HP unveils advanced security for remote workers — and shows how to disinfect your laptop

HP unveils advanced security for remote workers — and shows how to disinfect your laptop

HP has unveiled advanced security for businesses and their remote workforces and disclosed an extensive guide to disinfecting your laptop and other computer equipment.

The new offerings include HP Pro Security Edition, HP Proactive Security, and HP Sure Click Enterprise. These are aimed at the security threats that evolve and disrupt business every day.

With the recent surge of remote workers — due to work-from-home rules forced upon us by COVID-19 — HP said we must all be aware of the increased risks of working from home. Over 80% of home office routers have been found to be vulnerable to potential cyberattacks.

Emails also pose a significant risk to organizations, with over 90% of PC infections originating from attachments and 96% of security  breaches not discovered until months later. There are 5 billion new threats per month, based on HP’s estimates.

“Our HP Pro Security Edition takes Sure Sense and Sure Click and bundles [them] with our system,” said Andy Rhodes, global head of commercial PCs, in a press briefing. “Endpoints are still an enormous risk — 90% of infections originate with emails. Every user is at risk here.”

HP Pro Security for small businesses.

With public health concerns over COVID-19 spreading worldwide, HP wants customers to have the information they need to effectively clean HP devices and maintain a healthy work environment.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends cleaning surfaces, followed by disinfection, as a best practice for the prevention of COVID-19 and other viral respiratory illnesses in households and community settings.

In fact, HP has issued its own whitepaper for cleaning your devices.

“We get asked [about] this every day,” said Rhodes. “If you use the wrong disinfectant, you can actually damage the product.”

A CDC-recommended disinfectant that is also within HP’s cleaning guidelines is an alcohol solution consisting of 70% isopropyl alcohol and 30% water.

The steps below use the CDC-recommended alcohol solution to clean high-touch, external surfaces on HP products:

  1. Wear disposable gloves made of latex (or nitrile gloves if you are latex-sensitive) when cleaning and disinfecting surfaces.
  2. Turn off the device and disconnect AC power (printers should be unplugged from the outlet). Remove batteries from items like wireless keyboards. Never clean a product while it is powered on or plugged in.
  3. Disconnect any external devices.
  4. Moisten a microfiber cloth with a mixture of 70% isopropyl alcohol and 30% water. Do not use fibrous materials, such as paper towels or toilet paper. The cloth should be moist, but not dripping wet. (Isopropyl alcohol is sold in most stores, usually in a 70% isopropyl alcohol/30% water solution. It may also be marketed as rubbing alcohol.)
  5. Do not spray any liquids directly onto your device.
  6. Gently wipe the moistened cloth on the surfaces to be cleaned. Do not allow any moisture to drip into areas like keyboards, display panels, or USB ports located on the printer control panels, as moisture entering the inside of an electronic product can cause extensive damage to the product.
  7. Start with the display or printer control panel (if applicable) and end with any flexible cables, like power, keyboard, and USB cables.
  8. When cleaning a display screen or printer control panel, carefully wipe in one direction, moving from the top of the display to the bottom.
  9. Ensure surfaces have completely air-dried before turning the device on after cleaning. No moisture should be visible on the surfaces of the product before it is powered on.
  10. After disinfecting, copier/scanner glass should be cleaned again using an office glass cleaner sprayed onto a clean rag to remove streaking. Streaking on the copier/scanner glass from the CDC-recommended cleaning solution could cause copy quality defects.
  11. Gloves should be discarded after each cleaning. Clean hands immediately after gloves are removed.

 

 

 

Immigrants on the front lines

https://www.axios.com/newsletters/axios-vitals-b46e0485-d208-4360-bcd9-4d992ec54d95.html?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=newsletter_axiosvitals&stream=top

Immigrants on the front lines in the coronavirus fight - Axios

 

New data provided to Axios spells out just how outsized a role immigrants play on the high- and low-skilled ends of the economy keeping Americans alive and fed during the coronavirus crisis, Axios’ Stef Kight reports.

