Few U.S. adults say they’ve been diagnosed with coronavirus, but more than a quarter know someone who has

Few U.S. adults say they’ve been diagnosed with coronavirus, but more than a quarter know someone who has

28% of U.S. adults say they know someone diagnosed with COVID-19 ...

Relatively few Americans say they have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or tested positive for coronavirus antibodies, but many more believe they may have been infected or say they personally know someone who has been diagnosed.

Only 2% of U.S. adults say they have been officially diagnosed with COVID-19 by a health care provider, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. And 2% say they have taken a blood test that showed they have COVID-19 antibodies, an indication that they previously had the coronavirus. But many more Americans (14%) say they are “pretty sure” they had COVID-19, despite not getting an official diagnosis. And nearly four-in-ten (38%) say they’ve taken their temperature to check if they might have the disease.

Although few Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19 themselves, many more say they know someone with a positive diagnosis. More than one-in-four U.S. adults (28%) say they personally know someone who has been diagnosed by a health care provider as having COVID-19. A smaller share of Americans (20%) say they know someone who has been hospitalized or who has died as a result of having the coronavirus.

Some groups are more likely than others to report personal experiences with COVID-19. For instance, black adults are the most likely to personally know someone who has been hospitalized or died as a result of the disease. One-third of black Americans (34%) know someone who has been hospitalized or died, compared with 19% of Hispanics and 18% of white adults. Black Americans (32%) are also slightly more likely than Hispanic adults (26%) to know someone diagnosed with COVID-19. Public health studies have found black Americans are disproportionately dying or requiring hospitalization as a result of the coronavirus.

28% of U.S. adults say they know someone diagnosed with COVID-19 ...

Areas in the northeastern United States have recorded some of the highest rates of coronavirus cases and fatalities, and this is reflected in the Center’s survey. About four-in-ten adults living in the Northeast (42%) say they personally know someone diagnosed with COVID-19, significantly more than among adults living in any other region. People living in the Northeast (31%) are also the most likely to know someone who has been hospitalized or died as a result of the disease.

One aspect of personal risk for exposure to the coronavirus is whether someone is employed in a setting where they must have frequent contact with other people, such as at a grocery store, hospital or construction site. Given the potential for the spread of the coronavirus within households, risk to individuals is also higher if other members of the household are employed in similar settings. Among people who are currently employed full-time, 35% are working in a job with frequent public contact. Among those working part-time, almost half work (48%) in such a setting. For those living in a household with other adults, 35% report that at least one of those individuals is working in a job that requires frequent contact with other people.

Taken together, nearly four-in-ten Americans (38%) have this type of exposure – either currently working in a job that requires contact with others, living in a household with others whose jobs require contact, or both.

Hispanics (at 48%) are more likely than either blacks (38%) or whites (35%) to have this type of personal or household exposure. An earlier Center analysis of government data found Hispanic adults were slightly more likely to work in service-sector jobs that require customer interaction, and that are at higher risk of layoffs as a result of the virus. In fact, the current Center survey found Hispanics were among the most likely to have experienced pay cuts or job losses due to the coronavirus outbreak.

28% of U.S. adults say they know someone diagnosed with COVID-19 ...

Interpersonal exposure in the workplace is also more widespread among younger adults. And there is a 10 percentage point difference between upper- and lower-income Americans in exposure, with lower-income adults more likely to work in situations where they have to interact with the public, or to live with people who do.

Health experts warn that COVID-19 is particularly dangerous to people who have underlying medical conditions. In the survey, one-third of adults say they have such a condition. Among this group, nearly six-in-ten (58%) say that the coronavirus outbreak is a major threat to their personal health. Among those who do not report having an underlying medical condition, just 28% see the outbreak as a major threat to their health. Americans who have an underlying health condition are also more likely than those who do not to say they’ve taken their temperature to check if they might have COVID-19 (47% vs. 33% of those without a health condition).

