The lack of strong data on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on disproportionately affected communities has been generating steady media attention because of its implications for access to care, and four members of Congress recently brought attention to how this issue is negatively impacting people with disabilities as well. Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), as well as U.S. Representatives James Langevin (D-RI) and Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), sent a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) requesting the inclusion of disability data in a COVID-19 report the Department is required to produce by legislation passed in April. As written in the letter:
“On April 23, the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act was passed by Congress and signed the next day by the President. Included in that law is the requirement that the Secretary of Health and Human Services provide Congress with a report on novel coronavirus (COVID-19) testing and diagnosis within 21 days of the passage of the Act. The report must contain information on testing and diagnosis of COVID-19 by “race, ethnicity, age, sex, geographic region and other relevant factors.” We strongly request that the report include disability status as one of the “other relevant” variables detailed in the report. We recommend HHS use the disability categories from the American Community Survey or the definition of disability from the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA).
It is vitally important that key data are collected to understand the impact of the COVID-19 public health emergency on those at the greatest risk of infection. This includes tracking the number of COVID-19 tests administered and number of people diagnosed; treatment, including admissions and denials to hospitals and intensive care units, denials of needed accommodations, virus interactions with chronic disease and disability, and recovery patterns; and outcomes, including morbidities, mortalities, rehabilitation, and recovery attributed to the virus. People with disabilities are at elevated risk for complications from COVID-19 because they often have underlying medical conditions or need close contact with health care professionals and personal care attendants to meet their basic needs. Therefore, it is essential that disability is included in all COVID-19 related data collection.”
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