The state’s slow response in March to the coronavirus pandemic is one reason why Massachusetts has one of the country's highest rates of COVID-19 deaths among nursing home residents and workers, according to testimony state lawmakers heard Tuesday afternoon.

More than 6,000 residents of elder care facilities in Massachusetts have died in the pandemic — nearly two-thirds of the state’s total death toll. At least two dozen workers have also died, according to data obtained by GBH News.

Dr. Larissa Lucas, a medical director for nursing homes north of Boston, told members of the Joint Committee on Elder Affairs on Tuesday that state leadership failed to act quickly enough in guiding and preparing long term care facilities.

"The reality is that early in the pandemic, nursing facilities simply were not given proper government guidance on the transmission of COVID-19," Lucas said. “While the government focused on hospital capacity, the virus quietly crept into our buildings undetected and undeterred. In March. We did not require health care workers to wear masks until about April 6th.”

Lucas also faulted the state for restrictive coronavirus testing policies, which meant many staff members could not get tested unless they had symptoms.

Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders didn’t respond directly to such criticisms, but told lawmakers that the state has spent $400 million to fight COVID-19 in elder care homes through inspections, improved infection controls, testing of residents and staff and a beefed-up supply of personal protective equipment.

Lawmakers mostly praised Sudders for her agency’s efforts, but the Alzheimer’s Association of Massachusetts/New Hampshire demanded that the state comply with a law that Gov. Charlie Baker signed in June, creating more transparent data.

Despite that action, the state is still reporting only the range of COVID-19 case numbers for nursing and assisted living homes, not the specific numbers.

“It's not an easy feat to implement this new law, but this full transparency is paramount for protecting our most vulnerable and supporting their caregivers at this time,” said Dan Zotos, policy director at the Alzheimer’s organization. “The state's ongoing failure to comply with this law is wholly unacceptable.”