Sidelining the CDC is a very bad idea

Sidelining the CDC is a very bad idea

University researchers all over the U.S. have been trying to get reliable data on Covid-19 for months, but the Trump Administration is giving the data to private corporations instead.

Should private corporations be trusted with public data?

Normally, data is available from agencies such as the CDC, but with the new directives from the White House, this data is already disappearing.

The Trump Administration has decided that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) should no longer collect data regarding Covid-19. Instead, hospitals should send their data to a private firm contracted by the government.

This private firm is Palantir Technologies. Co-founded by Peter Theil, Palantir Technologies is the same corporation that has been criticized for working with law enforcement agencies and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Palantir is aggregating information on the spread of the new coronavirus on behalf of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), drawing on more than 225 data sets, including demographic statistics, community-based tests, and a wide range of state-provided data.(This week, sparking widespread concern among public health experts, epidemiologists, and others, HHS also directed hospitals to provide data on COVID-19 cases and patient information to the Palantir system—largely via a second contractor, TeleTracking Technologies—rather than to CDC as they have for decades

Science

TeleTracking Technologies was awarded a contract in April to collect data concerning bed occupancy, staffing levels, numbers of severe cases, available ventilators and PPE.

Private corporations will only pursue the breakthroughs with earnings potential .

This is a highly unusual move. The role of the CDC is to collect and analyze data related to outbreaks of infections and disease. The CDC is a government agency whose sole task is to keep the population safe. Scientists rely on the data that has been collected by the CDC to conduct research. If that data is no longer available, scientists will not be able to do their jobs.

Click here to read about the mission and activities of the CDC

There has been a great deal of criticism for this plan to sideline the CDC, including former director of the CDC Dr Tom Friedan. Friedan feels that decades of work by the CDC is being replaced by private technology startups:

“Rather than strengthening the CDC public health data system to improve hospital reporting, the administration has handed data to an unproven, commercial entity,” said Frieden, who was the agency’s director during the Obama administration.

Global News

Many epidemiologists have warned that directing the Covid-19 data away from the CDC could interfere with reducing the spread of the virus. For months, university researchers have been seeking access to reliable Covid-19 data, but government agencies have denied their requests,

“We know the administration has been trying to silence the CDC,” he said. “Now it looks like the administration might be trying to blind the CDC as well.”

Gregory Koblentz, biodefence expert at George Mason University

“In 4 months of the epidemic, collecting millions of records, no one in California or at the CDC [U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] has done the basic epidemiology.” 

Rajiv Bhatia, Stanford University epidemiologist

Epidemiologists and other scientists tend to be based in universities. They are the people who are working on vaccines, improved therapies, and determining how diseases spread, and how the spread of disease can be slowed or eliminated. Agencies such as the CDC are partners with scientists and have traditionally shared data with scientists. If the scientists are unable to get data because private corporations now ‘own’ that data, scientific research and the innovation that arises from research will stagnate.

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