Just 3 states meet these basic criteria to reopen and stay safe


Coronavirus: Just 3 states meet basic criteria to reopen and stay ...

Most states still need to reduce coronavirus cases and build up their testing capacity.

All 50 states are moving to reopen their economies, at least partially, after shutting down businesses and gatherings in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

But a Vox analysis suggests that most states haven’t made the preparations needed to contain future waves of the pandemic — putting themselves at risk for a rise in Covid-19 cases and deaths should they continue to reopen.

Experts told me states need three things to be ready to reopen. State leaders, from the governor to the legislature to health departments, need to ensure the SARS-CoV-2 virus is no longer spreading unabated. They need the testing capacity to track and isolate the sick and their contacts. And they need the hospital capacity to handle a potential surge in Covid-19 cases.

More specifically, states should meet at least five basic criteria. They should see a two-week drop in coronavirus cases, indicating that the virus is actually abating. They should have fewer than four daily new cases per 100,000 people per day — to show that cases aren’t just dropping, but also below dangerous levels. They need at least 150 new tests per 100,000 people per day, letting them quickly track and contain outbreaks. They need an overall positive rate for tests below 5 percent — another critical indicator for testing capacity. And states should have more than 40 percent of their ICU beds free to actually treat an influx of people stricken with Covid-19 should it be necessary.

These metrics line up with experts’ recommendations, as well as the various policy plans put out by both independent groups and government officials to deal with the coronavirus.

Meeting these metrics doesn’t mean that a state is ready to reopen its economy — a process that describes a wide range of local and state actions. And failing them doesn’t mean a state is in immediate danger of a coronavirus outbreak if it starts to reopen; with Covid-19, there’s always an element of luck and other factors.

But with these metrics, states can gauge if they have repressed the coronavirus while building the capacity to contain future outbreaks should they come. In other words, the benchmarks show how ready states are for the next phase of the fight.

So far, most states are not there. As of May 27, just three states — Alaska, Kentucky, and New York — met four or five of the goals, which demonstrates strong progress. Thirty states hit two or three of the benchmarks. The other 17, along with Washington, DC, achieved zero or one.

A map showing the vast majority of states don’t meet criteria to reopen and stay safe from Covid-19.

Even the states that have made the most progress aren’t necessarily ready to safely reopen. There’s a big difference between Alaska — which has not suffered from a high number of coronavirus cases — and New York, and no expert would say that all of New York is ready to get back to normal.

Nor do the metrics cover everything that states should do before they can reopen. They don’t show, for example, if states have the capacity to do contact tracing, in which people who came into contact with someone who’s sick with Covid-19 are tracked down by “disease detectives” and quarantined. Contact tracing is key to containing an epidemic, but states don’t track how many contact tracers they’ve hired in a standardized, readily available way.

They also don’t have ready data for health care workers’ access to personal protective equipment, such as masks and gloves — a critical measure of the health care system’s readiness that is difficult to track.

But the map gives an idea of how much progress states have made toward containing the coronavirus and keeping it contained.

States will have to follow these kinds of metrics as they reopen. If the numbers — especially coronavirus cases — go in the wrong direction again, experts said governments should be ready to bring back restrictions. If states move too quickly to reopen or respond too slowly to a turn for the worse, they could see a renewed surge in Covid-19 cases.

“Planning for reclosing is part of planning for reopening,” Mark McClellan, a health policy expert at Duke, told me. “There will be outbreaks, and there will be needs for pauses and going back — hopefully not too much if we do this carefully.”

So this will be a work in progress, at least until we get a Covid-19 vaccine or the pandemic otherwise ends, whether by natural or human means. But the metrics can at least help give states an idea of how far along they are in finally starting to open back up.

Goal 1: A sustained two-week drop in coronavirus cases

A map showing most places haven’t seen a sustained decrease in coronavirus cases over two weeks.

What’s the goal? A 10 percent drop in daily new coronavirus cases compared to two weeks ago and a 5 percent drop in cases compared to one week ago, based on data from the New York Times.

Which states meet the goal? Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Texas — 17 states in all. Washington, DC, did as well.

Why is this important? Guidance from the White House and several independent groups emphasize that states need to see coronavirus cases drop consistently over two weeks before they can say they’re ready to begin reopening. After all, nothing shows you’re out of an outbreak like a sustained reduction in infections.

“The first and foremost [metric] is you want to have a continued decrease in cases,” Saskia Popescu, an infectious disease epidemiologist, told me. “It’s a huge piece.”

A simple reduction in cases compared to two weeks prior isn’t enough; it has to be a significant drop, and it has to be sustained over the two weeks. So for Vox’s map, states need at least a 10 percent drop in daily new cases compared to two weeks prior and at least a 5 percent drop compared to one week prior.

Reported cases can be a reflection of testing capacity: More testing will pick up more cases, and less testing will pick up fewer. So it’s important that the decrease occur while testing is either growing or already sufficient. And since states have recently boosted their testing abilities, increases in Covid-19 cases can also reflect improvements in testing.

Even after meeting this benchmark, continued caution is warranted. If a state meets the goal of a reduction in cases compared to one and two weeks ago but cases seemed to go up in recent days, then perhaps it’s not time to reopen just yet. “You have to use common sense,” Cyrus Shahpar, a director at the public health policy group Resolve to Save Lives, told me.

For states with small outbreaks, this goal is infeasible. Montana has seen around one to two new Covid-19 cases a day for several weeks. Getting that down to zero would be nice, but the current level of daily new cases isn’t a big threat to the whole state. That’s one reason Vox’s map lets states meet four or five of the five goals — in case they miss one goal that doesn’t make sense for them but hit others.

Still, the two-week reduction in cases is the most cited by experts and proposals to ease social distancing.

Goal 2: A low number of daily new Covid-19 cases

A map showing most states still have too many coronavirus cases.

What’s the goal? Fewer than four daily new coronavirus cases per 100,000 people per day, based on data from the New York Times and Census Bureau.

Which states meet the goal? Alaska, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, and Wyoming — 17 states.

Why is this important? One of the best ways to know you’re getting away from a disease outbreak is to no longer see a high number of daily new infections. While there’s no universally accepted number, experts said that four daily new coronavirus cases per 100,000 people is a decent ceiling.

“If I go from one to two to three [coronavirus cases a day], it’s different than going from 1,000 to 2,000 to 3,000, even though the percent difference is the same,” Shahpar said. “That’s why you have to take into account the overall level, too.”