By the numbers: Immigrants make up an estimated 17% of the overall U.S. workforce. But the analysis by New American Economy (NAE) shows they’re more than one in four doctors, nearly half the nation’s taxi drivers and chauffeurs and a clear majority of farm workers.

  • Reporting to work in hospitals, restaurant kitchens, cabs or the fields — for jobs deemed “essential” by the government — many documented and undocumented workers are putting themselves at higher risk of COVID-19 infections.

Be smart: The share of immigrants in some health care roles are higher in states that have been hit hardest by the virus.

  • More than a third of California nurses are immigrants, as well as 29% of nurses in New York and New Jersey, according to NAE data.

Between the lines: A large percentage of farm workers, who help maintain food supplies, are unauthorized immigrants, as the New York Times reported.

  • Immigrants make up a small percentage of delivery workers nationwide, but one-third of delivery workers in New York are unauthorized immigrants, NAE director of quantitative research Andrew Lim told Axios.
  • The $2 trillion aid package does not include assistance for unauthorized immigrants.

 

 

 

 

Why the U.S. doesn’t have more hospital beds

https://www.axios.com/coronavrus-hospital-beds-shortage-63d0e1c3-de4b-4199-834c-477403cfaf06.html

Why the U.S. doesn't have enough hospital beds to deal with the ...

The shortage of hospital beds in the U.S. didn’t happen by accident. It’s a result of both market pressures and public policy.

Why it matters: The bed shortage is one of many factors complicating America’s response to the new coronavirus. But if we want to have more beds and critical equipment on hand for the next pandemic, the government will need to make it happen — and pay for it.

By the numbers: The U.S. has 2.8 hospital beds per 1,000 people, far fewer than other developed countries.

How it happened: Health care resources, including hospital beds, are allocated mainly by market dynamics, not public-health blueprints.

  • Over the last 50 years, a great deal of care has shifted away from inpatient hospital settings and into outpatient services.
  • The motivation was to help control costs and improve the quality of care, while making it more convenient for patients.

Government also worked to directly cut the number of U.S. hospital beds, believing in a rule called Roemer’s Law, which said that “a hospital bed built would be a hospital bed filled,” driving up costs.

  • The push to reduce beds was embodied in a 1974 law that set up a health planning system in every state. A central objective was to get the U.S. below three hospital beds per 1,000 people, the level many think is now too low today.
  • And though it was repealed under President Ronald Reagan, the broader push to reduce capacity continued in many states.

The bottom line: If we want to have surge capacity of hospital beds and equipment in place for the next crisis, and if we don’t want to push health care costs higher, hospitals will need to acquire extra beds and then leave that surge capacity largely unused until the next crisis.

  • That means Congress would have to dictate that capacity by law, decide which hospitals to put it in, and fund it, while increasing the strategic stockpile of equipment like ventilators, masks and other protective equipment at the same time.

 

 

 

 

Grocery workers are keeping Americans alive during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here’s what they need.

Grocery workers are keeping Americans alive during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here’s what they need.

Grocery workers are keeping Americans alive during the COVID-19 ...

As worried Americans pack supermarket aisles in anticipation of quarantines and shelter-in-place orders, grocery workers like Courtney Meadows are working at a frantic pace to keep Americans fed and alive, and risking their own health in the process.

Meadows, a cashier at Kroger in Beckley, W.Va., said her store is the busiest she has seen it in 10 years on the job. “I have worked through snow scares, a blizzard, two derechos, holidays, anything that can impact a grocery store,” she told me. “This is the absolute worst I have seen it. It is a sea of people everywhere.”

Over the last week, I traveled to supermarkets across the Washington, D.C. region and interviewed workers from Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia and the District to hear—in their words—how COVID-19 is impacting them. These crowded stores I visited had few visible safeguards or protections for workers.

