Millions of people are missing from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s database of COVID-19 infections as some states evade reporting detailed information, a new tracking portal from Morehouse School of Medicine revealed.
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The CDC has counted more than 39 million coronavirus cases across the U.S. Still, many states are not providing detailed information, including hospitalizations, deaths, and demographic data like race, gender, and age.
An NPR analysis found 1 in 5 COVID-19 cases — roughly 7 million — lack that greater depth of detail. And about two-thirds of the data available is unusable, the outlet said.
“There’s no data coming out of Texas,” Morehouse School of Medicine software engineer Josh Zarrabi, who helped develop the Health Equity Tracker that showcases the tremendous gaps in data, told NPR.
“A lot of Americans should be unhappy about that,” Zarrabi continued, calling it a “huge missing piece of the puzzle.”
States like Missouri, Texas, Louisiana, West Virginia, and Wyoming have reported less than one-tenth of all their total cases. For example, in Texas, where more than 3 million people have contracted COVID, only 81,000 of them — less than 3% — are accounted for in detail. Florida, Michigan, and Kentucky also have notable omissions, failing to submit about one-third of their cases.
“That is ludicrous. It is shameful. It is wrong,” Harvard University epidemiologist Nancy Krieger told NPR. “You need good data to do proper planning, to understand what the risk is, how the risk is changing.”
“It’s not because the states are not sharing those data with us. It’s because the states don’t have those data themselves,” said CDC scientist Paula Yoon, adding that if they did, “we would be in a much better pace.”
For public health workers facing a surge in infections and a shortage of employees, their priority, they say, is controlling the outbreak and identifying close contacts. The CDC lacks the authority to demand reporting requirements from state health departments.
A Texas health department official estimated submitting detailed data to the CDC in Atlanta by October, blaming the state’s lack of centralized health network reporting. The agency has invested around $200 million of coronavirus relief funds to modernize the states’ reporting systems, but its execution will take time.