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COVID-19: Public Data Hub Launch; Transmission-Based Precautions

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on July 20 launched the HHS Coronavirus Data Hub, which publicly displays COVID-19 data reported by hospitals.

The site shows the percentage of facilities reporting one or more elements on hospital impact and capacity to HHS Protect, the agency’s data platform.

As of July 15, hospitals no longer report COVID-19 data through the National Healthcare Safety Network. Hospitals should submit data daily, either directly through HHS TeleTracking or to states that have assumed reporting responsibility on behalf of the hospital.

For more information, or to access the dataset, go to healthdata.gov.

CDC Updates Guidance for Discontinuation of Transmission-Based Precautions

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on July 17 updated guidance for discontinuation of transmission-based precautions (TBP) and disposition of patients with COVID-19 in health care settings. The agency no longer recommends using a test-based strategy — two negative tests more than 24 hours apart — to determine when to discontinue TBP for symptomatic patients. Research shows patients can continue to shed detectable SARS-CoV-2 ribonucleic acid and test positive for the virus without being contagious. The agency notes that more data are needed concerning viral shedding in some situations, including in immunocompromised people.

Instead, health care providers should use a symptom-based strategy to discontinue TBP for patients with mild to moderate illness who are not severely immunocompromised when:

  • at least 10 days have passed since symptoms first appeared;
  • at least 24 hours (shortened from 72 hours) have passed since last fever without the use of fever-reducing medication; and
  • symptoms have improved.

For patients with severe or critical illness or patients who are severely immunocompromised, CDC extended the recommended duration for TBP to 20 days after symptom onset.

Health care providers should discontinue TBP for asymptomatic patients at least 10 days after their first positive viral diagnostic test for patients who are not immunocompromised and 20 days after a positive test for immunocompromised patients.

The agency also updated return-to-work criteria for health care personnel infected with SARS-CoV-2 to reflect the use of a symptom-based strategy.

OCR Guidance on Civil Rights Protections during COVID-19

HHS’ Office of Civil Rights (OCR) in a memo reminded recipients of federal financial assistance they must comply with applicable federal civil rights laws and regulations that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin in HHS-funded programs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Recipients should ensure compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by:

  • adopting policies to prevent and address harassment on the basis of race, color, or national origin;
  • ensuring Community-Based Testing Sites and Alternate Care Sites are accessible to racial and ethnic minority populations;
  • confirming existing policies and procedures with respect to COVID-19 services (including testing) do not exclude or otherwise deny persons on the basis of race, color, or national origin;
  • ensuring that individuals from racial and ethnic minority groups are not subjected to excessive wait times, rejected for hospital admissions, or denied access to intensive care units compared with similarly situated nonminority individuals; and
  • assigning beds and rooms, as well as staff — including physicians, nurses, and volunteer caregivers — without regard to race, color, or national origin.

Medicare Data Show Increase in Telehealth Use

In a Health Affairs blog post, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma shared data highlighting the effect of expanded Medicare telehealth flexibility during the COVID-19 public health emergency.

This expansion includes:

  • temporarily allowing Medicare beneficiaries to receive telehealth services from any location, including their homes;
  • adding 135 allowable services;
  • paying health care providers for telehealth services at the same rate they would receive for in-person services;
  • expanding the types of providers that can offer telehealth services;
  • paying Rural Health Centers and Federally Qualified Health Centers for telehealth;
  • allowing providers to use everyday communications platforms, including audio-only services, instead of requiring interactive audiovisual technology; and
  • relaxing requirements for providers to collect copays for telehealth services.

From March 17 through June 13, 9 million Medicare beneficiaries received a telehealth service. Before the COVID-19 public health emergency, approximately 13,000 people in fee-for-service Medicare received telemedicine services each week; this number peaked at 1.7 million beneficiaries in the last week of April. Thirty-four percent of beneficiaries eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid have had a telemedicine service, compared to 26 percent of Medicare-only beneficiaries.

CMS is assessing its new originating site policy, Medicare payment rates for telehealth services, and the program integrity implications of these flexible options for the future.

IRS Extends Community Health Needs Assessment Deadline

The Internal Revenue Service extended from July 15 to Dec. 31 the deadline for tax-exempt hospitals to conduct a community health needs assessment (CHNA).

Tax-exempt hospitals filing Form 990 must indicate on Schedule H whether they have conducted a CHNA in the current taxable year or the two preceding years and adopt an implementation strategy to target identified needs. Hospitals are subject to a $50,000 penalty for each facility that fails to meet these requirements.

Hospitals filing form 990 before Dec. 31 should state in the narrative of Part V.C. of Schedule H that they are eligible for and relying on the relief provided in Notice 2020-56.

CDC Releases National Disaster Guidance

New CDC resources include guidance for planning for natural disasters amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The guidance includes tools for hurricane preparation, tips to mitigate COVID-19 risk while staying in a public disaster shelter, and resources for professionals and emergency workers.

Visit the America’s Essential Hospitals coronavirus resource page for more information about the outbreak.

Contact Senior Director of Policy Erin O’Malley at eomalley@essentialhospitals.org or 202.585.0127 with questions.

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About the Author

Emily Schweich is a senior communications associate for America's Essential Hospitals.

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