“We aren’t staying six feet away from the customers,” said Michelle Lee, a Safeway cashier in Alexandria, Va. “When we ring them up, they are like two feet away from us. We check out 200 customers a day. A doctor can wear a mask and protective gear. We don’t have all of that.”

Amber Stevens, a cashier at Shoppers in Prince George’s County, Md., expressed concern over social distancing as well. “I do still have a job to go to, but it isn’t helping me with social distancing because I am hands-on with customers,” she told me. “That is the scary part. Dealing with money, having to be so close to people.”

More than their own health, the grocery store employees I interviewed expressed the most concern about the safety of those around them: their loved ones at home, their elderly customers, their colleagues with underlying health conditions, and their neighbors in crowded apartment buildings. Several workers welled up with emotion as they described how hard it is to be unable to care for older relatives during the pandemic.

“All of that worry plus the stress of double the number of customers we normally have,” said Lisa Harris, a cashier at Kroger in Richmond, Va. “This isn’t just for one day. It is for weeks.”

As grocery workers put their lives on the line—often for low wages and few benefits—it is imperative that employers, policymakers, and even customers act with urgency to protect, support, and compensate them.

EMPLOYERS MUST KEEP GROCERY WORKERS HEALTHY

Employers need to implement immediate steps to reduce grocery workers’ exposure to COVID-19. First, employers should expand access to personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks and gloves and end any restrictions on workers wearing them. While supplies of protective masks and gloves are extremely limited across the country, employers and policymakers should prioritize PPE for grocery workers as they become available. Employers should provide adequate cleaning supplies and hand sanitizer, regular opportunities for workers to wash their hands, and frequent equipment cleaning.

Second, stores should shorten hours and limit the number of customers at any given time. While several stores—including Trader Joe’sWalmart, and Safeway—have limited store hours and introduced “senior only” hours, most stores are not following the CDC’s guidance of limiting gatherings to 50 people. Even tighter restrictions may be needed to keep workers safe as the virus spreads; for instance, some stores in China are checking customers’ temperatures before they enter the store.

Third, grocery stores should implement additional measures to protect workers and enforce safe spacing of customers. Albertsons, which owns Safeway and 19 other grocery chains, was the first major company to announce they will install plexiglass “sneeze-guard” barriers at checkouts in its 2,200 stores over the next two weeks. Walmart and Kroger have made similar commitments, and other grocery stores should follow.

Even in the absence of specific CDC guidelines for grocery workers, employers should act boldly and creatively to modify stores to keep workers safe, continuously adapt to evolving best practices, and respond to safety priorities identified by unions like the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), which represents over 1.2 million workers.

INCREASE COMPENSATION AND OFFER HAZARD PAY

The coronavirus pandemic has put a harsh spotlight on the low wages that grocery workers earn for their life-saving work. At Kroger, the country’s second-largest grocery chain with 453,000 workers, the average hourly wage of cashiers is just $9.94 per hour, according to estimates on Indeed.com.

Lisa Harris, a Kroger cashier, described the financial hardships she and her low-wage colleagues face: “I have coworkers who stand all day serving people, and then have to go pay for their own groceries with food stamps. I am very lucky that my boyfriend works in pizza because that is our survival food. If we can’t afford to buy food, he brings home a pizza.”

Even in “normal” times, grocery workers—like other service and low-wage workers—deserve better wages. In these extreme times, adequately compensating them is even more imperative. As grocery sales soar and their stock prices rise, employers should provide additional compensation and hazard pay to their workers on the front line.

“I think that some pay increase would be wonderful,” Kroger cashier Courtney Meadows told me. “I don’t think they understand the toll that comes through in our lives. They don’t see it. They don’t see the panic on people’s faces.”