Self-reports of an underlying health condition vary greatly by age. Among those ages 18 to 29, just 16% say they have a condition; this rises steadily with age to 56% among those 65 and older. Whites are a little more likely than blacks and Hispanics to report having a health condition, but both blacks (at 54%) and Hispanics (52%) are far more likely than whites (32%) to say that the coronavirus outbreak is “a major threat” to their health.





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.





CMS rolls back more Medicare, telehealth regs for providers working through pandemic



How Telemedicine Is Changing Healthcare

Dive Brief:

  • CMS issued a another round of sweeping regulatory rollbacks Thursday that will temporarily change how some providers care for patients and get compensated during the ongoing pandemic.
  • Practitioners such as therapists previously restricted from providing telehealth services for reimbursement can now do so, and CMS is also upping payments for telephone-only telehealth visits. Accountable care organizations also scored a major win in the Thursday rule drop, with CMS pledging they wouldn’t be dinged financially for lower-than-expected health outcomes in their patient populations from COVID-19.​
  • Other major changes are related to COVID-19 testing for Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries. A written practitioner’s order is no longer needed for diagnostic testing for Medicare payment purposes. The agency also said it will cover serology, or antibody testing, including certain FDA-authorized tests that patients self-collect at home.

Dive Insight:

The new rules come out of the recent public health emergency declaration, building on others announced in late March and early April. This round of changes, which take effect immediately, focuses on expanding testing capacity to help reopen the U.S. economy, according to CMS, along with delivering expanded care to seniors.

Major provider lobbies the American Hospital Association and American Medical Association praised the changes, noting that Medicare patients have been canceling needed medical appointments because of physical distancing and transportation challenges.

The Trump administration, which allowed traditional Medicare to temporarily cover telehealth in March, continues to expand virtual care access. CMS is expanding the types of specialists allowed to provide telehealth services for reimbursement to include physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech language pathologists and others. In the past, only doctors, nurse practitioners, physician assistants and certain others could do so.

Earlier changes included waiving the video requirement for telehealth patients without access to interactive audio-video technology – particularly those in rural areas. CMS is increasing payments for telephone visits from a range of about $14-$41 to about $46-$110, according to the release.

The rollbacks are a “major victory for medicine that will enable physicians to care for their patients, especially their elderly patients with chronic conditions who may not have access to audio-visual technology or high-speed Internet,” the AMA said.

Michael Abrams, managing partner of Numerof & Associates, a healthcare consulting firm, said the current, rapid adoption of telehealth is an experiment, and depending on the results, waivers could eventually become permanent.

“Once you increase pricing, you almost never roll it back,” Abrams said. “If this new pricing on telehealth visits makes it more attractive, attractive enough to substitute telehealth for in-office visits, that not only lowers the cost of care, but makes it very much more accessible, particularly for those whose ability to see a physician is limited.”

In a victory for ACOs, CMS said the value-based organizations wouldn’t incur any financial penalties because of COVID-19 testing and treatment for their patient populations. Roughly 60% of ACOs said previously they were likely to drop out of their risk-based model to avoid potential losses, according to the National Association of ACOs.

CMS is also allowing ACOs to remain at the same level of risk for another year, instead of bumping them up to the next risk level. NAACOs said it was “appreciative” of the changes in a statement, though they asked for additional relief for providers in two-sided risk arrangements.

Other loosened restrictions include those on who can administer COVID-19 diagnostic tests for payment to include any healthcare professional authorized to do so under state law, including pharmacists. Medicare and Medicaid recipients can now get tested at parking lot sites operated by pharmacies and other entities for reimbursement.

Outpatient hospital services such as wound care, drug administration, and behavioral health services can now be delivered in temporary expansion locations, including parking lot tents, converted hotels or patients’ homes for reimbursement, so long as they’re temporarily designated as part of a hospital.