This number can balance out the shortcomings in other metrics on this list. For example, New York — which has suffered the worst coronavirus outbreak in the country — has seen its reported daily new coronavirus cases drop for weeks, meeting the goal of a sustained drop in cases. But since that’s coming down from a huge high, even a month of sustained decreases may not be enough. New York has to make sure it falls below a threshold of new cases, too.

At the same time, if your state is now below four daily new cases per 100,000 but it’s seen a recent uptick in cases, that’s a reason for caution. New York, after all, saw just a handful of confirmed coronavirus cases before an exponential explosion of the disease took the state to thousands of new cases a day.

But if your state is below the threshold, it’s in a pretty solid place relative to most other states.

Goal 3: High coronavirus testing capacity

A map showing most states still don’t have enough coronavirus testing capacity.

What’s the goal? At least 150 tests per 100,000 people per day, based on data from the Covid Tracking Project and Census Bureau.

Which states meet the goal? Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, and Rhode Island — for a total of 12 states.

Why is this important? Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, experts have argued that the US needs the capacity for about 500,000 Covid-19 tests a day. Controlling for population, that adds up to about 150 new tests per 100,000 people per day.

Testing is crucial to getting the coronavirus outbreak under control. When paired with contact tracing, testing lets officials track the scale of the outbreak, isolate the sick, quarantine those the sick came into contact with, and deploy community-wide efforts as necessary. Testing and tracing are how other countries, like South Korea and Germany, have managed to control their outbreaks and started to reopen their economies.

The idea, experts said, is to have enough surveillance to detect embers before they turn into full wildfires.

“States should be shoring up their testing capacity not just for what it looks like right now while everyone’s in their homes, but as people start to move more,” Jen Kates, the director of global health and HIV policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, told me. “As people start doing more movement, you’ll have to test more, because people are going to come into contact with each other more.”

The 500,000-a-day goal is the minimum. Some experts have recommended as many as millions of tests nationwide each day. But 500,000 is the most often-cited goal, and it’s, at the very least, a good start.

This goal is supposed to be for diagnostic tests, not antibody tests. Diagnostic tests gauge whether a person has the virus in their system and is, therefore, sick right at the moment of the test. Antibody tests check if someone ever developed antibodies to the virus to see if they had ever been sick in the past. Since diagnostic tests give a more recent gauge of the level of infection, they’re seen as much more reliable for evaluating the current state of the Covid-19 outbreak in a state.

But some states have included antibody tests in their overall counts. Experts said states shouldn’t do this. But since the data they report and the Covid Tracking Project collects is the best testing data we have, it’s hard to tease out how much antibody tests are skewing the total.

In particular, Georgia’s data suggested it met the goal of 150 daily tests per 100,000 people, but the state only started separating antibody tests from its total after the data was collected. Without the antibody tests, Georgia very likely wouldn’t meet the goal.

Some states’ numbers, like Missouri’s, also may appear significantly worse than they should due to recent efforts to decouple diagnostic testing data from antibody testing data, which can temporarily warp the overall test count.

“The virus isn’t going to care whether they were manipulating the numbers or not in order to look more favorable; it’s going to continue to spread,” Crystal Watson, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told me. “It’s better to really understand what’s going on and report that accurately.”

For states honestly reporting these numbers, though, they’re a critical measure of their ability to detect, control, and contain coronavirus outbreaks.

Goal 4: A low test-positive rate

A map showing most states have positive rates that are too high.

What’s the goal? Below 5 percent of coronavirus tests coming back positive over the past week, based on data from the Covid Tracking Project.

Which states meet the goal? Alaska, California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, and Wyoming — for a total of 23 states.

Why is this important? The positive or positivity rate, which tracks how many tests come back positive for Covid-19, is another way to measure testing capacity.

Generally, a higher positive rate suggests there’s not enough testing happening. An area with adequate testing should be testing lots and lots of people, many of whom don’t have the disease or don’t show severe symptoms. The positive testing rate in South Korea, for example, is below 2 percent. High positive rates indicate only people with obvious symptoms are getting tested, so there’s not quite enough testing to match the scope of an outbreak.

Previously, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended a maximum positive rate of 10 percent. But the WHO more recently recommended 5 percent, which is in line with the rate for countries that have better managed to better control their outbreaks, like Germany, New Zealand, and South Korea. “Even lower is better,” Shahpar said.

The positive rate data is subject to the same limitations as the overall testing data from the Covid Tracking Project. So if a state includes antibody tests in its test count, it could skew the positive rate to look better than it is. States only risk hurting themselves if they do this.

Goal 5: Availability of ICU beds

A map showing most states’ hospitals aren’t overwhelmed by coronavirus cases.

What’s the goal? Below 60 percent occupancy of ICU beds in hospitals, based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Which states meet the goal? Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming — for a total of 30 states.

Why is this important? If a pandemic hits, the health care system needs to be ready to treat the most severe cases and potentially save lives. That’s the key goal of “flattening the curve” and “raising the line,” in which social distancing helps reduce the spread of the disease so the health care system can maintain and grow its capacity to treat an influx of Covid-19 patients.

“There’s this idea that in six weeks we can open more things,” Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told me. “But the virus is still there. It’s all about making sure that the case count isn’t too immense for our hospital system to deal with.”

The aim is to avoid the nightmare scenario that Italy went through when it had more Covid-19 cases than its health care system could handle, leading to hospitals turning away even dangerously ill patients.

To gauge this, experts recommended looking at ICU capacity, with states aiming to have less than 60 percent occupancy in their ICUs.

A big limitation in the metric: It’s based on data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of only some hospitals in each state. So it might not be fully representative of hospital capacity throughout an entire state. But it’s the best current data available, and it suggests that the majority of states meet that standard.

That’s extremely good news. It shows that America really has flattened the curve, at least for now. But it’s done that so far through extreme social distancing. If the next step is to keep the curve flattened while easing restrictions, that will require meeting the other metrics on this list.

Hitting the benchmarks is the beginning, not the end

Vox’s map is just one way of tracking success against the coronavirus. Other groups have come up with their own measures, including Covid Act NowCovid Exit Strategy, and Test and Trace. Vox’s model uses more up-to-date data than some of these other examples, while focusing not just on the state of the pandemic but states’ readiness to contain Covid-19 outbreaks in the future.

