The Trump administration rolled out an abrupt policy change in its response to the pandemic this week, telling hospitals to no longer report statistics on coronavirus hospitalizations and protective equipment to an existing database at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but to switch instead to a new system maintained by a private company for the Department of Health and Human Services.
“The CDC's old data gathering operation once worked well monitoring hospital information across the country, but it's an inadequate system today,” HHS Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Michael Caputo said in a statement to reporters on Wednesday, NPR reported. “The President's Coronavirus Task Force has urged improvements for months, but they just cannot keep up with this pandemic.”
However, public health experts also told NPR that the sudden change in reporting procedures could disrupt current tracking of the pandemic, even if there were some improvements to be gained. They also expressed confidence in the existing system and concerns about whether the new HHS database would be as transparent to the public.
During Wednesday night’s programming on Fox News, the main thrust of the coverage on this issue was to continue the demonization of the CDC and other public health experts, as well as to dismiss concerns about the policy change as mere Democratic complaining.
On the July 15 edition of Fox News’ Special Report with Bret Baier, a brief notice of the policy change was given among other coronavirus-related headlines. “Critics say it's just the latest effort by the White House to undercut the agency, but President Trump doesn't see it that way,” correspondent Kristin Fisher said, followed by a brief video clip of Trump declaring, “Look, they’re all on the same team. We’re all on the same team.”
On Fox’s The Ingraham Angle — the show that has been the single biggest COVID-19 misinformer out of the network’s vast array of sources for alternative facts — guest Phil Kerpen of the right-wing Committee to Unleash Prosperity praised this as a good move, calling the CDC “atrocious”:
In the next hour, on Fox News @ Night with Shannon Bream, the eponymous anchor brought up the story to Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) by way of raising Democratic criticism of the move. (Though even after brushing off Democratic outcry as an attempt to “jump to massive conclusions and politicize it,” Crenshaw admitted he wouldn’t mind getting an explanation for the “administrative change.”)
On Thursday, CNBC received a comment from Caputo, who said that HHS will provide “more powerful insights” and that the data will be made available.
“Yes, HHS is committed to being transparent with the American public about the information it is collecting on the coronavirus,” he said. “Therefore, HHS has directed CDC to re-establish the coronavirus dashboards it withdrew from the public on Wednesday.”
And coming from another right-wing outlet, correspondent Chanel Rion of the far-right One America News Network asked White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany on Thursday whether the decision was motivated by “any concern whatsoever … regarding CDC’s possible manipulation of data?”
In response, McEnany said the intent of the decision was to ensure that there was “daily data” given to HHS officials such as Dr. Deborah Birx, HHS Secretary Alex Azar, and CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield, and that there had been “some confusion in the press” on this story.
“What happened is we also have a second method of using this data and it’s the TeleTracker database, and this is an HHS system. … And as it turns out, this data ended up being more complete, more up to date with information,” McEnany said, assuring that the coronavirus data would still be “completely open source” and available to the CDC.