May 16, 2022 - COVID

D.C. Council questions COVID data reporting delay

Photo: Eric Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Photo: Eric Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Several D.C. Council members are probing DC Health on why the agency failed to submit COVID-19 data to the CDC for two weeks.

Why it matters: DC Health has yet to provide any detailed explanation why there was a lapse in data reporting. The agency has said its key metrics, which are supposed to be posted weekly showing case rates and hospital capacity, are available to help residents make the best personal risk assessments.

  • But that disruption left D.C. residents “without a means by which to meaningfully assess their risk,” according to a letter sent to the agency by several council members last Thursday.
  • The letter also says DC Health hasn’t updated its data on where outbreaks are occurring.

What they’re saying: The council members ask DC Health to ensure all data is available on its website at 4pm each week, restore outbreak data, and launch an investigation into why the disruption occurred.

  • DC Health and the D.C. Council are expected to resume weekly COVID calls next Friday.

Of note: The letter also asks DC Health to provide a detailed plan on its wastewater surveillance program.

Details: DC Health has been working for several months on starting a program to monitor the level of COVID in D.C.’s wastewater, previously telling Axios it planned to get the program up and running in April — which it has not done.

  • At the end of last month, DC Health told Axios it was still working on setting up the program.

In Thursday’s letter, the council members wrote that D.C. allowed a contract “with a private company to conduct wastewater surveillance to lapse without a plan.”

Yes, but: A person with knowledge of the wastewater surveillance program, who is not authorized to speak publicly, tells Axios that it was actually the CDC that ended its contract with a private company and is now contracting with another company called Biobot Analytics to handle its National Wastewater Surveillance System.

  • D.C’s Blue Plains plant is part of this national system, and wastewater surveillance data on the CDC’s website, including for D.C. and New York, was listed as unavailable last week.

What they’re saying: Newsha Ghaeli, the president and co-founder of Biobot Analytics, tells Axios the CDC began a contract with the company on April 15 and there was an initial ramp-up period to onboard participating facilities and begin sampling wastewater.

  • Ghaeli says that the company will send data directly to the CDC.

Of note: Biobot also operates its own dashboard of counties across the U.S. participating in the company’s own surveillance program. Neither D.C. nor Maryland is listed, but counties in northern Virginia are.

  • Arlington, Alexandria City, and Loudoun County all saw an increase in COVID in their wastewater at the end of March; Arlington County’s levels began to drop in mid-May.

Neither DC Health nor the CDC responded to Axios' questions about the wastewater contract, and DC Health has not offered reporters any explanation on the overall data lapse.


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