Senate Passes Bill to Collect Vital Public Health Data, Establish a COVID-19 Diversity Task Force

May 14, 2020

On Monday, May 11, 2020, the Massachusetts State Senate passed bipartisan legislation to promote equity and transparency as the Commonwealth continues to confront the COVID-19 pandemic.

The bill, An Act Addressing COVID-19 Data Collection and Disparities in Treatment, would increase the amount of statewide, publicly available data as it relates to the coronavirus, and establish a task force to study and make policy recommendations to address health disparities for underserved and underrepresented communities during the pandemic.

“As I have said since the outset of this public health crisis, the Senate must be vigilant about the disparate impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on communities of color and other vulnerable populations in Massachusetts,” stated Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). “I am proud of the thoughtful and collaborative work the Senate undertook on this issue, resulting in a strong, comprehensive bill.”

“Senate President Spilka, the Ways & Means Chairman, Senator Rodrigues, and our Public Health Chair, Senator Comerford deserve a big hand for this bill,” said Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz (D-Boston). “Its reporting requirements are rigorous and time-sensitive--calling both for detailed data and quick determination of action steps the administration will take to address disparities in COVID-19 impact. Additionally, the advisory task force the bill creates has an expanded mandate. It now takes into account social determinants of health that occur outside the hospital or clinic door, which--as we've all seen over the past several weeks--is essential to bending the curve of infection. Massive thanks also to the Mass. Public Health Association for their outstanding work and advice on this bill.”

“This bill is truly a sign of Senate teamwork and collaboration due to the leadership of Senate President Spilka and the invaluable input of Senators Brownsberger, Comerford, Chang-Diaz, Cyr, and Jehlen,” said Senator Michael J. Rodrigues (D- Westport), Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. “Now more than ever, transparency and clear communication are paramount to moving forward through this crisis together. This legislation will ensure we are using resources equitably and effectively to the fight the pandemic.”

“This legislation has two major wins: data transparency and government accountability,” said Senator Jo Comerford, co-chair of the Committee on Public Health and Chair of the Senate COVID-19 Working Group (D-Northampton). “Public access to comprehensive data is foundational to a strong democracy and a healthy government is one that commits publicly to address any disparities and inequities found in the data. Thank you to the Senate President, Chair Rodrigues, and my colleagues for their tenacious work on this legislation.”

“Information and data are key to keeping the virus and injustices of care at bay,” said State Senator Julian Cyr (D-Truro). “On Monday, the Senate passed a bill to ensure collection and reporting standards do not leave our most vulnerable and underserved populations behind. This includes reporting on morbidity and mortality by race, ethnicity, population, occupation and requirements for information to be shared by operators of long term care facilities.”

"Our most effective actions to respond to the pandemic will be based on facts," said Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R- Gloucester). "Good data and thoughtful analysis will enable us to respond to gaps and inequities in the health care delivery system today, and inform our decisions in evolving a future system that prevents them from happening in the first place."

Under the bill, the Department of Public Health (DPH) will be required to compile, collect and issue daily online reports on the number of people tested for COVID-19, positive cases, hospitalizations and deaths along with the gender, race, ethnicity, primary residence, occupation, disability, age and primary language of each case.

To ensure a comprehensive understanding of cases statewide, the legislation also requires that daily reports include data and demographic information from municipalities and counties with more than 25 positive cases, all DPH licensed nursing homes, assisted living facilities licensed by the Executive Office of Elder Affairs, as well as state and county correctional facilities. Facility-specific information will be made publicly available while maintaining individual privacy. 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 will be required to issue an interim report by June 1, 2020 with a final report due August 1, 2020.

The bill is the latest action by the Senate to address the COVID-19 public health crisis and its effects on Massachusetts.

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