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December 21, 2021

As Omicron Variant Dominates New Cases, Pressley, Warren, Markey, Lee Call on CDC, HHS to Resume Comprehensive Data Collection on COVID-19 Breakthrough Cases

Text of Letter (PDF)

BOSTON, MA – Today, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07), along with Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Ed Markey (D-MA) and Congresswoman Barbara Lee (CA-13), ssent a letter to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra urging them to monitor, report, and address racial and other ethnic demographic disparities in breakthrough COVID-19 cases nationwide. 

Comprehensive data collection will improve experts’ ability to study the spread of new variants, and to address the crucial health needs of communities most at risk during the pandemic. Currently, just four states report breakthrough COVID-19 case data by race and ethnicity, while the CDC only reports breakthrough cases that result in hospitalization or death, and these data are not publicly available by race or ethnicity. Public health experts have explained that additional data on breakthrough cases could provide critical information regarding the spread of new COVID-19 variants, including Omicron.

“We urge you to resume collecting data on COVID-19 breakthrough infections nationwide with breakdowns by race, ethnicity, and other demographic characteristics and to make this data publicly available as soon as possible. Comprehensive data collection would allow experts to better understand patterns in breakthrough cases, identify COVID-19 variants earlier, and analyze the potential effect of compounding ‘racial and ethnic inequities in wealth, health, education, work housing, and medical care’ on vaccine response,” the lawmakers wrote.

Black, Latino, and Indigenous communities continue to be at increased risk of COVID-19 cases and deaths. Even among vaccinated individuals, the limited available data indicates that breakthrough cases appear to be more common among people of color than among white people. More comprehensive data on breakthrough cases will allow researchers and policymakers to respond effectively to this crucial public health and racial equity issue.

Rep. Pressley has consistently advocated for demographic data on COVID-19 cases to better address the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on communities of color.

    In July 2021, Rep. Pressley and Senator Warren urged Governor Baker to continue reporting demographic data on COVID-19 hospitalizations. In February 2021, Rep. Pressley, Senator Warren, and Senator Markey led their colleagues in introducing the Equitable Data Collection and Disclosure on COVID-19 Act, legislation to require the federal government to collect and publicly release racial and other demographic data on COVID-19. Aspects of the legislation were included in a COVID-19 relief package signed into law later that month In April 2020, Rep. Pressley urged Governor Baker to rescind the Commonwealth’s proposed Crisis of Care Standards that would have disproportionately harmed Black and Brown communities and the disability community. In March 2020, Rep. Pressley and Sen. Warren urged HHS to collect racial and ethnic demographic data on testing and treatment for COVID-19 to identify and address racial disparities. Rep. Pressley, Sen. Markey, and Sen. Warren also sent a letter to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) calling on the agency to immediately release racial and ethnic data of Medicare beneficiaries who are tested or hospitalized for COVID-19. Congresswoman Pressley and Senator Warren have also written to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) asking for HHS’s report on the administration’s efforts to address racial disparities in health care access and outcomes, as required by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). At the request of Congresswoman Pressley and Senator Warren, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has agreed to investigate how COVID-19 relief funds have been distributed to disproportionately affected communities.