The CDC Is AWOL

The Centers for Disease Control has performed poorly during the COVID-19 epidemic. Its failures with regard to early testing are well documented. In addition, Ashish K. Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, says that CDC is failing in its traditional role as a national clearinghouse for data:

Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, the CDC has been inexplicably absent, and Americans are suffering and dying for it.
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Want to know how many tuberculosis cases there were in the U.S. last year? Ask the CDC. Want to know about health-care-associated infections? Ask the CDC. It knows.

But ask how many Covid-19 tests have been done, and the CDC’s doesn’t have an answer. Want a daily update on how many people are getting hospitalized for Covid-19? The CDC isn’t tracking it. Want to know if social distancing is making a difference? The CDC doesn’t know.

During this pandemic, when accurate, timely, nationwide information is the lifeblood of our response, the CDC has largely disappeared.

I can add to Dr. Jha’s indictment. Not only has CDC failed to take the lead in providing objective, reliable data, it has actually gone out of its way to supply less information than it has historically done. For some time, CDC has routinely published weekly mortality numbers–the total of all Americans that died each week. This was done partly to track influenza deaths, but total mortality numbers were part of the routine release.

Just over a week ago, I and others pointed out that according to the CDC’s numbers, tens of thousands fewer Americans had died of all causes from January 1 through early April this year, compared with 2019. Within 24 hours after my post was published, the CDC pulled the data set I had referred to and replaced it with a similar spread sheet that begins only in Week 40 of 2019, so that the comparison I and others did is no longer possible, using that source. The current spread sheet contains less information in one or two other respects as well.

Why did the CDC go out of its way to disseminate less information that is highly relevant to assessing the current epidemic? I can’t think of a lot of different answers to that question. In the current emergency, CDC has shown itself to be one more on a long list of dysfunctional government agencies.

I downloaded the spread sheet on which I based my April 23 post. Here it is. I would add that in the current version, the CDC has updated mortality numbers for the last few weeks by insignificant amounts. Otherwise, the numbers in the new version appear to be identical, just less informative.

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