An Open Letter: Public Health Information to Protect Tenants

June 15, 2020

To the Honorable Chairs and Members of the Joint Committee on Public Health

S2753 An Act to Ensure the Collection of COVID-19 Data


Collection and publication of information about COVID-19 impacts on public health in specific elderly facilities is essential to identify clusters of infection, to initiate containment, and to remediate any sources of infection. A law for reporting, collecting, and publishing infections and deaths due to COVID-19 Acts (2020) Chapter 93 {1} was passed and signed by the Governor on June 7, 2020. It requires providers of housing for the elderly and disabled, including landlords of public and subsidized housing for the elderly and disabled, to report infections and deaths due to COVID-19 to the Department of Public Health and to share such information with other tenants.

The Governor has proposed amendments to the law, including to strike the listing of public and subsidized housing for elderly and disabled from the class of “elder care facilities.” This would relieve providers of public and subsidized housing from the reporting and communication obligations Acts (2020) Chapter 93. The Governor's proposals are embodied in a bill, S2753. {2}
We strongly oppose the effort of the Governor to eliminate our housing providers from that important effort. This proposed change in the law would make it difficult for landlords, tenants, their families, or the public to be aware of the existence of a danger, and tend to prevent timely interventions.

Those of us who are elderly and/or disabled are at increased risk for COVID-19, especially those who live in public and subsidized multifamily housing seek effective public health measures. We need to know when there are infections where we live. All of us—elderly and disabled residents, as well as providers of our housing—need information to take control of our lives. We have seen how the failure of oversight and transparency allowed infections to take the lives of veterans, elderly, and people with special needs. We have also seen how even a short delay in diagnosis and response can result in many more people becoming infected. This can be prevented in public and subsidized housing if we gather and act on information in a timely way.

While this reporting requirement in Acts (2020) Chapter 93 Section I, (6)(7) may be inappropriate for management—they should have a role. Therefore, we propose:

  • A)     to retain the role of "elder care facilities" to include providers of housing for elderly and disabled; by keeping the present definitions in Section I, (6) and  (7);
  • B)     and to relieve those providers of the reporting requirement in Section 1, (b). But they would still be required to distribute information to tenants and families as they receive it from the Department of Public Health.
  • C    Finally, we believe under this law the Department of Public Health would not collect and shall not make publicly available identifications of specific individuals. It seems necessary only to collect the number of instances and to identify the facility where there is an illness or death related to COVID-19.

There should be guidance and oversight to assure the appropriate use of the information. Some landlords will welcome the opportunity to better serve their tenants and staff. Landlords and tenants could collaborate to improve infection control, cleaning of facilities, and limitation on social interactions, possibly including isolation of all tenants to prevent further spread. Based on statements by professionals at two responsibly-managed non-profits managing facilities for elderly, {3} such information would enable the following:

  • Providers of elderly housing can use information about infections in their properties to guide them in working with residents to limit any further spread.
  • For example, if a person is to isolate for two weeks, they will need services: shopping, meals, medicine, laundry and support. (And both the local community and the Commonwealth will need to provide people and resources to enable these measures.)
  • In addition, managers of elderly housing may be well-positioned to assist in contact tracing.

While there is a potential for discrimination against someone who is stricken with COVID-19, that is a risk that can be managed. It is part of the landlord's obligation to assure peaceful enjoyment, so that any sort of prejudice or bullying needs to be dealt with by the landlord. We should balance that risk against the value of the information that can be used to protect people from infection. And the language of (Acts (2020) Chapter 93 asks for counts of infections or deaths, not the names of the victims.

COVID-19 is a killer, the purpose of the law is to protect the public health. We want that protection.

Thank you for your consideration. Please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions.


Jerry Halberstadt, Coordinator, Stop Bullying Coalition
Bonny Zeh, Co-founder, Stop Bullying Coalition
Lynn Costello, Co-founder, Lowell Anti-Bullying Coalition


{2} S2753 An Act to Ensure the Collection of COVID-19 Data (Referred to Joint Committee on Public Health)
{3} Affordable Senior Housing and COVID-19; in collaboration with Leading Age Massachusetts & other agencies, June 11, 2020.