U.S. department that oversaw pandemic didn’t have complete data, ‘situational awareness’

(The Center Square) – The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services used incomplete data and didn’t have the required “situational awareness” it was supposed to during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a report.

A report from the Government Accountability Office found that Health and Human Services relied on incomplete data.

“The data HHS has relied on during the COVID-19 pandemic have been, and remain, incomplete and inconsistent, highlighting longstanding concerns we have had with the data HHS relies on to respond to public health emergencies,” according to the report.

That included case counts, hospitalizations and other metrics health authorities relied on during the pandemic.

“We reported in January 2021 that interpreting these data has proven challenging because the data HHS collects are often incomplete and inconsistent,” according to the report. “Test positivity rates may be incomplete and inconsistent due, in part, to whether and how states report on certain types of COVID-19 tests. Case counts may be incomplete and inconsistent due, in part, to differences in how states count cases. Available hospital capacity may be inconsistent due, in part, to how hospital staff interpret which data must be reported.”

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also failed to put in place a data system that it was, by statute, required to have in place by 2008.

“HHS had made little progress on implementing a nationwide public health situational awareness capability through an interoperable network of systems to help ensure timely and complete collection of public health data to aid a response. Under the existing process – which HHS has had to rely on during the COVID-19 pandemic – public health data are collected by thousands of different health departments and laboratories, as well as multiple federal agencies. Technological capabilities vary widely among these entities, which may use systems and software that are not interoperable and unable to exchange and share data,” according to the report.

The report continued: “The network was to share data and information in near real time from state, local, tribal, and territorial public health entities to enhance early detection of, rapid response to, and management of potentially catastrophic infectious disease outbreaks and other public health emergencies. Subsequent legislation required HHS to establish the network by March 2015, but we found in September 2017 that HHS had only submitted an incomplete implementation plan. Consequently, public health reporting has continued to rely on disparate systems that struggle to share information on a nationwide basis, as has been evident during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

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