Hospital outpatient departments that relocate off-campus are paid at lower rates under current law, but CMS is making a temporary exception to continue paying those physicians at their standard rates.

The agency will also pay for certain partial hospitalization services – that is, individual psychotherapy, patient education, and group psychotherapy – that are delivered in temporary expansion locations, including patient homes.

CMS is also now requiring nursing homes to inform residents, their families, and representatives of COVID-19 outbreaks in their facilities.




Coronavirus-wracked nursing home evacuated after most of staff failed to show for two days


Coronavirus-wracked California nursing home evacuated after staff ...

A California nursing home where dozens have tested positive for the novel coronavirus was forced to evacuate Wednesday after a majority of its staff failed to show up to work for the second consecutive day, according to public health officials.

People decked out in masks, gloves and protective gowns could be seen wheeling residents of the Magnolia Rehabilitation & Nursing Center in Riverside, Calif., one by one on stretchers to ambulances that would take them to other care facilities in the area.

“We have a large vulnerable population at any of our long-term-care facilities, and we want to make sure those people are taken care of,” he said.

Nursing homes and other long-term-care centers nationwide have been hit particularly hard by the coronavirus, which poses much higher risks to elderly people and those with underlying health conditions. In recent months, facilities have reported struggling to contain the spread of covid-19 among patients, with staff growing increasingly concerned about becoming exposed to the virus themselves due to shortages of personal protective equipment.

Riverside County officials say they do not yet know why many of Magnolia’s staff members stopped reporting for duty. As of Wednesday, Kaiser said his office had not received any complaints from the staff about working conditions at the 90-bed center, which bills itself as “one of the finest skilled nursing facilities in Riverside, California.”

But no matter how justified the reasoning may be, Kaiser said he is concerned that the employees’ actions “could rise to the level of abandonment.”

“Nationwide, all of our health-care workers are considered heroes, and they rightly are,” he said. “But implicit in that heroism is that people stay at their posts.”

Officials learned something was amiss Monday when they received a notice that the Riverside facility “had made a large staffing request for the next day which was considered an unusual event,” Kaiser said. The request came just days after testing confirmed an outbreak of covid-19 at the center.

Upon contacting the nursing home, Kaiser said he was informed that a “substantial portion” of employees had not come in for their shifts.

On Tuesday, only one certified nursing assistant out of the 13 scheduled to work showed up, which prompted facilities nearby to send more than 30 of their own nurses to the center, according to a news release from the county.

The staffing problem persisted into Wednesday morning, Kaiser said at the news conference, leaving him with no choice but to order the evacuation “to safeguard the well-being of the residents and ensure appropriate continuity of care.” According to the most recent figures, Riverside County has 1,179 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, with 32 reported deaths.

Bruce Barton, director of the county’s emergency management department, told reporters that Wednesday’s operation involved 53 ambulances as well as assistance from the fire department and police.

The Southern California county isn’t alone in its struggles to care for its vulnerable residents amid the pandemic.

Since the coronavirus reached the United States, reports of nursing homes and eldercare facilities becoming overwhelmed by outbreaks have surfaced regularly.

Last month, a senior-care center in New Jersey relocated all 94 of its residents following a covid-19 outbreak that also sickened several workers, causing critical staffing shortages. Meanwhile, the CEO of a company running several eldercare facilities in New York, the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak, started advising family members to take their loved ones home if possible, NBC News reported this month.

The Seattle Times reported Wednesday that at least 137 long-term-care facilities in Washington state had residents test positive for the virus. More than 200 deaths have been linked to them, according to the Times, about half the total fatalities in the state from covid-19.

On Wednesday, as patients from the Riverside center were still waiting to be transported, Barton issued a plea to health-care workers for assistance.

“We are in immediate need for help to care for our most vulnerable patients,” he said. “We will provide full PPE. We will pay you and provide malpractice. The facilities you work in will be clean. We have an amazing team that is working on this night and day. Please come join us.”