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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will cease tracking community levels of Covid and the percentage of tests that come back positive, a metric used to calculate transmission rates, the agency announced on Friday.

The decision is linked to the end of the public health emergency on May 11. The emergency designation, first declared in January 2020, had allowed the C.D.C. to demand certain kinds of data on Covid’s spread from state officials.

To track death rates, agency officials now will rely on the National Vital Statistics System, which is highly accurate but tends to lag behind other kinds of surveillance by two to three weeks. The C.D.C. is also scaling back the data that hospitals are required to report, including the number of cases and the race, sex and age of patients. But the agency will continue to track overall Covid hospitalizations and intensive care admissions.

The agency will still have a clear picture of Covid trends, Dr. Nirav Shah, the agency’s principal deputy director, told reporters on Thursday. “We will still be able to tell that it’s snowing even though we’re no longer counting every snowflake,” he said.


A mobile testing site in Berkeley, Calif., last year.Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Why It Matters: Covid still claims more than 1,000 lives weekly

Even in a season that usually brings a lull in respiratory illnesses, and even with powerful vaccines available, the coronavirus is infecting many Americans and killing at least 1,000 people each week.

The data the C.D.C. still plans to collect will not provide enough actionable information at the state and local level, said Sam Scarpino, a public health expert at Northeastern University.

As with other pathogens like influenza and respiratory syncytial virus, state and local health officials will need to make decisions based on limited data, he said.

“The C.D.C. is shuffling Covid into the deck of infectious diseases that we’re satisfied living with,” Dr. Scarpino said. “One thousand deaths a week is just unacceptable.”

Background: Most of the changes were expected

The Biden administration signaled in January that it would allow the public health emergency to lapse on May 11, giving health officials time to plan for the change. The emergency designation gave Americans access to free tests, treatments and vaccines, and enabled the C.D.C. to require health data from state agencies.

Much of that is expected to change. Collecting and reporting Covid data to the C.D.C. is time-consuming and laborious for many states and local jurisdictions, and some have already stopped doing so, limiting efforts to track the spread of the virus.

Some states are forbidden by their own laws from sharing data with the C.D.C. in the absence of an emergency.

“The reality is that the C.D.C. doesn’t have a choice” but to narrow its surveillance efforts, said Dr. Megan Ranney, an emergency room physician and deputy dean of Brown’s School of Public Health.

The data available after the emergency ends is “certainly not as much as we need,” she said. “This is an example of them doing the best that they can with the data that they can get.”

What’s Next: Pared-down surveillance

Although the C.D.C. cannot compel states to share data, it can rely on its own sentinel network, Covid-Net, which comprises information on hospitalizations in 13 states, representing roughly 10 percent of the population. A similar network is used to track influenza.

Some experts had worried that uninsured Americans would lose access to free coronavirus tests once the emergency ends. But the C.D.C. said it would continue to fund pharmacy-based testing for the uninsured.

The agency will continue to monitor pathogens in wastewater and to track coronavirus variants, including those infecting travelers. But officials will scale back the frequency of reporting on variants from weekly to biweekly, and will suspend state-level information on variant spread.



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