In response to the pandemic, the two largest grocery employers, Kroger and Walmart, have offered workers one-time bonuses of $300. Responding to pressure from the UFCW, Safeway and Shoppers are now offering an additional $2 per hour of hazard pay, while Whole Foods and Target are also raising pay $2 per hour.

These pay increases are an important start, but they don’t go far enough. The raises should be permanent, and enough to provide a family-sustaining wage to workers.

ENSURE ACCESS TO HEALTH INSURANCE AND EXTEND PAID SICK LEAVE

Now more than ever, paid sick leave and health insurance are critical for grocery workers. Well before the COVID-19 pandemic, hundreds of thousands of grocery workers didn’t receive paid sick leave from their employers. Responding to public outrage and pressure from employees and unions, most large employers now have updated their sick leave policy to respond to COVID-19. However, their policies don’t go far enough: They are temporary, focus narrowly on COVID-19, and are insufficient to meet the needs of workers.

Companies including Safeway, Kroger, and Walmart are now offering 14 days paid sick leave for workers with a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis. But COVID-19 tests are in extremely short supply and many workers with suspected cases will be unable to get tested. Employers should modify paid leave policies to allow flexibility for ill workers to access the benefits even without a confirmed test, at least until testing is more widely available.

Policies should cover paid leave for grocery workers to care for their immediate family members or people they live with if they become ill. Employers should also compensate workers for any coronavirus-related medical bills that are not covered by their health insurance.

Employers should provide extra support to grocery workers who are especially high-risk, such as older workers and the immunocompromised. The most vulnerable workers may need to simply stay home during the pandemic and not work for weeks or months. Employers should do their part to ensure those workers have extended paid leave or other forms of adequate compensation and benefits, including health insurance.

CUSTOMERS CAN HELP KEEP GROCERY WORKERS SAFE

A major concern for the workers I interviewed was the actions of individual customers that could jeopardize their health. Many workers noted that customers continue to come to their store even when they are sick.

“Some customers will come through the line and cough or sneeze in their hand,” said Safeway cashier Michelle Lee. “If you are sick, you should stay home or cough in their elbow.”

Customers should do their part by keeping a safe distance from workers at checkout and throughout the store, practicing proper hygiene when coughing or sneezing, and staying home when ill.

RIGHT NOW, GROCERY WORKERS ARE EMERGENCY PERSONNEL

On March 15, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz made grocery store employees and food distribution personnel eligible for free child care by designating them as emergency workers. Four days later, Vermont’s Department of Public Safety added grocery workers to its list of essential personnel, giving them free child care at school-based centers set up by the state.

Other states should follow the lead of Minnesota and Vermont and designate grocery workers as emergency personnel, granting them the same protections and benefits as first responders and health workers.

If we had an opportunity to get free child care, people like me could go in,” Matt Milzman, a 29-year-old Safeway cashier in Washington, D.C. and father of two small children, told me. “They need all the people they can. I am low risk and healthy. I would much rather me work than someone who is older with a million health problems.”

Grocery workers are among the true heroes of the pandemic, providing basic necessities to keep Americans alive, but also human comfort for their customers during an anxious time.

“I choose to be happy and positive,” cashier Courtney Meadows told me. “If you can talk and make someone laugh, that might be the only positive thing in their life that day. That is what I choose to do.”

We owe them not only our gratitude, but the protection, support, and compensation they deserve.

 

 

 

Hospitals consider universal do-not-resuscitate orders for coronavirus patients

https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2020/03/25/coronavirus-patients-do-not-resucitate/?utm_campaign=wp_post_most&utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&wpisrc=nl_most

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Worry that ‘all hands’ responses may expose doctors and nurses to infection prompts debate about prioritizing the survival of the many over the one.

Hospitals on the front lines of the pandemic are engaged in a heated private debate over a calculation few have encountered in their lifetimes — how to weigh the “save at all costs” approach to resuscitating a dying patient against the real danger of exposing doctors and nurses to the contagion of coronavirus.

