COVID database filled with holes despite law

Passing a law is one thing. Implementing it is another.

On June 7, Gov. Charlie Baker signed a law requiring the Department of Public Health to publish more transparent data about the coronavirus outbreak. The law required DPH to provide more racial and occupational data about caseloads, and to give more detail about outbreaks in long-term care facilities for the elderly.

Although Massachusetts already publishes daily extensive reports on COVID-19, advocates for racial minorities and for older adults had said the state must do better, and the Legislature and governor appeared to agree.

On Thursday, the chairs of the Joint Committee on Elder Affairs – Rep. Ruth Balser and Sen. Pat Jehlen – and nine other committee members sent a letter to Baker expressing concern that the administration was not implementing the law and urging the governor to provide more information about long-term care facilities.

The committee members wrote that current reporting on DPH dashboards is “far from the standard set by the statute.”

For example, data on long-term care facilities is published weekly, not daily. Case counts in nursing homes are provided only in ranges, rather than with specific numbers. Positive cases in a facility are not separated out between staff and residents. Only cases are reported at assisted living facilities, not deaths. There is no mention of elderly housing in the dashboards, although the law requires reporting from elder housing complexes.

Although cases appear to be abating for now, the lawmakers wrote that in case of a future wave of COVID-19 cases, the elderly population will be at the greatest risk. “Accurate tracking and reporting of the victims of this crisis are essential,” they wrote.

The Department of Public Health, in a July 2 report to the Legislature, explained the barriers to publishing the required data. The report detailed the myriad sources that feed into the state’s database, and said the data are only as good as what is reported to the state.

For example, labs inputting test results rarely have any demographic data about the patients, other than their age, city of residence, and maybe their sex.

Among data inputted into the state’s central database, 47 percent of recent cases list race and ethnicity as missing, unknown, or other; occupation is missing on 87 percent of cases; and primary language is missing on over 90 percent – even though Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel has asked providers for that information. While the law requires reporting on disability status, the state database does not have a field to input disability status, although state officials are working to create a field.

The DPH report, as the Elder Affairs committee lawmakers note, does not directly discuss the lack of data on senior housing.

Baker introduced a bill that would put the obligation on labs and health care providers to provide complete data, with fines for noncompliance. His bill would also eliminate the requirement that senior independent living complexes provide data because Baker says landlords do not know – and have no business knowing – the health status of their residents.

The Legislature has not acted on Baker’s bill. In the meantime, those data are simply going unreported.

SHIRA SCHOENBERG


BEACON HILL

State lawmakers are weighing potential revenue options amid an estimated $6 billion budget shortfall. (The Berkshire Eagle)

The state commissioner for the deaf has been put on leave following allegations that he made Nazi salutes and wore KKK-like garb while a member of a college fraternity 30 years ago. (Boston Globe)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

The Boston Housing Authority is extending its moratorium on “nonessential” evictions until the end of the year. (Boston Globe)

Bill Walczak says the all-night barrage of fireworks Boston residents endured on July 4th was entirely predictable and represents a failure of local and state leaders who had weeks to devise plans to curtail the aural assault. (Dorchester Reporter)

A Supercuts employee in Westborough is fired after allegedly telling a customer they don’t cut black people’s hair. (Metrowest Daily News)

Requests for plots in Boston’s community gardens more than double during the pandemic. (WGBH)

Fall River Mayor Paul Coogan pledges to stop the seven-week barrage of shooting-related crimes. (Herald News)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

The Cannabis Control Commission is trying to figure out what to do with $25 million worth of quarantine vaping products, which the commission ordered stores to take off the shelves last September amid an outbreak of vaping-related illnesses. (Telegram & Gazette)

WBUR explores how Chelsea and Central Falls, Rhode Island — both hard hit by coronavirus — have slowed the spread of the virus.

In the year ending March 31, Massachusetts hospitals collectively reported losses of more than $2 billion, with 17 of 21 hospital systems reporting losses, according to new state data. (MassLive)

John Paradis, the former deputy superintendent at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, writes an op-ed criticizing Gov. Charlie Baker for not meeting with the families of veterans who died at the home. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that a huge swath of eastern Oklahoma remains an American Indian reservation, one of the biggest victories for tribal rights in years. (Washington Post)

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, a Purple Heart recipient who lost both legs when the helicopter she piloted was shot down during the Iraq war, pens a response to Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who has attacked her patriotism and called her a “coward” and “deeply silly.” (New York Times)

ELECTIONS

Chief local Trump fanboy Howie Carr says the president, who called in to his radio show yesterday, is ready to let it rip at tomorrow’s rally in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, though the quotes he plucked from the 16-minute segment are pretty flat. (Boston Herald) Fears are growing that Trump will prove to be the “Superspreader in Chief.” (Boston Globe)

The American Prospect’s David Dayen says Rep. Richie Neal, facing a primary challenge from his left from Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse, is a tool for big-money interests and he lays out a case revolving around congressional deliberation on legislation to curtail surprise medical billing.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The TB12 fitness center in Foxborough, owned by former Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who reportedly signed a $50 million two-year contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, received a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan of $350,000 to $1 million. (Boston Herald)

It’s not exactly clear that the good times will roll, but the Wynn Resorts casino in Everett will reopen on Sunday — with lots of masks and plexiglass. (Boston Globe)

Worcester officials are fielding lots of complaints of businesses and individuals not following COVID-19 protocols. (Telegram & Gazette)

Federal help saved around 8,500 Brockton jobs, according to data released this week by the Small Business Administration. (The Enterprise)

Officials behind the 465-unit residential development planned for Quincy’s Hospital Hill say demolition will likely start as soon as next year. (Patriot Ledger)

EDUCATION

The state’s initial school opening guidance fails to address four of the 12 criteria for reopening laid out by a Johns Hopkins University coronavirus tracker website. (Boston Herald)

Hampshire College will offer sanctuary to international students forced to leave under President Trump’s order only allowing students to stay if their college is offering courses in-person. (Associated Press)

ARTS/CULTURE

New Bedford’s Whaling Museum and other arts and culture centers are back in business. (Standard-Times)

TRANSPORTATION

Farhad Manjoo offers a provocative, far-reaching consideration of what it would mean to really diminish the place of cars in urban America. (New York Times)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

A conservation group has designated the North Atlantic right whale “critically endangered,” saying there are believed to be just 85 reproducing females left in the world. (Boston Globe)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

With Justice Barbara Lenk scheduled to retire next month, Gov. Charlie Baker will make his sixth appointment to the seven-member Supreme Judicial Court, and at a prominent time for issues of equal justice. (Boston Globe)

One state trooper is fired, five face termination proceedings, and 15 others are disciplined for falsely claiming overtime hours for shifts they never worked. All will have to repay thousands of dollars in restitution. (MassLive)

More sparks fly in the dustup between Suffolk DA Rachael Rollins and four fellow DAs who sought to intervene in a case over prison sentencing for young adults convicted of first-degree murder. (Boston Globe)

MEDIA

Facebook has difficulty separating itself from the hate speech and actions of its white supremacist users. (OneZero)