US hospitals must start reporting flu data to the federal government or face losing federal funding, Health and Human Services Department officials said Tuesday.
Hospitals currently report positive and suspected cases of Covid-19, fatalities and admissions on a daily and weekly basis and will now be required to report the same numbers for influenza, HHS said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently tracks flu hospitalizations in just 14 states and uses modeling methodology to estimate how many people are infected, hospitalized and killed by influenza across the country every flu season.
But now the US is facing the threat of two deadly respiratory viruses – flu and coronavirus – circulating at the same time.
Collecting more in depth information on flu from hospitals will help officials track it better, CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield said. “(The) new data will give us a fuller picture of what is happening hospital-to-hospital regarding influenza in the hospital, in the hospital regardless, and may help us produce more accurate estimates of the burden of influenza each season,” Redfield told reporters.
The CDC is not sure what’s going to happen this flu season, Redfield said. “However, CDC is preparing for there to be a COVID-19 and seasonal influenza at the same time," he said.
More on this: If hospitals don’t provide complete and accurate information on Covid-19 and flu, they will face “termination” of their Medicare and Medicaid services, according to Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma.
Verma said the 6,000 hospitals in the system will have “ample opportunity to come into compliance,” beginning Wednesday, when all facilities will receive an initial notice as to whether they’re meeting current reporting requirements.
Hospitals will be required to report daily and weekly Covid-19 and influenza admissions, confirmed and suspected cases, fatalities and data on personal protective equipment.
Daily and weekly reporting on Covid-19 cases has improved, said White House coronavirus task force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx. “We've gone from 86% to 98% of all hospitals reporting at least weekly, and we've gone from 61% to 86% of hospitals reporting daily,” Birx said.
“We track test positivity cases, but also daily hospital admission data, as well as fatalities from around the United States down to the level of communities and counties to really ensure that we’re triangulating all data to understand where this epidemic is, how it's moving through different populations and ensuring that we're meeting the needs of specific hospitals and communities as well as working from the same data and information,” she said.
Now we want to collect flu information from hospitals “to have a comprehensive understanding of influenza in the community,” Birx said.
Receiving timely and complete information is really crucial in battling the coronavirus epidemic, she said.