The State Senate and House has moved to increase statewide, publicly-available data as it relates to the coronavirus. The legislation, which passed with bipartisan support, aims to promote equity and transparency as Massachusetts confronts the COVID-19 pandemic.
The bill also establishes a task force to study and recommend policy to address health disparities for underserved and underrepresented communities during the pandemic. After receiving favorable votes in the Senate and House, the bill has advanced to the governor’s desk.
“Dr. Fauci reminds us that to fight the pandemic we have to follow the science,” said State Senator Mike Barrett (D-Lexington). “Science depends on good, rigorous data. In passing this bill, better data to guide decisions is what we’re driving at.”
Under the bill, the state Department of Public Health is required to compile, collect, and issue daily online reports on the number of people tested for COVID-19. Data collection reports will include all positive cases, hospitalizations and deaths along with the gender, race, ethnicity, primary residence, occupation, disability, age, and primary language of each case.
The legislation also requires that daily reports include data and demographic information from municipalities and counties with more than 25 positive cases.
Importantly, the bill contains provisions to ensure more information from elder care facilities. “The situation in elder care facilities is catastrophic,” said Barrett. “We need all the information we can get.”
Sen. Barrett, who has called for more information from state and county correctional facilities, says the bill advances the issue in that respect, too. Under the new legislation, the state’s Department of Public Health must also publish daily updates on the number of COVID-19 positive cases and mortalities among individuals who are incarcerated. The department will also be required to publish on its website, for each state and county correctional facility, the total number of residents per correctional facility; and the number of residents within each facility who are housed in a cell either alone or with another person.
In addition to requiring greater data collection, the bill requires the Executive Office of Health and Human Services to describe the actions it is taking to address disparities identified through the data collected.
In response to increasing concerns about the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color and disproportionately impacted populations, the legislation also establishes a task force to study and make policy recommendations for how to address these health disparities. The task force is required to issue an interim report by June 30, 2020, with a final report due August 1, 2020.