Essay by Samanth Subramanian: “Whenever President Donald Trump is questioned about why the United States has nearly three times more coronavirus cases than the entire European Union, or why hundreds of Americans are still dying every day, he whips out one standard comment. We find so many cases, he contends, because we test so many people. The remark typifies Trump’s deep distrust of data: his wariness of what it will reveal, and his eagerness to distort it. In April, when he refused to allow coronavirus-stricken passengers off the Grand Princess cruise liner and onto American soil for medical treatment, he explained: “I like the numbers where they are. I don’t need to have the numbers double because of one ship.” Unable—or unwilling—to fix the problem, Trump’s instinct is to fix the numbers instead.
The administration has failed on so many different fronts in its handling of the coronavirus, creating the overall impression of sheer mayhem. But there is a common thread that runs through these government malfunctions. Precise, transparent data is crucial in the fight against a pandemic—yet through a combination of ineptness and active manipulation, the government has depleted and corrupted the key statistics that public health officials rely on to protect us.
In mid-July, just when the U.S. was breaking and rebreaking its own records for daily counts of new coronavirus cases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found itself abruptly relieved of its customary duty of collating national numbers on COVID-19 patients. Instead, the Department of Health and Human Services instructed hospitals to funnel their information to the government via TeleTracking, a small Tennessee firm started by a real estate entrepreneur who has frequently donated to the Republican Party. For a while, past data disappeared from the CDC’s website entirely, and although it reappeared after an outcry, it was never updated thereafter. The TeleTracking system was riddled with errors, and the newest statistics sometimes appeared after delays. This has severely limited the ability of public health officials to determine where new clusters of COVID-19 are blooming, to notice demographic patterns in the spread of the disease, or to allocate ICU beds to those who need them most.
To make matters more confusing still, Jared Kushner moved to start a separate coronavirus surveillance system run out of the White House and built by health technology giants—burdening already-overwhelmed officials and health care experts with a needless stream of queries. Kushner’s assessments often contradicted those of agencies working on the ground. When Andrew Cuomo, New York’s governor, asked for 30,000 ventilators, Kushner claimed the state didn’t need them: “I’m doing my own projections, and I’ve gotten a lot smarter about this.”…(More)”.