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U.S. deaths top 140,000 amid rising worries about data integrity, racial disparities

Washington, US | XINHUA | The United States has reported 140,000-plus COVID-19 deaths and more than 3.71 million cases as of Sunday morning, both figures ranking first worldwide, as the global tally of cases has topped 14.3 million with a death toll above 602,000.

Despite skyrocketing caseloads, U.S. President Donald Trump said Friday he won’t issue an order at the national level mandating the use of masks, even as the country continued to break its single-day coronavirus case record amid a pandemic that is far from being contained.

By contrast, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Tuesday called on people in a statement to wear masks to prevent the pandemic’s spread, with CDC Director Robert Redfield saying, “Cloth face coverings are one of the most powerful weapons we have to slow and stop the spread of the virus.”

In this challenging era brought about by the pandemic, another move by the White House has led to increased worry among health experts, as the Trump administration on Tuesday ordered hospitals to sidestep the CDC and report real-time patient data directly to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) via a new platform “HHS Protect,” or through a system called “TeleTracking.”

Although the move casts doubt upon data transparency and credibility, Redfield defended the policy change, saying this would reduce their reporting burden, while the CDC team and other COVID-19 response teams still have access to hospital data, according to a CDC statement.

However, Senator Patty Murray of Washington, the top Democrat on the Senate health committee, was skeptical about the TeleTracking contract, describing it as a “non-competitive, multimillion-dollar contract” for a “duplicative health data system,” according to a report by The New York Times.

The newspaper also quoted Rep. Donna E. Shalala of Florida, who served as Health Secretary under former President Bill Clinton, as saying, “only the CDC has the expertise to collect data.”

“Any move to take responsibility away from the people who have the expertise is politicizing,” she said.

Meanwhile, racial disparities in the United States have already made things worse.

During a live chat with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg on Thursday, Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, described the racial disparities that have cropped up during the pandemic as a “very disturbing phenomenon that is a reality.”

Fauci reviewed the situation of minority groups in the country, who are facing a higher incidence of chronic diseases and are at greater risk of infection with the coronavirus, calling on allocating resources to minority communities “right away.”

Although the racial problem is “not going to change overnight,” Fauci said “let’s at least do the things that we can fix now.”

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