U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) on Aug. 21 proposed legislation aimed at improving COVID-19 research and health data-sharing between federal and state agencies in order to combat the pandemic.

Rep. Fitzpatrick introduced the Health STATISTICS Act of 2020, H.R. 8080, with bill sponsor U.S. Rep. Scott Peters (D-CA) in order to encourage the development of public health data standards, and to authorize certain epidemiological surveillance grants and other data projects, according to the congressional record summary.

“In order to bolster our state and local public health professionals’ efforts to combat COVID-19 and future outbreaks, we need to improve standardized interagency data sharing between our federal agencies and states while optimizing our nation’s public health surveillance system,” Rep. Fitzpatrick said.

Experts have only 40 percent of the data needed to fight the coronavirus pandemic and measure the true scope of the outbreak, Fitzpatrick’s office stated, explaining that the United States has not yet standardized national, state, county and city-level public reporting on COVID-19. Without standardization across all states, public health experts have noted the utilization of data from health departments, labs, clinics, and hospitals is nearly impossible. It also means that reporting statistics such as patient demographics and turnaround times for test results is not compulsory.

“The bipartisan Health STATISTICS Act will help achieve better patient outcomes and will save more lives by providing researchers with better access to higher quality data and would modernize our nation’s data infrastructure so that our public health infrastructure can meet immediate surveillance, reporting, and other outbreak management needs,” Rep. Fitzpatrick added.

The legislation, if enacted, would direct the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to share health data collected from reporting entities with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), other public health agencies, and the public while protecting individual privacy. It also would require the Secretary of HHS to designate data and technology standards and set common reporting criteria for the highest-priority data. In addition, H.R. 8080 would create a grant program for state, local, tribal, and territorial public health departments for the modernization of public health data systems.

“With over 5.59 million coronavirus cases nationwide and counting, provisions within the Health STATISTICS Act have never been more necessary,” Rep. Peters said.

The bill has drawn support from the Center for Public Health Initiatives and the Data Coalition, as well as a prominent statistician.

“If the key provisions of this bill had been enacted and implemented before the pandemic hit, we would have been much better prepared as a nation to have the timely, relevant information needed to act quickly and effectively at all levels of government,” Dr. Nancy Potok, former Chief Statistician of the United States, said.