The conversations are driven by the realization that the risk to staff amid dwindling stores of protective equipment — such as masks, gowns and gloves — may be too great to justify the conventional response when a patient “codes,” and their heart or breathing stops.

Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago has been discussing a do-not-resuscitate policy for infected patients, regardless of the wishes of the patient or their family members — a wrenching decision to prioritize the lives of the many over the one.

Richard Wunderink, one of Northwestern’s intensive-care medical directors, said hospital administrators would have to ask Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker for help in clarifying state law and whether it permits the policy shift.

“It’s a major concern for everyone,” he said. “This is something about which we have had lots of communication with families, and I think they are very aware of the grave circumstances.”

Officials at George Washington University Hospital in the District say they have had similar conversations, but for now will continue to resuscitate covid-19 patients using modified procedures, such as putting plastic sheeting over the patient to create a barrier. The University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle, one of the country’s major hot spots for infections, is dealing with the problem by severely limiting the number of responders to a contagious patient in cardiac or respiratory arrest.

Several large hospital systems — Atrium Health in the Carolinas, Geisinger in Pennsylvania and regional Kaiser Permanente networks — are looking at guidelines that would allow doctors to override the wishes of the coronavirus patient or family members on a case-by-case basis due to the risk to doctors and nurses, or a shortage of protective equipment, say ethicists and doctors involved in those conversations. But they would stop short of imposing a do-not-resuscitate order on every coronavirus patient. The companies declined to comment.

Lewis Kaplan, president of the Society of Critical Care Medicine and a University of Pennsylvania surgeon, described how colleagues at different institutions are sharing draft policies to address their changed reality.

“We are now on crisis footing,” he said. “What you take as first-come, first-served, no-holds-barred, everything-that-is-available-should-be-applied medicine is not where we are. We are now facing some difficult choices in how we apply medical resources — including staff.”

The new protocols are part of a larger rationing of lifesaving procedures and equipment — including ventilators — that is quickly becoming a reality here as in other parts of the world battling the virus. The concerns are not just about health-care workers getting sick but also about them potentially carrying the virus to other patients in the hospital.

R. Alta Charo, a University of Wisconsin-Madison bioethicist, said that while the idea of withholding treatments may be unsettling, especially in a country as wealthy as ours, it is pragmatic. “It doesn’t help anybody if our doctors and nurses are felled by this virus and not able to care for us,” she said. “The code process is one that puts them at an enhanced risk.”

Wunderink said all of the most critically ill patients in the 12 days since they had their first coronavirus case have experienced steady declines rather than a sudden crash. That allowed medical staff to talk with families about the risk to workers and how having to put on protective gear delays a response and decreases the chance of saving someone’s life.

A consequence of those conversations, he said, is that many family members are making the difficult choice to sign do-not-resuscitate orders.

Code blue

Health-care providers are bound by oath — and in some states, by law — to do everything they can within the bounds of modern technology to save a patient’s life, absent an order, such as a DNR, to do otherwise. But as cases mount amid a national shortage of personal protective equipment, or PPE, hospitals are beginning to implement emergency measures that will either minimize, modify or completely stop the use of certain procedures on patients with covid-19.

Some of the most anxiety-provoking minutes in a health-care worker’s day involve participating in procedures that send virus-laced droplets from a patient’s airways all over the room.

These include endoscopies, bronchoscopies and other procedures in which tubes or cameras are sent down the throat and are routine in ICUs to look for bleeds or examine the inside of the lungs.

Changing or eliminating those protocols is likely to decrease some patients’ chances for survival. But hospital administrators and doctors say the measures are necessary to save the most lives.

The most extreme of these situations is when a patient, in hospital lingo, “codes.”

When a code blue alarm is activated, it signals that a patient has gone into cardiopulmonary arrest and typically all available personnel — usually somewhere around eight but sometimes as many as 30 people — rush into the room to begin live-saving procedures without which the person would almost certainly perish.

