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Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Update

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08/18/2020

Congress

  • The House of Representatives will return to the Capitol in the next few days to consider legislation to address issues identified with the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). There has been discussions within the House Democratic Caucus to include coronavirus-related economic relief measures in that bill as well. It is not yet clear if those measures will be included.
  • House Energy and Commerce (E&C) Committee Democrats announced a new investigation of health plan profits and compliance with coverage policies during the public health emergency.
    • The Committee’s investigation follows concerning reports that some health plans may not be complying with consumer protections in both the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (the Families First Act) and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (the CARES Act), and that consumers are therefore experiencing increased barriers to free COVID-19 testing. The investigation also follows reports that the health insurance industry is reporting massive profits during the pandemic, as patients defer non-essential medical care.
  • Senator Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) supports creating a new $120 billion assistance fund for the restaurant industry.

 
White House and Federal Agencies

  • The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced combined investments of $6.5 million in two commercial diagnostic laboratories to expand capacity to conduct up to 4 million additional SARS-CoV-2 tests per month.
  • HHS will make a $1.4 billion Provider Relief Fund (PRF) distribution to children’s hospitals.
  • The American Medical Association (AMA) updated its CPT codes for coronavirus testing.
  • Assistant Secretary of HHS Brett Giroir is confident in the country’s testing capacity ahead of a potential increase in cases in the fall.
  • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published an online Consumer Update with tips on how we can each take some simple steps to help slow the spread of the coronavirus disease and protect ourselves, our families and our communities. These steps include: Washing your hands often with soap and water; covering your mouth and nose with a non-surgical mask when around others; avoiding crowds; and practicing social distancing (e.g., staying at least six feet from others).

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Updates

  • The CDC updated its quarantine recommendations to clarify that infection does not imply temporary immunity. 
  • COVID-19 is also causing unfortunate increases in opioid-related deaths. The CDC released provisional data showing a 6.6% increase in provisional drug overdose mortality for the 12 months ending in January 2020; this is compared to an increase of 4.8% and 3.0% for the 12 months ending in December 2019 and November 2019, respectively.
  • The CDC also releases an MMWR on Mental Health, Substance Use, and Suicidal Ideation During the COVID-19 Pandemic in the U.S. from June 24-30, 2020. Communities have faced mental health challenges related to COVID-19–associated morbidity, mortality, and mitigation activities. During June 24–30, 2020, U.S. adults reported considerably elevated adverse mental health conditions associated with COVID-19. Younger adults, racial/ethnic minorities, essential workers, and unpaid adult caregivers reported having experienced disproportionately worse mental health outcomes, increased substance use, and elevated suicidal ideation.
  • CDC continues to update information on COVID-19 and pregnancy as it becomes available. An MMWR study suggests that pregnant women with COVID-19 are more likely to be hospitalized and are at increased risk for intensive care unit (ICU) admission and receipt of mechanical ventilation than non-pregnant women.
  • CDC updated the following tips for staying safe and slowing the spread of COVID-19 while scheduling services or repairs inside the home.
  • CDC updated information on seasonal allergies and COVID-19.

Reopening, Vaccine and Treatment

  • The White House is working with commercial health plans to make COVID-19 vaccines available with no cost sharing obligation. The federal health programs already intend to make vaccines available for free.
  • Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID) gave an interview on how to safely reopen schools.
  • The FDA approved a new saliva test for COVID-19 that was developed in partnership with the National Basketball Association (NBA).
  • National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins assured people that the White House Operation Warp Speed vaccine initiative is not sacrificing on safety despite the initiative’s name suggesting it could rush a vaccine to production.
  • Operation Warp Speed will partner with McKesson to serve as the central vaccine distributor.
  • A new study shows the potential benefits of infusing blood plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients as a COVID-19 treatment. However, more studies are needed.
    • However, plasma donations are lower than desired.
  • The Covid-19 pandemic is often compared to the 1918 “Spanish flu” pandemic. A new study compares the COVID-19 pandemic to the Spanish flu pandemic.