May 20, 2022 - COVID

D.C.'s COVID data lapse, explained

LaQuandra Nesbitt
DC Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt. Photo: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images

D.C. council members undercut trust in DC Health when they probed why COVID-19 data wasn’t shared recently with the CDC over a two-week span, the agency’s director said in a letter to lawmakers that was obtained by Axios.

  • DC Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt also said the District wouldn’t change when it releases new case information, citing burnout.

Public health workers have experienced “12+ hour workdays, attacks both verbal and physical on public health professionals, and significant misinformation about public health and our work,” Nesbitt said.

Why it matters: Residents were in the dark about the COVID risk when the city’s data disappeared from the CDC website — which made it look like the District had zero cases. And D.C. officials refused to explain the lapse.

  • Nesbitt’s letter to several council members gives the first explanation.

Details: D.C. had been submitting automated and manual reports to the CDC, but stopped the manual reporting between April 27 and May 8, Nesbitt wrote.

  • The CDC confirmed receipt of the data during this time, per Nesbitt’s letter.

The other side: A CDC spokesperson previously told Axios that the District’s reports actually stopped during that two-week period.

Between the lines: The agency and council members are at odds over when to share case data with the public. The council wants case information to come out on Mondays instead of Wednesdays, so there isn’t a three-day lag on the previous week’s data.

  • But Nesbitt rejected that request in her letter, saying she would not allow staff to work on weekends. Monday reporting would “increase burnout, decrease morale, and it will not improve the public’s ability to understand their health risk,” she wrote.

Nesbitt called on the council to come to her directly in the future, rather than airing their concerns in public.

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