Sluggish COVID Data Collection? Trump Admin Floats Using Nat’l Guard At Hospitals

A healthcare worker zips up a protective barrier in the Covid-19 Unit at United Memorial Medical Center in Houston, Texas on July 2, 2020. - Despite its renowned medical center with the largest agglomeration of hospi... A healthcare worker zips up a protective barrier in the Covid-19 Unit at United Memorial Medical Center in Houston, Texas on July 2, 2020. - Despite its renowned medical center with the largest agglomeration of hospitals and research laboratories in the world, Houston is on the verge of being overwhelmed by cases of coronavirus exploding in Texas. (Photo by Mark Felix / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE TO GO WITH AFP STORY by Julia Benarrous: "Covid-19: Houston's hospital system underwater" (Photo by MARK FELIX/AFP via Getty Images) MORE LESS
July 14, 2020 11:36 a.m.
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The Trump administration will reportedly suggest Tuesday that governors lean on the National Guard to speed up the collection of COVID-19 data from hospitals.

The Trump administration has pressed hospitals to transmit COVID-19 data — including everything from testing numbers, bed capacity and PPE supply levels — on a daily basis. But in emails, officials have expressed frustration at the pace of hospitals’ data reporting.

Thousands of hospitals “do not report sufficient data at the frequency required to work COVID preventative measures,” one administration official reportedly wrote internally last week, the Washington Post reported Tuesday. The email’s author, Coast Guard Vice Adm. Daniel B. Abel, is part of the Department of Health and Human Services’ COVID-19 response.

A Friday draft of a letter from the administration to governors, obtained by the Post, asked them to use the National Guard to collect this information.

“We have been in dialogue with your health officials, hospital associations and hospitals over the past few months and working incrementally to improve the availability of key data but given the urgency in your state and hospitals, we are asking you to deploy the National Guard to these hospitals for these limited daily data collection,” the draft said.

Since then, the draft letter has “changed significantly,” an unnamed administration source told the Post. The changes allow for more flexibility.

But the prospect of using the National Guard as a data collection resource has been brought up before in meetings with the Trump administration, unnamed hospital industry officials told the Post. Deborah Birx, a top public health official and coordinator of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, reportedly broached the topic in meetings beginning late last month.

The idea hasn’t gone over well with health care professions and even in some corners of the Trump administration.

“Given our track record of being cooperative to evolving data requests, it’s perplexing that the possibility of using the National Guard has been suggested,” American Hospital Association President Rick Pollack told the Post. “It makes no sense. Certainly the expertise of the National Guard can be used in a more productive way.”

The administration appears to be divided on the idea, as well. After Abel raised the prospect of using Guardsmen as data collectors last week, HHS general counsel Robert P. Charrow chafed at the thought.

“As a practical matter, I cannot imagine how the National Guard would be able to collect data at the hospital itself nor the number of Guards who would be exposed to COVID-19 in the process,” he responded, according to the Post, adding in another email: “I believe that using National Guard troops to gather these data would be counter-productive.”

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