Very few states hit all the marks recommended by experts. But even those that do shouldn’t consider the pandemic over. They should continue to improve — for example, getting the positive rate below even 1 percent, as in New Zealand — and look at even more granular metrics, such as at the city or county level.

Meeting the benchmarks, however, indicates a state is better equipped to contain future coronavirus outbreaks as it eases previous restrictions.

Experts emphasized that states have to keep hitting all these goals week after week and day after day — Covid-19 cases must remain low, testing ability needs to stay high, and hospital capacity should be good enough for an influx of patients — until the pandemic is truly over, whether thanks to a vaccine or other means. Otherwise, a future wave of coronavirus cases, as seen in past pandemics, could kill many more people.

“You need to have all the metrics met,” Popescu said. “This needs to be a very incremental, slow process to ensure success.”

And if the numbers do start trending in the wrong direction, states should be ready to shut down at least some parts of the economy again. Maybe not as much as before, as we learn which places are truly at risk of increasing spread. But experts caution that future shutdowns will likely be necessary to some extent.

“I do worry we’re going to see surges of cases and hot spots,” Watson said. “We do need to keep pushing on building those capacities. … Otherwise, we’re just rolling the dice on the spread of the virus. It’s better if we have more control of the spread.”

That’s another reason these metrics, along with broader coronavirus surveillance, are so important: They not only help show how far along states are in dealing with their current Covid-19 outbreaks, but will help track progress to stop and prevent future crises as well.





Some Coronavirus Patients Test Positive For Weeks. Interpret Those Results With Caution


Some Coronavirus Patients Test Positive For Weeks. Interpret Those ...

PCR tests are precise, but they can also detect the presence of the virus well after it’s no longer contagious.

Dr. Matthew Binnicker, an expert in the diagnosis of infectious disease, explains why someone might still test positive for Covid-19 weeks after they’ve recovered.

To date, the majority of patients with Covid-19 have been diagnosed using a laboratory test called PCR, which detects the virus’ genetic material (i.e., RNA) in clinical samples (e.g., nasal swabs). PCR is a very sensitive laboratory method – meaning it can detect minute amounts of viral RNA – and has been used for nearly 2 decades to diagnose a variety of infectious diseases, including influenza and strep throat. Despite being a rapid and inherently sensitive test, PCR has certain limitations that need to be carefully considered when interpreting the results.

One of those key limitations of PCR is its inability to determine whether a patient is infectious, or not. This is because the test is designed to detect the virus’ RNA, which is generally present when a virus is causing an active infection. However, RNA can also be present, and therefore, detected by PCR after a virus has broken down (i.e., become non-infectious) and released its genome into host cells or body fluids. From prior experience with other infectious diseases, we know that PCR tests can be positive for days or weeks after a patient has recovered from the illness and is no longer infectious.

As more testing is being performed for Covid-19, we are learning that some patients can test positive for weeks following their initial diagnosis. A recent study showed that 16% of patients with Covid-19 continued to test positive for SARS-CoV-2 RNA up to 24 days after resolution of symptoms and discharge from the hospital. In addition, some Covid-19 patients who recover from their illness and test negative by PCR may again test positive (i.e., go from PCR positive to negative to positive). So does this mean they never fully recovered? Are they still infectious? Or did they become reinfected with a new strain of the virus?

Here are some things to understand.


RNA from SARS-CoV-2 might be found in your body long after you’ve recovered from the disease.

Even though they inform isolation and return-to-work decisions, PCR tests don’t measure if someone is contagious

When an individual tests positive for Covid-19, it is a common policy to require that they remain in isolation for a period of 10-14 days. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that those who test positive for Covid-19 remain in isolation until they have received two negative PCR results on samples collected at least 24 hours apart.

This is a conservative approach, but has been justified during the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic due to the lack of data on the period of infectiousness of SARS-CoV-2, as well as the significant repercussions of allowing an infected individual to return-to-work or interact with others before there is confidence they are no longer infectious. However, PCR is not typically used as a ‘test of cure’ for other infectious diseases, since it can remain positive after a patient has cleared an infection.

What does it mean when a patient tests positive after recovering from Covid-19?

While studies are being performed to definitively answer this question, new data are emerging that suggest the period of SARS-CoV-2 infectiousness may not correlate with PCR positivity. In other words, an individual may not be able to infect others for as long as they test positive by PCR. To determine this, researchers have investigated two important questions. First, can the virus be cultured, or grown, from samples that are collected weeks after resolution of a patient’s symptoms but test positive by PCR? And second, do close contacts (e.g., family members, coworkers) of patients with persistently positive PCR tests become sick with Covid-19?

Last week, the South Korean CDC published important data aimed at addressing these questions. The study followed approximately 800 contacts of Covid-19 patients after they had recovered from their illness, tested negative, but once again tested positive by PCR. The researchers found no evidence that the contacts became ill with Covid-19. In addition, the South Korean scientists were unable to grow the virus from samples that were PCR positive at the latest time point.

Although these results suggest that Covid-19 patients may not be infectious for weeks or months following resolution of their symptoms, the exact timeframe over which an individual can transmit the virus to others remains unclear. Additional studies are needed to better define the period of viral infectivity, so that we can prevent the spread of Covid-19 but allow recovered patients the opportunity to emerge from isolation as soon as it is safe to do so.





How South Korea prevented a coronavirus disaster—and why the battle isn’t over


How South Korea prevented a coronavirus disaster—and why the ...

The nation beat back COVID-19 with more than its large number of tests. Can it maintain this success?

The COVID-19 testing center at H Plus Yangji Hospital in southern Seoul doesn’t look like much from the outside. Resembling a mobile home, the temporary building sits in a parking lot near a loading ramp, propped up on one end by a wooden plank. Its walls are wrapped in red and white, and billboard-like signage proclaims that the hospital was named one of the 100 best in the Republic of Korea.

But inside is a gleaming bank of four booths with transparent plastic walls; rubber gloves embedded through them in a manner similar to a high-grade biosafety lab. When a person walks into a booth, they consult over an intercom with a doctor who remains outside. The doctor can swab their nose and throat using the gloves without ever coming into contact with the patient. The booths maintain negative air pressure, which sucks in any virus-carrying airborne droplets. After the test, a staff member in protective gear disinfects the booth, scrubbing the walls with a squeegee.

