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COVID-19: Rapid Tests, Cloth Masks, Hospitals Report Challenges

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced April 6 that it acquired the ID NOW COVID-19 rapid point-of-care test for state, territorial, and tribal public health labs.

Developed by Abbott Diagnostics Scarborough Inc., the product enables testing at the time and place of patient care and provides results in less than 13 minutes. Abbott will produce 50,000 tests per day. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) International Reagent Resource will acquire additional tests weekly to support requests from public health labs.

CDC Recommends Wearing Cloth Face Coverings in Public

In light of new studies showing that asymptomatic and presymptomatic people with COVID-19 can transmit the virus, CDC recommends wearing protective cloth face coverings in public settings. This guidance applies to settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain, such as grocery stores and pharmacies. The agency continues to recommend reserving face masks and N95 respirators for health care professionals.

“While we don’t have evidence that a cloth mask protects you from acquiring the virus, the science suggests it will help prevent you from spreading it to others — a key way to protect the most vulnerable, slow the spread, and save lives,” HHS Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement.

HHS Enables PHI Disclosure During Pandemic

The HHS Office of Civil Rights will not penalize health care providers or their business associates for good faith uses and disclosures of protected health information (PHI) for public health and health oversight activities during the COVID-19 emergency. The notification of enforcement discretion under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act Privacy Rule was published April 7 in the Federal Register.

OIG Report: Key Testing, Staffing Challenges for Hospitals

Hospital administrators reported their most significant challenges in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic were testing and caring for patients with the virus and keeping staff safe, according to a new report from the HHS Office of the Inspector General (OIG).

Based on phone interviews with administrators from 323 hospitals conducted March 23–27, the report shows that widespread testing shortages and long waits for results limit hospitals’ ability to monitor patient and staff needs. Hospitals reported mitigating supply shortages by reusing single-use personal protective equipment (PPE), sterilizing masks with ultraviolet light, placing surgical masks over N95 masks, or wearing handmade masks and gowns, which they worried posed risks to staff.

Hospitals are training anesthesiologists, hospitalists, and nursing staff to care for patients on ventilators and providing child care, laundry, grocery services, and hotel accommodations to support staff and isolate them from at-risk family members. Hospitals also are setting up fairgrounds, vacant college dorms, and closed correctional facilities to expand their capacity to care for patients.

The increased costs of purchasing equipment, remodeling rooms for negative pressure, or setting up drive-through clinics and tests, compounded by suspended elective procedures and primary care visits, are straining hospitals financially. Hospitals also report reimbursement challenges, including insufficient reimbursement for telehealth service, time spent in the hospital while awaiting COVID-19 test results, and services in nontraditional spaces.

Administrators seek government assistance in five areas:

  • testing, supplies, and equipment;
  • workforce allocation;
  • facility capacity;
  • finances; and
  • communication and public information.

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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