- A handful of former government officials and academics are pitching a national surveillance system to track the spread and severity of the novel coronavirus pandemic in the U.S., a necessary step before the economy can be reopened, public health experts say.
- The team, which includes former FDA commissioners Scott Gottlieb and Mark McClellan, along with ex-ONC head Farzad Mostashari, says the U.S. needs to ramp up testing capacity and create a nationwide health IT infrastructure to monitor COVID-19 and make sure the right people have access to the right information when they need it.
- The plan released Tuesday comes as the White House is trying to patch together a real-time surveillance system to track hospital response and equipment use for COVID-19, POLITICO reports, propositioning private health tech players like data vendor PatientPing and care coordinator Collective Medical to help.
A nationwide surveillance system for the disease could give officials a holistic, up-to-date portrait of the coronavirus as it flows through the U.S., letting the government know which regions can end social distancing measures and reopen businesses and which should double down.
Public health experts have been calling for such a system for some time now. Critics say the Trump administration was woefully unprepared for the pandemic, slamming it as uncoordinated and reactive to the novel disease that's infected roughly 420,000 in the U.S. and killed more than 14,200 as of Wednesday afternoon.
Along with McClellan, Gottlieb and Mostashari, Caitlin Rivers, a professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and Lauren Silvis, SVP of government and public policy for health tech company Tempus and ex-chief of staff at FDA, worked on the report published by the Margolis Center for Health Policy at Duke.
According to the report, every region in the country should be working toward widespread testing and data sharing to monitor its population for early-stage outbreaks of COVID-19. That includes serological testing, a type of diagnostic that measures the amount of antibodies or proteins present in the blood to get a sense of a patient's immune response to a specific infection.
Along with aggregating and relaying that information nationwide, states and localities should have the capacity to isolate new cases and track their contacts, quarantining any new cases if need be and treating them effectively. But that will require public health officials to have an array of tools including real-time translation services and robust electronic reporting tools. Local health officials will also need access to admissions, discharge and transfer data, among other information, to accurately track COVID-19 patients as they move through the healthcare system from infection to recovery.
CDC should coordinate these efforts in tandem with state and local public health authorities, the report says, using federal funding through COVID-19 grants to states and linking in ONC for its IT needs. One option for the federal government is to invest in rapid pilot programs in states that have already started developing surveillance capabilities, researchers suggested. For example, Massachusetts announced a program Friday to hire and train 1,000 people to work on contact tracing.
"Building those capabilities now will enable us to move beyond the extreme and disruptive physical isolation measures in place across the United States," the report reads.
It comes as the Trump administration is reportedly exploring such a system in tandem with private partners. The project would entail unprecedented government control over and access to patients' health data, reviving privacy concerns that have plagued industry over the past few years as healthcare becomes ever more digital.