New law requires more COVID-19 data-gathering
More information sought on race, individual nursing homes
THE MASSACHUSETTS DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC HEALTH will need to publish more transparent data about the number of COVID-19 cases in individual long-term care facilities, and will also need to publish new racial and occupational data about coronavirus cases, under a bill Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law Sunday.
“For a month and a half now we’ve been asking for this information…in order to better prepare for how we’re going to address the most affected communities,” said Rep. Carlos Gonzalez, a Springfield Democrat who chairs the Black and Latino legislative caucus.
As the coronavirus pandemic has swept the state, the Department of Public Health has been regularly changing the way it reports COVID-19 data, with daily and weekly updates. But advocates for racial minorities and those focusing on nursing home outbreaks have been pushing for more specific data.
Rep. Ruth Balser, a Newton Democrat who chairs the Joint Committee on Elder Affairs and sponsored an early version of the bill, said since seniors in group living facilities are the most vulnerable population to the virus, the public and policymakers need accurate, preciseand comprehensive information by facility.
Balser said she believes administration officials should have been providing facility-level, specific data all along. “It’s a shame it’s taken us this long into this pandemic to get to this place,” she said.
Baker recently said he thinks Massachusetts’ dashboard is “as good as anyone’s in the country” in making comprehensive, detailed data available daily. He said changes have been made as the state has gotten better at collecting information.
Currently, the state publishes weekly lists of each nursing home and assisted living facility, with a range of how many cases each facility has – for example, one to ten cases or 11 to 30 cases. The positive cases include patients and staff in one number, and death data is only available for patients.
Data at the two state Soldiers’ Homes is included in a separate weekly report about state-run facilities, and weekday daily updates are provided to the media.
The new law will require reporting about a broader swath of elder-care institutions, including rest homes, intermediate care facilities, and senior independent housing. It would require the state to publicly report daily from each facility on the numbers of positive cases among patients; the number of positive cases among staff; patient deaths from COVID-19; and staff deaths.
The law will also require elder care facilities to notify residents and their families of COVID-19 cases and deaths.
On race, the state already reports total cases, hospitalizations, and deaths by race and ethnicity, although for more than one-third of total cases and 17 percent of hospitalizations that data is unknown. The new law will require racial data to be presented per capita, so someone can compare the rate of infection in the white community to the rate of infection in the black community.
The law will also for the first time require data be collected based on disability status and occupation.
Pavlos said this detailed information about who is most affected and most at risk will be increasingly important as the economy reopens.
The law also requires additional data reporting around correctional facilities and inmate housing.
Much of the bill codifies the type of reporting the Department of Public Health is already doing involving testing, case numbers, hospitalizations, and deaths.It will also set up a task force to study and make recommendations related to COVID-19 health disparities among underserved populations.
The bill is effective immediately, but the administration has not yet said when it will implement the new reporting requirements.