BOSTON — The state publishes daily updates on how many people test positive for the coronavirus, as well as the number of those hospitalized with the virus and deaths.
But a lack of more detail has made it difficult for policymakers and the public to gauge the impact of COVID-19 on specific ethnic and racial groups, or parts of the state that might be more affected.
That will change under a new law, signed by Gov. Charlie Baker Sunday, compelling the state to publish more detailed information about who gets infected.
Under the changes, the Department of Public Health is required to release details on gender, race, ethnicity, language and other demographic information of those who've been infected. The data would be provided in daily reports that also reveal outbreaks in nursing homes, long-term care facilities and prisons. The state does not release the identities of those who are infected.
Lawmakers said the data is vital for the public to know the scope of the outbreak and guide policymakers as they devote resources to battling the virus.
"We need to pull the curtain back," said Rep. Paul Tucker, D-Salem. "This information is crucial to understanding where we should be focusing our efforts."
Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, R- Gloucester, said the changes will help "close gaps in treatment and access to health care exacerbated by the pandemic."
The changes also require the Legislature to create a task force to look into the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus on low-income, minority communities.
While the disease has infected people in all races and groups, African-Americans and other minorities bear a proportionally higher burden due to a lack of access to health care and other factors, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Meanwhile, Massachusetts and other states are under pressure to release more data on the race of those who are sick, hospitalized or dying.
In April, the state started publishing demographic data on COVID-19 cases after being criticized for not doing so, but its reports are full of holes. Racial and ethnic data is available for only about half of the reported cases, which officials have attributed to incomplete reporting from health care providers and private labs.
The state has also created an advisory group to address the impact of COVID-19 on communities of color and vulnerable populations.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., have called on the federal government to publish ethnic and racial information about COVID-19 cases.
In a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, the lawmakers said comprehensive data on people tested or treated for the virus is "non-existent," even as cities with large nonwhite populations emerge as hot spots.
"This lack of information will exacerbate existing health disparities and result in the loss of lives in vulnerable communities," the lawmakers warned.
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org