Opinion: CDC Should Be Given Back Its Access to COVID-19 Data

Updated: Oct 18, 2021

On July 14, 2020, the Trump administration stripped the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) access to the COVID-19 data including patient deaths, equipment shortages, number of cases, etc. Instead, the information will be sent to a central database in Washington DC, which will then be directed to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Trump administration.

According to HHS Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Michael Caputo, the system used by the CDC to track and gather coronavirus information was too slow and inadequate. He continues to mention that the President’s Coronavirus Task Force recommended and advocated for improvements in the CDC system, but the CDC was struggling to make these developments catch up to the fast-paced virus.

On the surface, this change may not seem so drastic or appalling; this is not true.

When the CDC was managing the COVID-19 patient data, it was consistent in keeping the public informed and in providing hospitals and research centers with important information and material. Since March, hospitals have regularly reported information on hospital beds, ventilators, and other equipment to the National Healthcare Safety Network (NHSN), a program established by the CDC decades ago that helped people with improper healthcare, blood safety, infection control and other problems. However, with hospitals being ordered to bypass the CDC with the pandemic statistics, a new program is being put in place. HHS is using a new reporting station which, at the time of writing, does not have any publicized logistics, transparency, or plans. There is no guarantee that the public will have full access to details of coronavirus management with this unfamiliar method.

To address this issue, the National Association of Science Writers (NASW) called on the Trump administration to ensure that the pandemic data remains open and accessible to the public, but not much was done by the Trump administration.

Currently, the coronavirus is at its peak of over four million cases in the U.S. Hospitals, research centers, doctors, and the public need to have as much transparency to the COVID-19 data as possible to protect their health while also securing their families and communities. Not only does taking away CDC access to this information lead to a complete lack of transparency, but it also forces everyone to suddenly adapt to a new and seemingly improper data collecting system. This is the last thing needed during an outrageous pandemic and unstable time.

While the lack of guaranteed transparency is a problem on its own, it also leads to another issue: manipulation by politicians.

Since the COVID-19 data is now going directly to the Trump administration, the president has authority over what data is viewed by the public. He can also potentially change the data to his convenience because after all, the Trump Administration is under his control.

As said earlier, the coronavirus is at a horrendous stage in America because Trump was too slow and reluctant to handle the virus before it spread rapidly and uncontrollably. However, without accepting his mistake, Trump is trying to hide the fact that the number of people dying due to the coronavirus in America is very high compared to every other country. For example, while the U.S., at the time of writing, has an overall death toll of 154,590 people, more populated countries like India and China have overall deaths of 4,000-32,000 people. If America was really the ‘land of opportunities,’ then it should not be struggling to give people the opportunity to survive the coronavirus when every other country can.

Subsequently, many are quite irritated and angered by Trump’s late reaction to the ongoing pandemic, causing Trump to possibly lose votes at the upcoming election. A poll conducted by Echelon Insights on July 24, 2020, shows that amongst 1,000 registered voters, 53% would vote for Biden whereas only 38% would vote for Trump. Therefore, to cover up his slip, it seems that Trump is trying every single way to conceal the virus’s impacts on the world so he can recover his votes and win the election.

When CDC was in control of the COVID-19 data, it portrayed the pandemic in terms of data not a very pretty picture. Trump was furious that CDC portrayed the virus’s impact on the U.S. so negatively, as it pinpoints Trump’s mistake. He even told a group of reporters that the U.S. was in “very good shape” on the coronavirus. Hence, by taking away CDC’s access to the virus data, he has more control over depicting the virus more positively.

The virus led to severe economic problems with many businesses closing to job losses because businesses were unable to pay their workers and a fearful consumer base avoided shopping. Thus, profits are declining rapidly. By stripping CDC’s access to the pandemic data, Trump can skew the statistics to prove that businesses are ready to open back up and convince people that it is safe to leave their houses, which will likely increase his approval rating.

Overall, CDC losing its rights over the virus information is a selfish approach by Trump to help him win the election and cover up his mistakes. He is very well aware that if he does not boost the economy or improve the coronavirus’s impacts on the country, then he could hurt his chances of succeeding in the election. Hence, CDC should be given back its access to the COVID-19 data.