California health officials will start requiring COVID-19 test providers to collect and report voluntary data on sexual orientation and gender identity, state Health and Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly announced today.

Ghaly said the California health department hopes to be able to use the data to effectively see how their interventions are working and be able to “close the disparities we’ve been talking about for many, many weeks and months.”

This comes months after LGBTQ advocates had been asking for that data to better understand how the disease affects this demographic. When asked why it took so long to require this data, Ghaly said the department needed time.

“The last thing we wanted was to be saddled with a whole stack of data that we weren’t able to turn into actionable information, so as with many things, it took some time,” Ghaly said.

Equality California, an LGBTQ civil rights organization, said that because rates of respiratory issues from smoking, HIV/AIDS, cancer and homelessness are higher in the LGBTQ community, they are likely experiencing greater health impacts from COVID-19.

“This data will finally give our government, our public health leaders and our community an understanding of the degree to which this pandemic is devastating LGBTQ+ people—and what steps need to be taken to save lives,” Rick Chavez Zbur, executive director of Equality California, said in a statement.

Labs and health providers who collect tests on any reportable diseases, including COVID-19, will also be asked to collect data on race, ethnicity—as well as sexual orientation and gender identity—and provide it to the state health department through the electronic reporting system called CalREDIE.

Ghaly said this will also help improve the state’s capabilities of collecting data when about a third of the cases that come to the state’s health department don’t include race and ethnicity data.,

“We need that to improve so that we have a better sense of where transmission is happening, which communities are impacted and what the magnitude of that impact will be,” he said.

Valerie Osier is the Social Media & Newsletter Manager for the Long Beach Post. Reach her at [email protected] or on Twitter @ValerieOsier