CM Nadeau and Colleagues Call on DC Health to Release Critical COVID Data
May 12, 2022
LaQuandra S. Nesbitt, MD, MPH
Director, D.C. Department of Health
899 North Capitol Street, NE
Washington, DC 20002
Dear Dr. Nesbitt:
Yesterday, D.C. Health acknowledged that it did not submit COVID-19 case counts, testing data, and deaths to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) between April 27, 2022, and May 8, 2022. The agency did not offer an explanation for its failure to do so.
That disruption harmed District residents, who were left without a means by which to meaningfully assess their risk in the context of updated information conveying the nature and extent of community spread. D.C. Health does not update its weekly case rate, hospital admissions, and other publicly available data until 6 p.m. on the Wednesday of the calendar week following the week during which that data was collected. That leaves the CDC website as the most reliable source of information for residents looking for timely data to inform their risk appetite and conduct. At 5:30 p.m. on May 11th, for instance, data for May 10th was available on the CDC website, but the most recent date for which data was available on D.C. Health’s website was April 30th.
What’s more, the D.C. Health COVID-19 dashboard is missing much of the data that it once presented, including the information on where outbreaks are occurring that many residents, especially those with young children, have told us they have found immensely valuable. And data that is supposed to be up at 6 p.m. on a Wednesday has, in the past, appeared days later.
We were also disappointed to learn that D.C. Health allowed its contract with a private company to conduct wastewater surveillance to lapse without a plan to restore that monitoring. With many residents testing positive for COVID-19 using take-home tests, wastewater surveillance is a critical tool for informing private conduct and public policymaking. Without it, we are largely flying blind, undercounting cases and perhaps giving ourselves too much credit for having slowed an ongoing pandemic.
The District needs a robust, reliable system for letting residents ascertain the local progression of the COVID-19 pandemic. Immunocompromised people and parents with children under five who cannot be vaccinated especially need the most up-to-date data to make the best decisions for themselves and their families, and we must commit to timely making that information public.
Toward that end, we hope that you will take the following steps to make COVID data accessible to District residents and restore public confidence in D.C. Health:
- Make all data reported on the D.C. Health website that is currently updated each Wednesday at 6 p.m. available by 4 p.m. each Monday to ensure that residents are getting timely information to inform their risk assessment;
- Restore outbreak data to the D.C. Health website;
- Share with the Council and the public a detailed plan to restore wastewater surveillance;
- Launch an internal investigation into the failure to report data to the CDC and share the entirety of your findings with the Council and the public; and
- Commit to reporting COVID-19 case counts, testing data, and deaths to the CDC on at least a weekly basis going forward.
We commend your hard work to protect District residents throughout the pandemic. As residents continue to fall ill and suffer from Long COVID, however, we hope we can agree that they should have confidence in our data tracking and the tools they need to keep themselves safe.
Councilmember Brianne K. Nadeau
Councilmember Mary M. Cheh
Councilmember Trayon White, Sr.
Councilmember Robert C. White, Jr.
Councilmember Janeese Lewis George