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TeleTracking Technologies, Firm Running Coronavirus Database, Refuses to Answer Senators’ Questions

  • August 15, 2020

And one month into the new arrangement, there are questions about how useful the new database is. The Covid Tracking Project, a heavily used resource, reported this week that the federal data are “unreliable.” In comparing hospitalization data reported by the state and federal governments, the project has found large discrepancies in certain states.

“We felt like we had a very solid baseline current hospitalization number, and then after the switchover, for reasons that remain somewhat obscure to us, we suddenly saw numbers jumping around in totally different ways,” Alexis Madrigal, the project’s co-founder, said in an interview.

The letter made public on Friday was in response to an inquiry from Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, and Senator Patty Murray of Washington, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Health Committee. They wrote the company on July 22, seeking information about its arrangement with the Health and Human Services Department — “a sudden and significant departure,” they wrote, “from the way the federal government has collected public health data regarding infectious diseases in the past.”

The Washington lawyer A. Scott Bolden replied on behalf of Michael Zamagias, a Pittsburgh real estate developer who is TeleTracking’s chairman and majority owner. Mr. Bolden suggested the Democrats direct questions about the contract to the government, and a health department spokeswoman said Friday that is what members of Congress should do.

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The Coronavirus Outbreak ›

Frequently Asked Questions

Updated August 12, 2020

  • Can I travel within the United States?

    • Many states have travel restrictions, and lots of them are taking active measures to enforce those restrictions, like issuing fines or asking visitors to quarantine for 14 days. Here’s an ever-updating list of statewide restrictions. In general, travel does increase your chance of getting and spreading the virus, as you are bound to encounter more people than if you remained at your house in your own “pod.” “Staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others from Covid-19,” the C.D.C. says. If you do travel, though, take precautions. If you can, drive. If you have to fly, be careful about picking your airline. But know that airlines are taking real steps to keep planes clean and limit your risk.
  • I have antibodies. Am I now immune?

    • As of right now, that seems likely, for at least several months. There have been frightening accounts of people suffering what seems to be a second bout of Covid-19. But experts say these patients may have a drawn-out course of infection, with the virus taking a slow toll weeks to months after initial exposure. People infected with the coronavirus typically produce immune molecules called antibodies, which are protective proteins made in response to an infection. These antibodies may last in the body only two to three months, which may seem worrisome, but that’s perfectly normal after an acute infection subsides, said Dr. Michael Mina, an immunologist at Harvard University. It may be possible to get the coronavirus again, but it’s highly unlikely that it would be possible in a short window of time from initial infection or make people sicker the second time.
  • I’m a small-business owner. Can I get relief?

    • The stimulus bills enacted in March offer help for the millions of American small businesses. Those eligible for aid are businesses and nonprofit organizations with fewer than 500 workers, including sole proprietorships, independent contractors and freelancers. Some larger companies in some industries are also eligible. The help being offered, which is being managed by the Small Business Administration, includes the Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program. But lots of folks have not yet seen payouts. Even those who have received help are confused: The rules are draconian, and some are stuck sitting on money they don’t know how to use. Many small-business owners are getting less than they expected or not hearing anything at all.
  • What are my rights if I am worried about going back to work?

  • What is school going to look like in September?

    • It is unlikely that many schools will return to a normal schedule this fall, requiring the grind of online learning, makeshift child care and stunted workdays to continue. California’s two largest public school districts — Los Angeles and San Diego — said on July 13, that instruction will be remote-only in the fall, citing concerns that surging coronavirus infections in their areas pose too dire a risk for students and teachers. Together, the two districts enroll some 825,000 students. They are the largest in the country so far to abandon plans for even a partial physical return to classrooms when they reopen in August. For other districts, the solution won’t be an all-or-nothing approach. Many systems, including the nation’s largest, New York City, are devising hybrid plans that involve spending some days in classrooms and other days online. There’s no national policy on this yet, so check with your municipal school system regularly to see what is happening in your community.

But Ms. Murray sent a similar letter to the health and human services agency on June 3, not quite two months after the contract was first awarded, and has received no response, her office said. At the time, hospitals had the option of reporting either to TeleTracking or the C.D.C., and Ms. Murray’s letter asked why the government was creating “a seemingly duplicative data collection system.”

Senators Schumer and Murray have been pushing the government to be more transparent about its collection and use of coronavirus data. The two recently introduced legislation aimed at protecting data transparency, and Mr. Schumer has raised the issue with Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, according to a person familiar with their discussion.

“The Trump administration’s decision to hire a private vendor and then cloak that vendor in a nondisclosure agreement raises numerous questions about their motivations and risks the ability of our public health experts to understand and effectively fight this virus,” Mr. Schumer said Friday in a statement.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/14/us/politics/teletracking-technologies-coronavirus-senators.html

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