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National changes in coronavirus data reporting don’t affect local health agencies, officials say

Heather Knappe, a nurse for Centura Health, tests a patient for coronavirus at the drive-up community testing clinic at the Vista Professional Building in Frisco on April 28.
Jason Connolly / jconnolly@summitdaily.com

FRISCO — Throughout the novel coronavirus pandemic local doctors and public health leaders have had to adapt to constant changes in research and policy. 

Most recently, President Donald Trump ordered hospitals to stop submitting to the Centers for Disease Control’s portal, the National Healthcare Safety Network. Instead, hospital systems like Centura, the owner of St. Anthony Summit Medical Center, are being asked to submit data to the Teletracking, a program run by the Department of Health and Human Services, according to a frequently asked questions page on data reporting for hospitals.

The change is a national one that won’t affect data on the Summit County coronavirus webpage or the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment case data page.

It does mean that doctors at Centura will have to figure out the new system, according to Dr. Stephen Cobb, Denver chief medical officer at Centura Health. 

“It’s like any other change that happens,” he said. “It’s a bit tedious. There’s a new system and it doesn’t work very well yet. It’s yet another change in the middle of a pandemic that we have to manage.”

Summit County Public Health Director Amy Wineland said that while the new reporting system affects Centura, it won’t have any effect on the county’s data.

“It’s not going to affect the information that we get,” Wineland said at Thursday’s joint Board of Health and Summit Board of County Commissioners meeting. “We have a really strong partnership with our hospital and Centura and all of our providers. So that won’t change for us here at the local level. It remains to be seen what the effect will have nationally.”

Data is the driving force behind how researchers, epidemiologists and public health officials come to understand the virus. The biggest concern for Wineland and other public health officials is that the data reported to HHS won’t be available to the general public like the CDC data was. 

“Everyone is looking at that (CDC) data and trying to monitor the situation with that amazing data, including researchers who are really trying to understand the virus,” she said. “Now, they have also been cut off from any other information going forward.”

Cobb said it’s important for people to remember that the hospital has a number of ways of reporting data. While this decision affects the data CDC puts out, other avenues like county data reporting and the state’s data site remain reliable sources. 

“We have a number of ways of (reporting data) not just through the CDC,” he said. “We do it through our local health departments. We do it through our state health department.”

Centura has also worked with other Colorado hospital systems to pool data and report it to the state, a collaboration that is uncommon for hospitals that typically compete with each other, Cobb said.

When it comes to looking at data related to the virus, Cobb said it’s important to pay attention to positivity rates rather than daily case increases. 

“When that percent positivity rises above 5% or so, it’s worrisome,” Cobb, who works in Denver, said. “We’re seeing it creep up over the last week approaching 5%. We’re not to an alarmed level yet, but it’s creeping up.”

In Summit County, the testing positivity rate is currently hovering at around 2%. A 10% positivity rate would be the maximum that the county can handle, according to the county’s coronavirus website. 

While policy and procedure surrounding the virus has changed over the course of the pandemic, the main ways to prevent the spread have remained the same, Cobb said. 

“The basic fundamentals of keeping people safe are the same,” he said. “Hand washing, good hand hygiene, social distancing and now we know face coverings are (a necessity).”

The positivity of COVID-19 testing of Summit County residents.
Courtesy Summit County

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