Hundreds of similar “walk-in” testing booths located all over the country have been one of the pillars of South Korea’s highly successful strategy to contain COVID-19, helping officials roll out rapid and extensive diagnostic testing.

The nation of 51 million people has also taken a big data approach to contact tracing, using credit card history and location data from cell phone carriers to retrace the movements of infected people. Surveys show most Korean citizens are OK with sacrificing digital privacy to stop an outbreak. At the same time, authorities have pushed an intense—but mostly voluntary—social distancing campaign, leaving most bars, restaurants, and movie theaters free to operate.

The viral scourge is far from over in South Korea—a recent outbreak connected to several nightclubs was reported with 102 cases as of May 12. Despite this, the country’s response could serve as a model for the rest of the world, but achieving this level of speedy success in the face of a pandemic was not easy.

Lessons from the past

A major factor shaping South Korea’s response was its ability to apply lessons learned during previous outbreaks, especially the country’s MERS coronavirus outbreak in 2015, which resulted in 186 cases and 38 deaths.

In the immediate aftermath, South Korea’s legislature created the legal foundation for a comprehensive strategy for contact tracing—whereby anyone who has interacted with an infected person is traced and placed in quarantine. Amendments explicitly authorized health authorities to request patients’ transaction history from credit card companies and location data from cell phone carriers—and to release the reconstructed movements in the form of anonymous “travel logs” so people could learn the times and places where they might have been exposed.

A huge push with contact tracing and testing managed to corral an early rise in cases that threatened to spiral out of control—hundreds were reported each day, peaking at 909 cases on February 29 with most associated with a religious sect in the city of Daegu. The strategy also managed to snuff out several subsequent coronavirus clusters at churches, computer gaming cafes, and a call center. By April 15, South Korea safely held a national election, in which 29 million people participated. Voters wore masks and gloves; polling centers took everyone’s temperature and separated anyone with a fever. No cases have been traced to the election.

While people in other countries may consider Korea’s data collection a violation of patient privacy, the measures have broad support from the South Korean public. In a March 4 poll led by the Seoul National University Graduate School of Public Health, 78 percent of 1,000 respondents agreed that human rights protections should be eased to strengthen virus containment efforts. Experience with past outbreaks also meant people were quick to stay at home and wear masks in public even before the government began issuing formal guidelines.

Crucially, South Korea had built up its diagnostic testing capabilities after the 2015 MERS outbreak. Unlike the U.S., which relied on testing kits developed by its Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, South Korea enlisted the private sector. At a meeting in late January, officials urged local biotech companies to develop testing kits. Within a month, the nation was running more than 10,000 tests daily.

A recent boom in South Korea’s biotech scene, long predating the pandemic, helped with the ramp-up, says Thomas Shin, the CEO of TCM Biosciences, a company in Pangyo, south of Seoul. “During the last five years, there were many new bioscience companies,” says Shin. TCM was one of the companies that heeded the government’s call to develop kits, and it received approval from the country’s Ministry of Food and Drug Safety in April.

Shin says the decision wasn’t necessarily an easy one from a business perspective—new diseases are difficult to forecast, and if they’re snuffed out quickly, it can be hard to recoup the costs of initial development. But with South Korea’s close connections to the outbreak’s epicenter in China, Shin says TCM could see a similar situation developing rapidly on the home front—and projected a business opportunity in the global market. So far, the company has shipped kits worth roughly $2.6 million.

On April 30, the nation reported just four cases, all of them travelers arriving from abroad, marking the first day with zero local infections in two and a half months. As case numbers have continued to fall, the government has cautiously relaxed its guidelines, while signaling a shift to “everyday quarantine” measures, such as wearing masks and temperature checks at schools.

People’s attitudes have also relaxed, leading some officials to worry about complacency and a second wave of infections. The nightclub outbreak may heighten those fears, but the government has already responded aggressively, tracing and testing thousands of people in a matter of days.

Last mile is the toughest

Though testing companies were quick to respond to the demand, rolling out the kits presented difficulties. Through February, demand for tests was still outpacing supply, and there were only enough kits to distribute to a select number of hospitals.

Furthermore, hospitals struggled to administer the tests to potentially contagious patients safely and quickly—testing areas needed to be sanitized after each patient, long queues meant the virus could spread while people waited in line, and health workers were running low on protective gear. At Yangji Hospital, this also led to exhausted staff, says hospital director Sang Il Kim.

“Even when we did have kits, the waiting times were just too long for everybody to get tested, so they would have to go to other hospitals,” adds Yoona Chung, a doctor in the hospital’s surgery department.

According to Yangji’s data, the hospital was conducting roughly 10 tests a day by late February—but many more were being turned away due to the wait. Other hospitals in Korea started experimenting with drive-through testing centers, where patients could get tested without leaving their cars. But Yangji Hospital is near a subway station in a crowded neighborhood in southern Seoul; for many of its patients, cars aren’t an option.

So, Kim devised the walk-in booths, which went into pilot operation on March 10. Within days, the number of tests administered in a day had tripled. By the end of the month, the hospital could handle more than 90 patients a day. Hospitals elsewhere in Korea and around the world quickly adopted their own variations on the concept. A hospital in Busan had a similar idea independently but others have had help from Kim.

At Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, hospital leadership saw news reports on Yangji’s booths and asked an in-house team to create a version, hoping to better protect their health workers and conserve precious protective gear. A bit of Googling and two phone calls later, hospital staff connected her with Kim via email.

“I remember it was 10 p.m., we’re all frustrated, up all night, trying to figure out how to make this work,” says Nour Al-Sultan, a business strategy analyst at the MGH Springboard Studio, the team of researchers and designers tasked with reverse engineering the booths. “I go to bed, and I wake up the next morning, and Dr. Kim is the one who answers all of my questions.”

MGH has now installed about eight booths at three hospitals in the Boston region. According to preliminary data, they’ve reduced the need for protective gowns, which are in short supply, by 96 percent, saving more than 500 gowns a week. The MGH team is now working with colleagues in Uganda to help them develop their own versions of the booths.

“The fact that he took the time to provide me with such generous insights is just a testament to this spirit of global collaboration against the pandemic,” Al-Sultan says.





100,000 Lives Lost to COVID-19. What Did They Teach Us?


May 27 data: Four new Utah COVID-19 deaths as US count tops ...

Each person who has died of COVID-19 was somebody’s everything. Even as we mourn for those we knew, cry for those we loved and consider those who have died uncounted, the full tragedy of the pandemic hinges on one question: How do we stop the next 100,000?

