Texas to begin study of COVID-19 effects on black, Latino populations. Analysis due in fall

Dallas News

AUSTIN -- The Texas Health and Human Services Commission said it will launch a study on COVID-19′s impact on vulnerable populations that will include data on race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status and geographic location.

The study, which will also include data on age, chronic illness, presence of a disability and employment status, comes after months of calls from minority lawmakers for Texas to study the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on black and brown communities.

“Texas needs to understand the health impact of COVID-19 on these vulnerable populations to determine which of these factors may be putting some Texans at greater risk,” Christine Mann, a spokeswoman for the commission said in an email.

Mann said the commission expected a preliminary analysis of the study in the fall, but that additional monitoring and data collection would continue after that.

The commission announced its study as federal health officials roll out new requirements for laboratories that test for COVID-19. Beginning Aug. 1, all labs that test for the disease will be required to collect information on race, ethnicity, and other factors.

That information must be submitted to the local or state health department within 24 hours, which must then report it to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That move comes after months of complaints that President Donald Trump’s administration has failed to capture the grasp of the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on black and Hispanic communities.

“Any information we learn through this process that we can immediately apply to protecting Texans, we’ll put to use in whatever way we can, as quickly as we can,” Mann said.

The study will begin by examining already existing data at the disposal of the Department of State Health Services, which is under the commission’s purview. That will include Medicaid data and information on the fluctuation of programs like the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs that may be related to COVID-19.

Mann acknowledged “known lags and gaps in the data available” and said the repository created for the study would be updated with new data as it became available. The preliminary report scheduled for the fall will be followed up by an updated analysis once a more complete data set is available.

This process will lead to an updated data repository that could be used to more quickly answer policy questions about the impact of COVID-19 on the agency’s system as they arise. Currently, the state is struggling to collect race and ethnicity data for COVID-19 cases and deaths.

Mann said the commission had developed plans for the study over the past few weeks.

But black lawmakers who have been sounding the alarm about the pandemic’s impact on their communities for months said the study was news to them.

“If the state had not shut down the Office of Minority Health Statistics and Engagement in 2018, it could have already been addressing the disproportionate effects of Covid-19 on minority communities and making policy recommendations in real time as the crisis developed,” said state Sen. Borris Miles, D-Houston.

Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, who had asked the commissioner of the Department of State Health Services for better data collection in early April. said the collection 'is a new thing. This is where people in politics make a mistake. If you want people to believe that you’re sincere then bring together the people who have brought the concerns to you and vice versa. Because I’m working on this anyway.”

Still, he said, he was pleased to see the agency’s announcement.

“I’m glad to see it because that means that HHSC and also the Governor’s office is taking seriously the communication that state health services has had with me and with other members about this issue,” he said.

Coleman who has served continuously in the Texas House since 1991 and has made public health one of his signature issues said he hoped to be included in the agency’s work.

“I hope whatever it is that they’re doing, I hope they talk to me about it because these are things that I know from serving on public health all these years and working on it," he said. “They should have a conversation with the people that have contacted them about these issues and ask them to be a part of this research and add value to the research because the people who have contacted Dr. John Hellerstedt [the head of the Department of State Health Services] are people who represent that very concept.”


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