The move came without much warning.
“We were stunned,” Dr. Christine Hahn, the Idaho State epidemiologist, told the radio show Idaho Matters.
The Trump administration had started re-routing hospital COVID-19 data away from a mostly public Centers for Disease Control and Prevention database to a closed U.S. Department of Health and Human Services one.
Hahn said she only heard about it two days before the change took place on July 15.
“To have a change like this, kind of changing horses in the middle of the stream, we were surprised and very disappointed,” she said.
She was frustrated because the last reporting system already took a long time to figure out.
“That’s why we haven’t had hospital data on our web page until fairly recently,” she said. “But that data right now is our most valuable indicator to show the public and decision makers how severe this outbreak is getting in Idaho.”
Idaho, like the rest of the region, is seeing record cases of COVID-19 during this summer resurgence. And Hahn said she’s concerned the transition could cost timely, accurate data needed to inform the public.
“I’m sure many other states are as unhappy as we are,” she said. “Maybe, ultimately, this will be a better system or a good system, but to change right now when we really need that daily information is very upsetting.”
White House officials told the New York Times that the change streamlines data gathering and will help them allocate future supplies, like the first antiviral drug shown to be effective against the virus, remdesivir.
But not everyone is convinced the circumvention of the CDC is such a good idea.
Dr. David Pate is the former CEO of St. Luke’s Health System and current member of the Idaho Coronavirus Task Force. He told Idaho Matters about his skepticism about the move.
“In this environment of hostility towards science, hostility towards public health, I am suspicious that perhaps there are more political moves than there are [medical reasons] to move this data collection.”
Pate highlighted the skepticism the White House has shown to medical professionals.
“I never remember a past administration that frankly has been so hostile to public health. And it’s really not in our best interest,” he said. “I don’t think we want non-public-health experts to put pressure on public health organizations to change their guidance.”
President Donald Trump and members of his coronavirus task force have been vocal critics of the CDC in recent months, criticizing everything from its data collection to testing to reopening plans.
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.