CDC Warns Agency Would Lose Access to Key Data If Emergency Declaration Ends

CDC Warns Agency Would Lose Access to Key Data If Emergency Declaration Ends
The Centers for Disease Control headquarters in Atlanta, Ga., on April 23, 2020. (Tami Chappell/AFP via Getty Images)
Zachary Stieber

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is warning that the end of the public health emergency for COVID-19 would cut the agency off from critical data for tracking the disease.

"CDC has no general statutory authority to direct what and how public health data are reported. Data authorities related to COVID-19 test results and hospitalizations are available now because of a public health emergency declaration. When that declaration lapses, so do the federal legal authorities to require the reporting of this important information," a CDC spokesperson told The Epoch Times in an email.

The emergency was declared by then-Health Secretary Alex Azar in January 2020 during the Trump administration. It has been extended multiple times by Azar and his successor, Xavier Becerra, most recently on Jan. 14.

The declaration enables the CDC and other health agencies to take certain actions, including tapping into a financial reserve and waiving some requirements from the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. In a pandemic-era bill, Congress also ordered all laboratories that perform or analyze COVID-19 tests to report the results to the federal government until the declaration ends.

A separate national emergency declaration was made by former President Donald Trump in March 2020 and has been kept in place by President Joe Biden, who last extended it in February.
Critics say that the emergency is over because COVID-19 metrics have plunged since the latest peak, and many officials, including top ones in the Biden administration, have acknowledged that the pandemic has eased.

The CDC said it's reliant on voluntarily reporting from local, state, and public health partners in collecting data on COVID-19.

"This pandemic demonstrated the inadequacies of this fractured system which results in delays and incomplete data when the agency must move quickly to keep people safe through policymaking," the spokesperson said.

The CDC has launched an effort to modernize its data collection and reporting but is pushing for the White House or Congress to give it more authority for data collection outside of the emergency powers.

"If people want CDC to be responsible, to be able to report in a timely fashion, in a quick fashion, we have to have the authority to collect those data," Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the agency's director, said on CBS's "60 Minutes."

The White House didn't respond to a request for comment.

Reuters reported recently that the Biden administration wants to keep the collection system in place beyond the end of the emergency, adding new requirements for the thousands of hospitals that have been feeding data to the CDC.

One path the administration could take is imposing required reporting as a condition of participation in the Medicare and Medicaid programs.

The current system requires more hours for hospitals and other providers to collect the information and submit it to federal health officials, Paul Mango, who worked for the CDC's parent agency, the Department of Health and Human Services, during the Trump administration, said in an op-ed.

"It's hard work to collect all this information and submit it if it's not done automatically, electronically," Mango told The Epoch Times. His book "Warp Speed" was just published.

Mango thinks the CDC should tap into electronic health records, which are now widely used across the country, to gather data, since the records are already available without additional work by state and local providers.

"The future should be a seamless, automated way to collect this information," he said.

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