New examples seem to arise daily. The District of Columbia this week became the last jurisdiction to come under scrutiny, with the city using a “community broadcast” metric – excluding nursing homes, correctional facilities and the like – to justify the reopening of the zoned.
Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds told reporters that the state to share information on outbreaks in meat packing plants only on request. And Georgia is just beginning to differentiate the two types of coronavirus tests that it has been adding to its test totals for weeks.
“All these stories about undercoverage, overcoverage, wrong counting undermine our ability to cope with the pandemic,” said Irwin Redlener, public health expert at Columbia University. The country, he said, is facing “an incredible level of chaos in data, protocols, information”.
The problems are widespread and have also infiltrated federal health agencies. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have mixed diagnostic and antibody tests, increasing the total number of tests in the country.
According to the authors of the report, the Department of Health and Social Services has taken out of context data on the danger of “death in despair” due to overdoses and suicides in the midst of an economic downturn. On Tuesday, an ethics center at Harvard chastised the White House for falsely quoting figures from one of its studies to support the administration’s national test report.
Meanwhile, almost half of the United States has seen an increase in the number of cases as the states continue to reopen the economy. Although this reflects an increase in tests, an accompanying increase in hospitalizations worries experts including former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb.
The White House, which insisted it was following a “data-driven path” toward its reopening, did not respond to questions about the data on which it relies.
But within the Trump administration, some officials are not simply ignoring the warning signs. They also selectively use scientific advice and models in their quest for rapid reopening. For example, HHS secretary Alex Azar warned at a recent cabinet meeting that the United States could see an additional 65,000 “dead in despair” if the country does not quickly return to normal.
In reality, the study he cited explicitly warned against lifting the locks before health data showed that it was safe.
“Some might use this report to say that this is why our economy must open quickly. But that’s NOT what we say, “wrote the authors of the report, published by the American Academy of Family Physicians and Well Being Trust. “Even to this day, parts of the country are opening their doors, data suggests that this is premature due to a lack of consistent testing, which allows public health authorities to trace, treat and isolate to prevent further spread. “
Harvard University’s Safra Center for Ethics has also publicly criticized the administration. HHS used one of the centre’s test models to suggest that the United States was already testing enough people to contain the virus – when the center argued that the tests were woefully insufficient to guarantee a safe re-emergence of “staying at home”.
“The department’s report does not provide an accurate summary of the modeling to support our recommendations,” said the center director, adding that HHS cited a “non-primary” model in the study appendix, then adjusted the underlying assumptions.
Data problems make it even more difficult for states to balance health and economic imperatives. In addition to withdrawing from its historic role as a central health authority during public health crises, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have set few firm standards for how states should monitor Covid-19 and have done so. little overt effort to coordinate messages with state and local health services.
This has created a patchwork system where key health information is collected and communicated with little consistency, and amid growing concern over whether Americans are receiving reliable reports on the fight against the pandemic.
At least half a dozen states have admitted to inflating their test numbers by mixing two different types of tests into their totals, a practice widely ridiculed as scientifically unfounded.