The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) officially stopped requiring hospitals to report coronavirus deaths last Wednesday as the death toll approached 900,000.
Initially established in January, the rule change did not go into effect until last Wednesday – the same day the U.K. government announced it would stop requiring hospitals to report coronavirus death tolls by Easter, according to WSWS.
One federal health official called the change “incomprehensible,” arguing that reporting coronavirus death tolls to the federal government is the most reliable metric.
“It is the only consistent, reliable and actionable dataset at the federal level,” the official said. “Ninety-nine percent of hospitals report one hundred percent of the data every day.”
Going forward, the federal government will obtain coronavirus death tolls from the Centers for Disease Control, which collects the data on a state-by-state level from coroner and medical examiner reports.
“Deaths are reported by the counties/states but the process is very slow and many coroners are actually not wanting to cite COVID as the reason, while hospitals rely on diagnoses,” the official told WSWS.“It is also timely as it is every day and many states have a delay anyway but now many are reporting less often.”
“The CDC has never really counted cases for things that a lot of people get like the flu,” the official added. “They get data from sentinel sites and then extrapolate what is happening.”
Alexis C. Madrigal, a co-founder of the COVID Tracking Project, said the HHS has thus far provided the “best and most granular publicly available data on the pandemic.”
“There was no hospital data at the federal level and even at many states,” said Madrigal. “We had no idea who has capacity, who was in trouble, who had supply shortages, who was getting admissions so fast that they would need supplemental meds, who has staffing issues, etc. We also didn’t know anything about the people admitted in a timely manner, such as age.”
American Hospital Association Vice President Nancy Foster believed differently, asserting the CDC provides more accurate information by including coronavirus deaths outside of the hospital setting.
“While it is likely that most individuals who die of COVID do so in the hospital, some die at home, in a nursing home, or elsewhere,” Foster told KXTV.
“We believe CDC looked at the conflicting sources of data on COVID deaths, chose the one that was most accurate, and moved to reduce the burden on hospitals to collect data that were less complete and, to the best of our knowledge, not being used,” Foster added.