The United States has now recorded 100,000 deaths due to the coronavirus.

It’s a moment to collectively grieve and reflect.

Even as we mourn for those we knew, cry for those we loved and consider also those who have died uncounted, I hope that we can also resolve to learn more, test better, hold our leaders accountable and better protect our citizens so we do not have to reach another grim milestone.

Through public records requests and other reporting, ProPublica has found example after example of delays, mistakes and missed opportunities. The CDC took weeks to fix its faulty test. In Seattle, 33,000 fans attended a soccer match, even after the top local health official said he wanted to end mass gatherings. Houston went ahead with a livestock show and rodeo that typically draws 2.5 million people, until evidence of community spread shut it down after eight days. Nebraska kept a meatpacking plant open that health officials wanted to shut down, and cases from the plant subsequently skyrocketed. And in New York, the epicenter of the pandemic, political infighting between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio hampered communication and slowed decision making at a time when speed was critical to stop the virus’ exponential spread.

COVID-19 has also laid bare many long-standing inequities and failings in America’s health care system. It is devastating, but not surprising, to learn that many of those who have been most harmed by the virus are also Americans who have long suffered from historical social injustices that left them particularly susceptible to the disease.

This massive loss of life wasn’t inevitable. It wasn’t simply unfortunate and regrettable. Even without a vaccine or cure, better mitigation measures could have prevented infections from happening in the first place; more testing capacity could have allowed patients to be identified and treated earlier.

The COVID-19 pandemic is not over, far from it.

At this moment, the questions we need to ask are: How do we prevent the next 100,000 deaths from happening? How do we better protect our most vulnerable in the coming months? Even while we mourn, how can we take action, so we do not repeat this horror all over again?

Here’s what we’ve learned so far.

Though we’ve long known about infection control problems in nursing homes, COVID-19 got in and ran roughshod.

From the first weeks of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States, when the virus tore through the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Washington, nursing homes and long-term care facilities have emerged as one of the deadliest settings. As of May 21, there have been around 35,000 deaths of staff and residents in nursing homes and long-term care facilities, according to the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation.

Yet the facilities have continued to struggle with basic infection control. Federal inspectors have found homes with insufficient staff and a lack of personal protective equipment. Others have failed to maintain social distancing among residents, according to inspection reports ProPublica reviewed. Desperate family members have had to become detectives and activists, one even going as far as staging a midnight rescue of her loved one as the virus spread through a Queens, New York, assisted living facility.

What now? The risk to the elderly will not decrease as time goes by — more than any other population, they will need the highest levels of protection until the pandemic is over. The CEO of the industry’s trade group told my colleague Charles Ornstein: “Just like hospitals, we have called for help. In our case, nobody has listened.” More can be done to protect our nursing home and long term care population. This means regular testing of both staff and residents, adequate protective gear and a realistic way to isolate residents who test positive.

Racial disparities in health care are pervasive in medicine, as they have been in COVID-19 deaths.

African Americans have contracted and died of the coronavirus at higher rates across the country. This is due to myriad factors, including more limited access to medical care as well as environmental, economic and political factors that put them at higher risk of chronic conditions. When ProPublica examined the first 100 recorded victims of the coronavirus in Chicago, we found that 70 were black. African Americans make up 30% of the city’s population.

What now? States should make sure that safety-net hospitals, which serve a large portion of low-income and uninsured patients regardless of their ability to pay, and hospitals in neighborhoods that serve predominantly black communities, are well-supplied and sufficiently staffed during the crisis. More can also be done to encourage African American patients to not delay seeking care, even when they have “innocent symptoms” like a cough or low-grade fever, especially when they suffer other health conditions like diabetes.

Racial disparities go beyond medicine, to other aspects of the pandemic. Data shows that black people are already being disproportionately arrested for social distancing violations, a measure that can undercut public health efforts and further raise the risk of infection, especially when enforcement includes time in a crowded jail.

Essential workers had little choice but to work during COVID-19, but adequate safeguards weren’t put in place to protect them.

We’ve known from the beginning there are some measures that help protect us from the virus, such as physical distancing. Yet millions of Americans haven’t been able to heed that advice, and have had no choice but to risk their health daily as they’ve gone to work shoulder-to-shoulder in meat-packing plants, rung up groceries while being forbidden to wear gloves, or delivered the mail. Those who are undocumented live with the additional fear of being caught by immigration authorities if they go to a hospital for testing or treatment.

What now? Research has shown that there’s a much higher risk of transmission in enclosed spaces than outdoors, so providing good ventilation, adequate physical distancing, and protective gear as appropriate for workers in indoor spaces is critical for safety. We also now know that patients are likely most infectious right before or at the time when symptoms start appearing, so if workplaces are generous about their sick leave policies, workers can err on the side of caution if they do feel unwell, and not have to choose between their livelihoods and their health. It’s also important to have adequate testing capacity, so infections can be caught before they turn into a large outbreak.

Frontline health care workers were not given adequate PPE and were sometimes fired for speaking up about it.

While health workers have not, thankfully, been dying at conspicuously higher rates, they continue to be susceptible to the virus due to their work. The national scramble for ventilators and personal protective equipment has exposed the just-in-time nature of hospitals’ inventories: Nurses across the country have had to work with expired N95 masks, or no masks at all. Health workers have been suspended, or put on unpaid leave, because they didn’t see eye to eye with their administrators on the amount of protective gear they needed to keep themselves safe while caring for patients.

First responders — EMTs, firefighters and paramedics — are often forgotten when it comes to funding, even though they are the first point of contact with sick patients. The lack of a coherent system nationwide meant that some first responders felt prepared, while others were begging for masks at local hospitals.

What now? As states reopen, it will be important to closely track hospital capacity, and if cases rise and threaten their medical systems’ ability to care for patients, governments will need to be ready to pause or even dial back reopening measures. It should go without saying that adequate protective gear is a must. I also hope that hospital administrators are thinking about mental health care for their staffs. Doctors and nurses have told us of the immense strain of caring for patients whom they don’t know how to save, while also worrying about getting sick themselves, or carrying the virus home to their loved ones. Even “heroes” need supplies and support.

What we still have to learn:

There continue to be questions on which data is lacking, such as the effects of the coronavirus on pregnant women. Without evidence-based research, pregnant women have been left to make decisions on their own, sometimes trying to limit their exposure against their employer’s wishes.

