Coronavirus

Massachusetts resumes reporting racial COVID-19 hospitalization data, as rates continue to rise

Ayanna Pressley says she's "relieved" by the change, but that Gov. Charlie Baker's administration "never" should have stopped reporting the data in the first place.

Elise Amendola
Gov. Charlie Baker. Elise Amendola / AP

Following pushback from local Democrats and a rebound in COVID-19 rates, Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration resumed reporting demographic data on hospitalizations due to the virus in Massachusetts this week.

For the first time since late June, the state Department of Public Health’s data dashboard included information Thursday on COVID-19 patients broken down by their age, race, and gender, after Baker suggested earlier in the week that they would bring back the more detailed data due to the rise in hospitalizations.

Rep. Ayanna Pressley said she was “relieved” by the change, which she and Sen. Elizabeth Warren had called for in mid-July, amid concerns that the decision to stop reporting demographic data would hurt efforts to address the pandemic’s already disproportionate impact on communities of color.

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“The Baker administration should never have stopped collecting and reporting demographic data on COVID hospitalizations, so I’m relieved to see that the Governor heeded our calls and changed course,” Pressley told Boston.com in a statement Friday afternoon.

“This critical data will help inform our policymaking so we can ensure resources are getting to the communities most impacted by this ongoing pandemic,” she said.

Baker administration officials had said they made the change because the more detailed hospitalization data was incomplete and not useful for tracking day-to-day COVID-19 trends, with infection and hospitalization rates at pandemic-era lows in late June. However, the Republican governor hinted at plans to reverse that decision “shortly” on Monday, with the delta variant driving up COVID-19 rates both locally and nationally.

“The data got really small,” he said. “I mean, when we got down to sort of 80 cases a day, a day-over-day adjustment really didn’t tell people very much. We’ve gone back to the hospital community, and asked them to work with us, now that we’re sort of more in the 350-360 range to reinstate those data, and we will shortly.”

With 467 patients hospitalized statewide due to COVID-19, the demographic data shows that Black residents are getting hit nearly twice as hard by the delta-driven surge.

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In the last two weeks, 91 Black residents — or, adjusted for the Black population in Massachusetts, 14.5 per 100,000 — have been admitted to the hospital for COVID-19, according to figures released Friday.

By comparison, 460 white residents, or 7.5 per 100,000, have been hospitalized for COVID-19 in the last two weeks, as well as 71 Hispanic residents (8.3 per 100,000 in the state).

Leaders of the Vaccine Equity Now! Coalition say they’re pleased that the Baker administration resumed reporting demographic COVID-19 hospitalization data, which they called “essential for measuring COVID-19’s disparate impact on BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) communities and devising an equitable public health response, especially as the delta variant continues to increase cases.”

“There never should have been a lapse in the first place,” said coalition’s co-chairs, Dr. Atyia Martin of the Resilient 21 Coalition and Next Leadership Development, Myran Parker-Brass of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, and Carlene Pavlos of the Massachusetts Public Health Association.

That doesn’t mean they think it’s enough.

Pressley, who also called on Baker to enact more stringent statewide COVID-19 rules this week, said the administration should also resume data reporting on the number of infections in schools.

“There is no substitute for robust, equitable data collection and disclosure,” said the Boston Democrat.

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Meanwhile, the Vaccine Equity Now! Coalition said it was “unacceptable” that the Baker administration was “brazenly flouting” a provision in this year’s state budget requiring officials to set “quantitative goals and benchmarks” for vaccination rates in the state’s hardest-hit communities.

“Governor Baker and the Department of Public Health must take immediate action to establish these benchmarks, comply with all state laws regarding COVID-19 data reporting and advance an equitable vaccine strategy,” the group said.

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