Editor’s Note:  The video originally included in this article showed scenes from a facility that is not connected with this story.  Those scenes have been removed.

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Dozens of United States lawmakers are demanding more information on which long-term care facilities have confirmed COVID-19 cases, claiming health officials are “failing to collect and publicly report” that data.

“Without understanding the scope and impact of the pandemic within long-term care facilities, the
Administration and the Congress lack essential information to adequately respond and protect
older Americans and individuals with disabilities who rely on these facilities to survive and are
particularly at risk for COVID-19,” the letter reads.

“We must not leave any person behind.”

Letter from U.S. lawmakers to national health officials

The letter calls on the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Food and Drug Administration to work together in collecting more data on the virus is affecting people in nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

Without more data, the lawmakers wrote, “We fear that the fatalities of congregate living facilities will linger in hindsight as a national and avoidable tragedy.”

The lawmakers said more than 3,000 nursing home residents across the nation have died, citing media reports for their information.

“The actual numbers are likely far more dire,” the letter reads. “We fear that there may be hundreds if not thousands more COVID-19 cases that have gone unreported.”

One of the lawmakers heading up this effort, Congressman Lloyd Doggett, said he’s been following along as KXAN Investigators independently confirms sites where people test positive for COVID-19, since the information isn’t available to the public. He said it’s one of the reasons he wanted to send the letter to health officials.

He said he’s becoming “increasingly concerned” with the lack of information, and is calling on state leaders to change their approach.

“I think Governor Abbott, with a pen stroke, could put a stop to all this and let people all across Texas know where these problems are occurring and getting tests out there as quickly as possible,” he said.

The City of Austin issued a control order Monday night, requiring all patients, staff and next of kin be notified if a facility has a confirmed case. This local order followed some new regulatory requirements nationwide, mandating all nursing homes inform residents, their families and representatives of COVID-19 cases in their facilities.

Austin Public Health has reported eight outbreaks at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, with around 67 staff and 96 residents infected. It said 15 residents have died.

Doggett said these local and national orders are a step in the right direction. Still, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission will not release this information to the public. The City of Austin has not released facility-specific data, either.

“If in doubt, make it public. I think it’s important that what government is doing is as public as possible,” Rep. Doggett said.

He said first responders and neighbors should be aware of which homes have cases, but also emphasized that families should have knowledge or reassurance when there are no problems in a facility.

“If we are to get on top of this pandemic, we have to have accurate data, along with accurate tests,” he said.

Rep. Doggett said transparency surrounding long-term care facilities has been an issue for a long time. The letter reiterates that concern, stating that “approximately 75 percent of nursing homes have been cited for infection control deficiencies over the past three years alone.”

The letter concludes, “We must not leave any person behind.”