Similarly, there’s a paucity of data on children’s risk level and their role in transmission. While we can confidently say that it’s rare for children to get very ill if they do get infected, there’s not as much information on whether children are as infectious as adults. Answering that question would not just help parents make decisions (Can I let my kid go to day care when we live with Grandma?) but also help officials make evidence-based decisions on how and when to reopen schools.

There’s some research I don’t want to rush. Experts say the bar for evidence should be extremely high when it comes to a vaccine’s safety and benefit. It makes sense that we might be willing to use a therapeutic with less evidence on critically ill patients, knowing that without any intervention, they would soon die. A vaccine, however, is intended to be given to vast numbers of healthy people. So yes, we have to move urgently, but we must still take the time to gather robust data.

Our nation’s leaders have many choices to make in the coming weeks and months. I hope they will heed the advice of scientists, doctors and public health officials, and prioritize the protection of everyone from essential workers to people in prisons and homeless shelters who does not have the privilege of staying home for the duration of the pandemic.

The coronavirus is a wily adversary. We may ultimately defeat it with a vaccine or effective therapeutics. But what we’ve learned from the first 100,000 deaths is that we can save lives with the oldest mitigation tactics in the public health arsenal — and that being slow to act comes with a terrible cost.

I refuse to succumb to fatalism, to just accepting the ever higher death toll as inevitable. I want us to make it harder for this virus to take each precious life from us. And I believe we can.




Reducing COVID-19 Deaths In Nursing Homes: Call To Action


Reducing COVID-19 Deaths In Nursing Homes: Call To Action | Health ...

Nursing homes are a hidden and frequently forgotten part of our health care system. They are now under attack by the COVID-19 pandemic: residents are dying, families are disconnected from their loved ones, and staff are sick and overwhelmed by work and the grief of losing so many patients in such a short time. Our state, Massachusetts, is one of the hardest-hit by COVID-19, with over 3,600 deaths and counting in nursing homes, or almost 10 percent of the nursing home population. Over 60 percent of all COVID-19-related deaths in Massachusetts are in nursing homes, one of six states where nursing home residents comprise over 50 percent of COVID-19-related deaths.  The COVID-19 pandemic is exposing years of neglect and chronic underfunding of nursing homes.  

Over 85 percent of the almost 400 nursing homes in Massachusetts currently report two or more cases of COVID-19 among residents or staff.  Emerging data make it abundantly clear that the nursing home environment is highly conducive to the rapid spread of COVID-19, and nursing home residents are among the most susceptible to severe illness and death.  Urgent and decisive action is required to reduce mortality among frail and vulnerable seniors in nursing homes. 

The New England Geriatrics Network (NEGN) is a group of geriatricians, geriatric psychiatrists, nurse practitioners, and others interested in improving care of older adults, that recently convened a Nursing Home Work Group of members interested in improving nursing home care.  We write to share our collective experiences and to reflect on some innovative and promising initiatives adopted in our state.

Success in reducing COVID-19-related morbidity and mortality in the nursing home setting requires urgent action in three areas: 1) enhancing infection control with an individualized plan for each nursing home that incorporates both regulatory guidance and current literature and is feasible to implement; 2) ensuring necessary resources to implement infection control plans, especially adequate staff, training, personal protective equipment (PPE), COVID-19 testing, creation of units for COVID-19 positive patients, and access to onsite ancillary services (labs, imaging, intravenous (IV) management); 3) mirroring the federal Coronavirus Commission for Safety and Quality in Nursing Homes by establishing state-level task forces focused on improving communication and collaboration between nursing homes and families, health care providers (hospitals, health systems, home health agencies, physician organizations), and government agencies.

Although the federal government has offered guidance on infection control in nursing homes, most efforts to manage the pandemic are initiated and managed at the state level.  As a result, there is significant variability in the response. For example, until the federal government recently mandated it, fewer than half of the states reported infection rates and deaths in nursing homes.  Massachusetts implemented several key initiatives that may serve as a model for how to limit COVID-19 epidemic in nursing homes.

Recommendation #1: Operationalizing Effective Infection Control

The only way to reduce COVID-19 deaths is to universally implement effective infection control programs in every nursing home.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), state agencies like the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, and medical specialty societies have issued checklists and guidance for managing COVID-19 infections in nursing homes. The core challenge is the diversity of the nursing homes, each varying structurally in layout and room design, financially in resources and reserves, and organizationally in staffing and medical leadership. Nationally, 39 percent of nursing homes had deficiencies related to infection control in 2017, including 30 percent of Massachusetts nursing homes.  Each nursing home must create and implement a COVID-19 control plan, review it regularly with public health officials, and allow site visits to validate performance.  A truly collaborative effort will empower and support nursing homes to make required changes, maintain transparency, uphold accountability, and save lives. 

Our colleagues working in Massachusetts nursing homes continue to directly observe ongoing issues with infection control, despite the state’s best efforts to address the pandemic.  In late April, a colleague rounding at a nursing home with known COVID-19 cases found COVID-19-positive, test pending, and COVID-19-free residents sitting together in a communal area. Nurses were wearing varying levels of PPE, some in gowns and masks, and only some with face shields.

Massachusetts recently enhanced its plan to manage COVID-19 in nursing homes by allocating up to $130 million in additional funding to support infection control, staffing, and PPE. Part of the plan is 28-point audit tool to evaluate the strength of each nursing home’s plan, which will be assessed through site visits by state inspectors to every nursing home in the state either every two or four weeks (depending on initial audit results) through the end of June.  Nursing homes can qualify for up to a 50 percent increase over their baseline Medicaid (MassHealth) reimbursement by demonstrating adherence to an effective infection control plan. Facilities failing to implement effective plans can face serious penalties starting with reduced bonus funding and extending to receivership, termination from the state Medicaid program and even forced closure.

In addition to a clear and transparent approach to audits, the state is providing access to infection control expertise to enhance the ability of nursing homes to execute effective infection control plans.  A statewide infection control command center is being led by the nursing home trade organization Massachusetts Senior Care Association (MSCA), along with a senior care and housing organization, Hebrew Senior Life, and others.

