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

Legislation will study disparities in treatment among communities of color

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 we continue to address the COVID-19 crisis, we must be as transparent, accountable and thoughtful as possible when it comes to data collection,” said Senator Cindy F. Friedman, a member of the COVID-19 Senate Working Group. “This bipartisan bill will give us the tools we need to ensure that we can address inequities in our delivery of healthcare so that members of vulnerable and underserved populations across the Commonwealth have equal access to that care.” 

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 impact on Massachusetts.