by Jordan Roberts
Director of Government Affairs, John Locke Foundation
Members of the General Assembly introduced COVID-19 related relief packages this week as a new legislative session begins. Competing bills from the North Carolina House and Senate offer proposals to respond to the coronavirus and provide appropriations for the federal relief money sent to the state from Congress. The Senate unanimously passed its version last night.
One section of the Senate COVID relief bill would require the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) to provide more patient data on testing, recoveries, and patient demographics.
Section 6.26 of the Senate bill conditions funds to NCDHHS on the release of more information from the department:
In particular, subsection 3, 4, and 5 can offer crucial information that the public has been denied thus far. All of the information requested in these three subsections are needed to have a complete picture of what happens to individuals who get the disease and which demographics are most affected.
Subsection 3 would require that NCDHHS release information on recovery rates. That is, patients who contracted COVID-19, tested positive, and recovered. Currently, the NCDHHS website only shows the number of laboratory-confirmed cases, deaths, completed tests, current hospitalizations, and the number of counties in which there are positive cases. We know nothing about the individuals who have contracted the disease, other than the number of deaths and hospitalizations. More information on recovery rates can provide the public with a clearer picture of its severity.
Subsection 4 would require that NCDHHS publicly release data about the individuals who have been discharged from the hospital after a positive test result. As with the recovery rates, learning more information about those who have been discharged from hospitals will help the public understand the demographics of individuals who were discharged after contracting the disease.
Subsection 5 would require NCDHHS to disclose data about the number of patients who died of COVID-19, but who also had comorbidities before contracting the disease. We know that those with pre-existing conditions are more predisposed to contracting the disease, and those individuals are more likely to be hospitalized and die from the disease. But this is a crucial piece of data when analyzing the death numbers in the state. Knowing the percentage of deaths from COVID-19 among those who have a pre-existing condition will help the public understand the likelihood of needing serious medical attention.
When the Governor asks the state’s residents to give up freedoms in exchange for increased security, the public has a right to know all of the relevant data the state issuing to make these decisions. The data requested from DHHS from the Senate bill will provide a much clearer picture of COVID cases in North Carolina. It’s hard to imagine why NCDHHS won’t release this data.