Comprehensive infection control plans may require dedicated units for COVID-19-infected patients, important for preventing spread of the infection within nursing homes and for treating COVID-19-positive patients needing inpatient nursing and rehabilitation.  Massachusetts made this a focus of the first phase of its approach to managing COVID-19 in nursing homes.  As of May 1, 2020, six nursing homes have been fully converted to COVID-only facilities, and more than 80 nursing homes have dedicated in-house COVID units.  The state accelerated the creation of these facilities with increased Medicaid payment rates for the care of patients with COVID-19. This has helped offset revenue loss related to decreased post-acute care admissions due to a decrease in elective procedures.

Recommendation #2: Nursing Homes Must Have Adequate Resources For Patient Care Including Staffing, PPE, Testing, And Onsite Ancillary Services

The lack of infection control resources reflects longstanding gaps in the nursing home setting which have been greatly exacerbated by the current pandemic. The state is providing additional Medicaid payments to nursing homes, as mentioned above. These resources are needed to improve care and infection control.


In mid-April, as the surge in COVID-19 cases accelerated in Massachusetts, 40 percent of nursing home positions were vacant in the state  As the pandemic spread, many staff became unavailable due to infection, increased risk related to underlying comorbidities, or family responsibilities.  Many nursing home staff work on a per diem basis, and often lack paid sick leave. Until recently, transportation and paid housing solutions put in place for hospital staff had not been extended to them.

The staffing shortage threatens the health of all residents on short-staffed units and reveals how human contact is fundamental to good nursing home care.  A member of our group recently visited a nursing home where staffing on a 30-resident unit was reduced to one nurse and one nurse’s aide.  Isolation is a cornerstone of fighting COVID-19, but with family and volunteers not permitted in nursing homes, he reported seeing increased dehydration, falls, and poor hygiene as staff struggled to hand-feed residents and provide personal care.  In addition, family members may wait days to hear back about their loved one from overwhelmed nursing home staff.  This lack of communication is a huge barrier to high quality care, especially for patients needing frequent symptom management, such as those in hospice care. 

Massachusetts is taking several actions to alleviate staffing shortages.  The state offered a $1,000 bonus for new nursing home staff, and an online portal was created to match nursing homes with job seekers and volunteers.  The state is making available rapid response teams including nurses, emergency medical technicians (EMTs), and others that can be temporarily deployed for a few days to assist challenged nursing homes. National Guard units are available for non-clinical support, as well as staff from temporary staffing agencies contracted by the state.  Private sector efforts include a collaboration between Massachusetts Senior Care Association, the MIT COVID-19 Policy Alliance, and Monster.com to offer free staffing listings on Monster’s recruiting website.

Personal Protective Equipment

As with all other health care settings, PPE shortages are an ongoing challenge, and states must do more to help.  In Massachusetts, as of May 19, 2020, the state has distributed almost 350,000 N95 masks, over 780,000 masks, and 708,000 pairs of gloves to nursing homes.  However, this is not enough to provide for all of the needs of the nearly 400 nursing homes in the state, which must still rely on their own supply chains, including new purchasing collaboratives, to help facilities gain PPE access. Providing PPE to family members and volunteers could help mitigate some of the impact of extreme staffing shortages.

Testing For COVID-19

Access to routine testing can improve infection control and identify patients at risk of decline.  Testing should not be limited to only those with symptoms.  In early April, a nursing home in Wilmington, MA underwent facility-wide screening.  Over 50 percent of residents without symptoms tested positive for COVID-19, and within two weeks, 25 residents had died.  Universal testing of residents and staff should be performed as quickly as possible, and routine testing must be available to evaluate symptomatic nursing home residents.  The state of Massachusetts now requires every nursing home to test all residents and staff as a prerequisite to receiving any supplemental COVID-19 funding.  If the nursing home cannot arrange testing, the state will continue to supply National Guard mobile testing teams and dispense testing kits directly to nursing homes.  For nursing homes where testing may not be readily available, or if there are already significant numbers of COVID-19 infections, it should be presumed that all residents and staff are infected, and PPE and other universal infection control measures should be implemented.

Ancillary Services

One overlooked but essential resource is access to ancillary services.  Most nursing homes rely on external companies to provide onsite services, including laboratory tests (e.g. blood tests, urinalysis), to start IVs and provide portable imaging (X-Ray, ultrasound), and to stock medications.  Many of these companies also face challenges with staff and PPE and have decreased services from daily visits to once or twice a week.  As a result, families who want their loved one diagnosed and treated in the nursing home (e.g. chest x-ray, labs for possible pneumonia, followed by IV insertion for antibiotics), or who need urgent assessments, COVID-19 related or not, must decide whether to transfer their family member to the emergency department. One solution is redeploying EMTs, now freed up from transport for elective procedures, to draw labs and start IVs in nursing homes to keep patients where they feel safe and comfortable, and to avoid further stress on over-burdened emergency departments.

Recommendation #3: Establishing COVID-19 Control Task Forces

COVID-19 has forced our society into isolation, but communication and collaboration are essential for successfully fighting pandemics.  We strongly recommend each state create a task force for COVID-19 pandemic control in nursing homes for a minimum of two years, to bring together relevant governmental agencies (Public Health, Elder Affairs or Aging agency, Emergency Management, Medicaid, and others) and other key stakeholders, which include nursing home clinicians, the nursing home industry, ancillary services companies, hospitals, physician groups, and nursing home residents and family members. Local and regional task forces should collaborate to support links between nursing homes and local health care systems and ensure that nursing homes have effective communications with family members and clinicians providing care.  Collaboration with state governments and nursing home leadership in other states is also essential, as many staff, clinicians, and family members travel across state lines.

Task Forces must initially focus on ensuring effective infection control and making resources available to reduce the morbidity and mortality of COVID-19 on nursing home residents and those needing post-acute care. They also should anticipate and plan for the inevitable changes and continued need for nursing home care in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Summary

Nursing homes should receive necessary support as an integral and most vulnerable part of the continuum of care. The population is aging, and the need for high quality long-term care, especially for those who lack family or financial resources, is growing rapidly.  Now is the time to ensure the safety and continued viability of this vital health care setting.

Authors’ Note: This call to action was written by the co-authors above on behalf of The New England Geriatrics Network (NEGN) Nursing Home Work Group.





Administration Killed Rule Designed To Protect Health Workers From Pandemic Like COVID-19


Trump Team Killed Rule Designed To Protect Health Workers From ...

When President Trump took office in 2017, his team stopped work on new federal regulations that would have forced the health care industry to prepare for an airborne infectious disease pandemic such as COVID-19. That decision is documented in federal records reviewed by NPR.

