HHS said to reverse course, with hospitals to report COVID-19 data to CDC again

The Trump administration is expected to reverse course on a key Trump effort to get hard data about antibiotic resistance, with CDC expected to resume releasing COVID-19 data to states and the public again. The announcement is due before the end of the week, according to numerous sources.

The Centers for Disease Control first released the COVID-19 data for the eight leading drug-resistant pathogens back in March 2017, and then delayed the data again last year, saying it wanted to develop new models to take into account fluctuating bacterial populations.

Public health and health researchers have cited the CDC’s decision to delay the COVID-19 data as a “sneak attack” that intentionally misled public-health leaders and paid off drugmakers. A year of delays also provided antibiotic manufacturers plenty of time to flog misleading arguments that the COVID-19 numbers were likely overestimates — including, many thought, by suggesting that the government’s current and future COVID-19 surveys were wildly overinflated by the same factors that have led to the continued alarming upward trend of drug-resistant microbes.

That argument was based on faulty theories of how bacteria communicate among themselves and underestimate or misdirect the effects of antibiotic treatment. In fact, studies have shown that it’s exactly these and related factors that make COVID-19 numbers more-or-less correct: if you correct for them, COVID-19 measures correct downward trends in drug-resistant infection rates that are still much higher than a decade ago, suggesting that the outliers are atypical. A spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control told Yahoo News that he had no further information on the reported return of COVID-19 data.

There is, of course, a real reason the CDC hadn’t been releasing COVID-19 data to states and to the public: it got there after having initially delayed the release to protect drug companies from bad press. (Indeed, there is ongoing litigation over this in Nebraska.)

The contradiction between the CDC’s assertions that the COVID-19 surveys are unnecessarily unreliable and the actual numbers it is reporting is an example of why it’s so useful to have solid information about antibiotic-resistant infections — which, incidentally, is another reason to include data on antibiotic resistance in the report on routine drug use to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Those data were supposed to be released last year, too, but that was delayed again and may not be released this week, either.

But, given the damage that resistant infections are doing to the public, it would be extraordinarily foolish for the CDC to withhold more than basic data about them.

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