More local leaders are pressuring Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration to resume reporting the age, race, and sex of hospitalized COVID-19 patients in Massachusetts, as concerns about the impact of the Delta variant heighten.
In a letter Wednesday led by the Vaccine Equity Now coalition, Rep. Ayanna Pressley, state Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, state Sen. Becca Rausch, state Rep. Mindy Domb, and Somerville Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone — all Democrats — joined the chorus of concerns that the lack of detailed data could lead to racially disparate impacts of the pandemic going overlooked, especially with the Delta variant driving up COVID-19 case rates and vaccination levels still lagging in communities of color.
“In order to adequately address inequities, we need to be able to measure them,” the group said.
The letter comes after Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Pressley urged the Baker administration to “reverse course” on the change earlier this month.
State officials said they would stop reporting demographic COVID-19 hospitalization data on July 1, with infection and patient levels at pandemic-era lows, based on the rationale that the information was incomplete and not the most useful for following day-to-day virus trends.
“While this may be true, it is alarming that during the 18-months of the pandemic, the administration has not collected or reported reliable COVID-19 hospitalization data,” the Vaccine Equity Now coalition wrote in their letter Wednesday. “Knowing this, it has failed to take any concrete steps to rectify this issue.”
Baker’s administration stressed that it has devoted millions of dollars of resources toward increasing vaccination rates in the cities and towns hardest hit by the pandemic, which are disproportionately low income, Black, and Latino.
However, equity advocates say that, without comprehensive hospitalization data, the administration “cannot possibly” establish benchmarks for vaccine distribution that take into account infection and hospitalization rates of different racial and ethnic groups, as required by Baker’s recent annual budget.
The group said that the administration’s lack of compliance with a previous emergency data collection law “gives precedence to our concerns.”
Chang-Diaz, who is one of several declared 2020 gubernatorial candidates, knocked the Republican governor (who has not said if he’ll run for a third term) for what she called a “moral outrage and derelict management.”
“Governor Baker has been talking a big game about urgency in helping communities of color lately, but his flouting of the law requiring COVID data transparency tells a different story,” she said.
Massachusetts reported 657 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday, as the total number of statewide hospitalizations ticked up to 152. While that figure remains a fraction of the hospitalization peaks seen in spring 2020 and this past winter, it is also nearly double the number of COVID-19 patients the state had on July 4.
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"It’s going to be a game changer," Chang-Díaz said. "I know it's going to take time for the MCAD to fill the staffing shortages that they've been experiencing in recent years, but this is a huge step forward."