SLA Warns Against Politicizing COVID-19 Data
Signs Letter Urging That Data Be Shared with CDC, Not HHS
McLean, Virginia, U.S.A., 27 July 2020—The Special Libraries Association is calling on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to withdraw a directive it issued requiring hospitals, hospital laboratories, and acute care facilities to report COVID-19 data to HHS rather than to the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
In a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar, SLA joined more than 25 other organizations, including the Center for Science in the Public Interest and the Union of Concerned Scientists, in arguing that reporting COVID-19 data to HHS will reduce transparency and accountability because it restricts access to such data by those who most need it—namely, scientists, doctors, and researchers.
“The CDC was established as a data-driven, nonpartisan entity to, in part, coordinate responses to public health threats,” the letter states. “The CDC has the necessary infrastructure, expertise and preexisting relationships with hospitals to lead federal efforts on coronavirus monitoring and surveillance. Requiring hospitals to report patient information to a central database at HHS shifts this key data collection effort away from the CDC to HHS, a more political entity… This creates new opportunities for political appointees to conceal coronavirus patient data, delay reporting, or worse, facilitate the politicization of data in an attempt to keep concerning trends from public view.”
The letter also questions whether HHS will be able to ensure the confidentiality of patient data collected from hospitals and other affected entities, given that the department is using two outside vendors—one with a history of performing data mining and analysis for government entities—to manage the COVID-19 data.
“One of the core values of SLA is to deliver measurable results in the information economy and our organizations,” says 2020 SLA President Tara Murray Groves. “Delivering measurable results requires finding and sharing information and data with those who are in the best position to make decisions—in this case, life or death decisions.”
The Special Libraries Association (SLA) is a nonprofit international organization for innovative information professionals and their strategic partners. SLA serves information professionals in more than 60 countries and in a range of working environments, including business, academia and government agencies. SLA promotes and strengthens its members through learning, advocacy and networking initiatives. For more information, visit sla.org.