The CDC will set up a coronavirus ‘surveillance and data collection system’ as part of the $2 trillion stimulus bill, which President Trump just signed into law

Vice President Mike Pence

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Vice President Mike Pence
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REUTERS/Carlos Barria
  • The CDC will launch a new “surveillance and data collection system” to track the spread of coronavirus in the US, per the coronavirus relief bill signed into law Friday.
  • The agency would receive emergency funding as part of the bipartisan stimulus package. Of that, $500 million will go public health data surveillance and analytics infrastructure modernization.
  • Tracking the spread of the virus will be a balancing act for the agency, which will have to navigate privacy laws as it expands its surveillance.
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President Donald Trump signed into law a sweeping stimulus bill that will pump emergency funding into the CDC to combat the coronavirus, including a system to gather data on how the virus is spreading.

The CDC’s new funding is part of an emergency stimulus package that provides $2 trillion in funding to boost government health programs and stabilize the American economy during the coronavirus crisis.

Of the funding allocated to the CDC, the stimulus sets aside at least $500 million for public health data surveillance and modernizing the analytics infrastructure. The CDC must report on the development of a “surveillance and data collection system” within the next 30 days. While it’s not clear what form that surveillance system will take, the federal government has reportedly expressed interest in aggregating data that can be gleaned from tech platforms and smartphone use to monitor movement patterns.

Other countries have already turned to high-tech surveillance systems in an attempt to curb the spread of coronavirus. China rolled out a mandatory smartphone app that asks citizens questions about their level of exposure to people who have demonstrated symptoms, and automatically orders certain users to quarantine themselves. Singapore has issued a similar app that uses Bluetooth to detect people’s proximity to those who have been exposed to coronavirus and warns them to get tested if they come in close contact.

If launched in the US, a smartphone app for tracking people’s health would have to comply with privacy laws like HIPAA, which prevents the sharing of people’s health information between hospitals, the government, and third parties.

More broadly, a CDC surveillance system could aim to help the US speed up testing for the people who are the most at risk of COVID-19. The US lags behind most other developed countries in coronavirus testing.