“If that rule had gone into effect, then every hospital, every nursing home would essentially have to have a plan where they made sure they had enough respirators and they were prepared for this sort of pandemic,” said David Michaels, who was head of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration until January 2017.

There are still no specific federal regulations protecting health care workers from deadly airborne pathogens such as influenza, tuberculosis or the coronavirus. This fact hit home during the last respiratory pandemic, the H1N1 outbreak in 2009. Thousands of Americans died and dozens of health care workers got sick. At least four nurses died.

Studies conducted after the H1N1 crisis found voluntary federal safety guidelines designed to limit the spread of airborne pathogens in medical facilities often weren’t being followed. There were also shortages of personal protective equipment.

“H1N1 made it very clear OSHA did not have adequate standards for airborne transmission and contact transmission, and so we began writing a standard to do that,” Michaels said.

HIV/AIDS rule set the standard for protecting workers

OSHA experts were confident new airborne infectious disease regulations would make hospitals and nursing homes safer when future pandemics hit. That’s because similar rules had already been created for bloodborne pathogens such as Ebola and hepatitis.

Those rules, implemented during the HIV/AIDS epidemic, forced the health care industry to adopt safety plans and buy more equipment designed to protect staff and patients.

But making a new infectious disease regulation, affecting much of the American health care system, is time-consuming and contentious. It requires lengthy consultation with scientists, doctors and other state and federal regulatory agencies as well as the nursing home and hospital industries that would be forced to implement the standard.

Federal records reviewed by NPR show OSHA went step by step through that process for six years, and by early 2016 the new infectious disease rule was ready. The Obama White House formally added it to a list of regulations scheduled to be implemented in 2017.

Then came the presidential election.

An emphasis on deregulation

In the spring of 2017, the Trump team formally stripped OSHA’s airborne infectious disease rule from the regulatory agenda. NPR could find no indication the new administration had specific policy concerns about the infectious disease rules.

Instead, the decision appeared to be part of a wider effort to cut regulations and bureaucratic oversight.

“Earlier this year we set a target of adding zero new regulatory costs onto the American economy,” Trump said in December 2017. “As a result, the never-ending growth of red tape in America has come to a sudden, screeching and beautiful halt.”

The impact on the federal effort to protect health care workers from diseases such as COVID-19 was immediate.

“The infectious disease standard was put on the back burner. Work stopped,” said Michaels, now a professor at George Washington University.

A medical worker is assisted into personal protective equipment on May 8 before stepping into a patient’s room in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

Elaine Thompson/AP

A deadly escalation of the H1N1 crisis

This spring, hospitals and nursing homes found themselves facing much of the same crisis they experienced during the H1N1 outbreak, with many facilities unprepared and unequipped. Only this time the scale was larger and deadlier.

The federal government reports that at least 43,000 front-line health care workers have gotten sick, many infected, while caring for COVID-19 patients in facilities where personal protective equipment was being rationed.

“Even just a few months ago, I couldn’t have imagined that I would have been on a Zoom call reading out the names of registered nurses who have died on the front lines of a pandemic,” said Bonnie Castillo, who heads the National Nurses United union.

“The memorial was not only about grief. It was also about anger.”

OSHA’s infectious disease rule debated in Washington

Castillo said Congress should immediately implement the infectious disease regulations shelved by the Trump administration as an emergency rule before a second wave of the coronavirus hits.

“Which obviously would mandate that employers have the highest level of PPE, not the lowest,” she said.

Democrats in the House of Representatives passed a bill in mid-May that would do so, but the Republican-controlled Senate has blocked the measure, and the White House still opposes the rules.

The Trump administration hasn’t responded to NPR’s repeated inquiries about the infectious disease rule. But in a briefing call with lawmakers this month, the current head of OSHA, Loren Sweatt, argued enough rules are already in place to protect workers.

“We have mandatory standards related to personal protective equipment and bloodborne pathogens and sanitation standards,” Sweatt said in a recording provided to NPR. “We have existing standards that can address this area.”

The hospital industry also opposes the new safety rules. Nancy Foster with the American Hospital Association said voluntary guidelines for airborne pandemics are adequate.

“You’re right; they’re not regulations, but they are the guidance that we want to follow,” Foster said. “They set forth the expectation for infection control, so in a sense they’re just like regulations.”

But the infectious disease standard would have required the health care industry to do far more. It sets out specific standards for planning and training. It would also have forced facilities to stockpile personal protective equipment to handle “surges” of sick patients such as the ones seen with COVID-19.

NPR also found the lack of fixed regulations allowed the Trump administration to relax worker safety guidelines. Federal agencies did so repeatedly this spring as COVID-19 spread and shortages of personal protective equipment worsened.

As a consequence, hospitals could say they were meeting federal guidelines while requiring doctors and nurses to reuse masks and protective gowns after exposure to sick patients.




Further confusion on the coronavirus testing front


Coronavirus test: confusion over availability and criteria is ...

With all 50 states now in the process of reopening, data reported by public health agencies on coronavirus testing is under increased scrutiny. The issue is not how many tests are being conducted—that number has dramatically increased nationwide (although experts still caution that total testing should be about three times higher than the current 300,000 per day).

Rather, as reported this week, the issue is what kind of tests are being included in public reporting. It emerged this week that several states—including GeorgiaTexasPennsylvaniaVermont, and Virginia—have been combining statistics on polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, used to diagnose current infection, with antibody blood tests, used to detect past infection.

More troublingly, The Atlantic reported on Wednesday that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been doing the same thing, which artificially inflates the number of tests conducted, and makes the numbers difficult to interpret. Among other experts, Dr. Ashish Jha, director of Harvard’s Global Public Health Institute, was stunned: “You’ve got to be kidding me. How could the CDC make that mistake? This is a mess.”

Accurate testing data is critical to determine the pace and scope of reopening, and to monitor for resurgences of the virus that might necessitate future restrictions. It’s important to know who’s infected now for clinical reasons, and it’s essential to understand who’s already been sick for public health purposes. Combining the two datasets is positively unhelpful, and likely only serves a political purpose.

Testing problems have proven to be this country’s original sin in the way the coronavirus pandemic has evolved, but it’s not too late to make sure that we have ample, accurate, and well-reported testing to guide critical public health decisions.

US coronavirus update: 1.62M cases, 95K+ confirmed deaths, 12.9M tests conducted (of some type).