Inside Health Policy

By Dorothy Mills-Gregg

Nearly a month after HHS redirected where hospitals should send their COVID-19 data, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield told a lawmaker the agency plans to use its $500 million from the CARES Act to update and improve local data collection and contact tracing systems.

In response to Rep. Lucy McBath’s (D-GA) request for more information, Redfield says the investment she championed long before the pandemic would improve public health data systems across the country and give CDC the ability to better identify, track, and respond to diseases and pandemics like the current one.

Specifically, the CDC plans to combine some of the CARES Act investments with funds from the Paycheck Protection Program to send $12.1 billion to states so they can modernize their systems and improve their integration with national systems.

The agency also said it plans to invest in contact tracing with software that will help contact tracers manage their cases or opt-in proximity tracing and exposure notifications with people’s phones.

“These tools can reduce the burden of data collection on public health staff by automating pieces of the workflow, allowing electronic self-reporting by cases and contacts, and facilitating daily symptom monitoring,” Redfield wrote to McBath on Aug. 3.

McBath was pleased with Redfield’s proposed data modernization efforts, but as news of the CDC excluded from the data collection process wasn’t released until after she sent her letter, concerns she shares with her Democratic colleagues about the administration’s decision to send information directly to HHS were not addressed.

Redfield’s letter gave no reference to the switch to HHS; he writes that states primarily conduct the COVID-19 case-based surveillance but send the CDC data about each case so the agency can calculate daily, patient-level case counts.

McBath’s office said the congresswoman wants to see language that would promote bold and innovative ideas that can better connect health data and health records in the next COVID-19 relief package.