One senior administration official told CNN that the slimmed down guidelines should not been seen as a rebuke of Redfield or the CDC inside the White House, since a whole national strategy was never on the table.
“It makes no sense for a movie theatre in a rural Tennessee town with zero COVID cases to be under the same restrictions as a theatre in New York,” the official said.
Still, the limited guidelines combined with Birx’s dust up with Redfield have underscored to many top officials the level of sway Birx has inside the White House, particularly with Trump.
One senior official, who has known Birx since she served as the division director of Global HIV/AIDS at the CDC from 2005 to 2014, said Birx has always “enjoyed being front and center.”
“From the beginning of her role at the White House, Debbie Birx is out for Debbie Birx,” the official said.
Regardless, Birx’s criticism of the CDC data collection system doesn’t appear to be without merit. According to health industry sources familiar with the system, there are numerous flaws in the way the CDC tracks the coronavirus, including that it is unable to track symptoms in real time.
In some cases with flu-like illnesses, primary care physicians who receive patients aren’t getting the information out and processed by CDC for as long as a week—which makes contract tracing nearly impossible. Additionally, these sources note that state public health departments still use outdated technology like fax machines to transmit information.
The CDC says states report at different rates. Currently, 63% of all US deaths are reported within 10 days of the date of death, but there is significant variation between states, the agency said.
“That’s part of the problem, we don’t know how far of a lag there is, but there definitely is a lag,” one CDC official told CNN.
The CDC has been working on a major data modernization initiative to “spruce up the system,” primarily by giving the state and local health departments the ability to gather data electronically in real time, federal officials said.
The system, which would help digitize the data using modern technology, will not be up and running until later this year, one official said.