available?
HUANG: Yeah, absolutely. So, you know, in states like Arizona, California, Texas, there are gaps in the data that are being reported, and a lot of the data for some states doesn't make sense or match what states are reporting on their own websites.
INSKEEP: OK. Pien, thanks very much.
HUANG: Thanks for having me.
INSKEEP: NPR's Pien Huang.
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