New CDC Center Hopes To Predict and Warn Public About Future Outbreaks and Pandemics

Limited data collection authority crippled efforts to predict the course of the COVID-19 pamdemic, as well as future outbreaks, the CDC warns.

Federal disease experts have launched a new center that is intended to help forecast infectious diseases and outbreaks, allowing government officials, healthcare providers, and the public to receive actionable data far more quickly and effectively.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced the opening of the Center for Forecasting and Outbreak Analytics (CFA) on April 19, as part of an effort to enable timely and effective decision-making that will improve outbreak response by using data, modeling, and analytics.

In essence, the CFA is expected to work similarly to our current National Weather Service, except instead of providing forecasts and warnings for tornados, hurricanes, and rain showers, it would provide advanced warning of infectious diseases like Covid-19 and its variants.

Planning for the CFA began in August of 2021 with $200 million of funding provided by the American Rescue Plan, Covid-19 stimulus package.

One of the most daunting problems faced by the CDC during the recent Covid-19 outbreak was its ability to effectively gather and analyze public health data and communicate its findings to researchers, health departments, federal and local governments, and the public at large. Though the CDC now has temporary authority for the collection of Covid-19 data, it does not have the ability or authority to access direct public health data and has to rely on complex data agreements with various states as well as voluntary reporting.

This outdated information gathering method proved problematic during the pandemic, forcing U.S. officials to rely heavily on infection and vaccine effectiveness data from other countries with more centralized data-collection methods that gave a clearer picture of infection rates.

Over the last 2 years, these data-collection problems have stymied health officials’ ability to predict the course of the Covid-19 pandemic across the nation. More accurate advanced warnings of future pandemics or even changes in current diseases and illnesses would greatly improve the mobilization and response time to health emergencies, the CDC indicates.

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The CDC has launched a Center for Forecasting and Outbreak Analytics web-page, which includes links to forecasting updates, a COVID-19 modeling hub and other resources.

Agency claims the effort will provide the opportunity for more direct involvement with data collection on infectious diseases to allow for faster access to more standardized data. This would also allow for faster communication with government agencies and decision-makers to help determine the most effective and least disruptive policies to lessen infection rates and safeguard communities.

Months before this official announcement of the CFA, the team of scientists and medical experts who comprise the government agency had already begun working on analyzing and predicting the impact of the omicron variant in late 2021. The team, working with Kaiser Permanente of Southern California and researchers at the University of California at Berkeley, was able to successfully estimate the severity of the omicron variant providing weeks of advance notice to government leaders concerning the timing of the surge.

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