US CDC plans to improve international air contact tracing data collection

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A general view of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia September 30, 2014. REUTERS/Tami Chappell/File Photo

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WASHINGTON, July 11 (Reuters) – The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will take steps to improve the collection of contact information from international air passengers to better monitor public health risks after a report revealed that the current data system “needs substantial improvement”. “

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) said Monday that “limitations in how the CDC collects and manages air passenger contact information – including the CDC’s use of an outdated data management system – hamper the agency’s ability to monitor public health risks and facilitate contact tracing.”

Beginning in November 2021, the CDC required all airlines to collect contact tracing information from all international air passengers.

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The report states that the CDC’s current data management system developed in the mid-2000s “was not designed for rapid assessment or aggregation of public health data” and that the CDC “is unable to quickly and accurately identify the number of passengers exposed to a specific infected passenger on a flight.”

A CDC spokeswoman said agency director Rochelle Walensky “continues to work with the administration and Congress to improve CDC’s data capabilities. Reporting data to the CDC is critical to the ability of the agency to provide real, real-time data to policy makers who need to make recommendations and advice to protect the American public.”

The CDC, an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), told the GAO that it estimated that between 2015 and 2019 — before the pandemic — about 80 to 130 separate thefts per year warranted at least one investigation. of contact “against more than around 25,000 separate flights in 2020” and 17,000 passengers.

The GAO recommended that the CDC redesign or adopt a new data system “to more effectively facilitate contact tracing for all air passengers and perform disease surveillance for air travel.”

HHS said the agency is in the initial stages of a “complete overhaul” of the reporting system. The CDC is also working on a project to improve data interoperability with public health departments to share travel information.

In February 2021, major US airlines adopted voluntary international contact tracing months after the White House under then-President Donald Trump blocked mandatory collection.

In September 2020, the Trump administration ended enhanced screening of certain international passengers for COVID-19 and dropped requirements that travelers from targeted countries arrive at 15 designated U.S. airports.

Reuters reported an internal government document found of 675,000 passengers screened at the 15 airports as part of the CDC effort, less than 15 had been identified as having COVID-19.

Airlines for America, a trade group, said in September 2020 that it “no longer thinks it makes sense to continue screening at these 15 airports given the extremely low number of passengers identified by the CDC as potentially having a problem. health”.

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Reporting by David Shepardson Editing by Bill Berkrot

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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