“It’s extremely dangerous in terms of infection risk because it involves multiple bodily fluids,” explained one ICU physician in the Midwest, who did not want her name used because she was not authorized to speak by her hospital.

Fred Wyese, an ICU nurse in Muskegon, Mich., describes it like a storm:

A team of nurses and doctors, trading off every two minutes, begin the chest compressions that are part of cardiopulmonary resuscitation or CPR. Someone punctures the neck and arms to access blood vessels to put in new intravenous lines. Someone else grabs a “crash cart” stocked with a variety of lifesaving medications and equipment ranging from epinephrine injectors to a defibrillator to restart the heart.

As soon as possible, a breathing tube will be placed down the throat and the person will be hooked up to a mechanical ventilator. Even in the best of times, a patient who is coding presents an ethical maze; there’s often no clear cut answer for when there’s still hope and when it’s too late.

In the process, heaps of protective equipment is used — often many dozens of gloves, gowns, masks, and more.

Bruno Petinaux, chief medical officer at George Washington University Hospital, said the hospital has had a lot of discussion about how — and whether — to resuscitate covid-19 patients who are coding.

“From a safety perspective you can make the argument that the safest thing is to do nothing,” he said. “I don’t believe that is necessarily the right approach. So we have decided not to go in that direction. What we are doing is what can be done safely.”

However, he said, the decision comes down to a hospital’s resources and “every hospital has to assess and evaluate for themselves.” It’s still early in the outbreak in the Washington area, and GW still has sufficient equipment and manpower. Petinaux said he cannot rule out a change in protocol if things get worse.

GW’s procedure for responding to coronavirus patients who are coding includes using a machine called a Lucas device, which looks like a bumper, to deliver chest compressions. But the hospital has only two. If the Lucas devices are not readily accessible, doctors and nurses have been told to drape plastic sheeting — the 7-mil kind available at Home Depot or Lowe’s — over the patient’s body to minimize the spread of droplets and then proceed with chest compressions. Because the patient would presumably be on a ventilator, there is no risk of suffocation.

In Washington state which had the nation’s first covid-19 cases, UW Medicine’s chief medical officer, Tim Dellit, said the decision to send in fewer doctors and nurses to help a coding patient is about “minimizing use of PPE as we go into the surge.” He said the hospital is monitoring health-care workers’ health closely. So far, the percentage of infections among those tested is less than in the general population, which, he hopes, means their precautions are working.

‘It is a nightmare’

Bioethicist Scott Halpern at the University of Pennsylvania is the author of one widely circulated model guideline being considered by many hospitals. In an interview, he said a blanket stop to resuscitations for infected patients is too “draconian” and may end up sacrificing a young person who is otherwise in good health. However, health-care workers and limited protective equipment cannot be ignored.

“If we risk their well-being in service of one patient, we detract from the care of future patients, which is unfair,” he said.

Halpern’s document calls for two physicians, the one directly taking care of a patient and one who is not, to sign off on do-not-resuscitate orders. They must document the reason for the decision, and the family must be informed but does not have to agree.

Wyese, the Michigan ICU nurse, said his own hospital has been thinking about these issues for years but still is unprepared.

“They made us do all kinds of mandatory education and fittings and made it sound like they are prepared,” he said. “But when it hits the fan, they don’t have the supplies so the plans they had in place aren’t working.”

Over the weekend, Wyese said, a suspected covid-19 patient was rushed in and put into a negative pressure room to prevent the virus spread. In normal times, a nurse in full hazmat-type gear would sit with the patient to care for him, but there was little equipment to spare. So Wyese had to monitor him from the outside. Before he walked inside, he said, he would have to put on a face shield, N95 mask, and other equipment and slather antibacterial foam on his bald head as the hospital did not have any more head coverings. Only one powered air-purifying respirator or PAPR was available for the room and others nearby that could be used when performing an invasive procedure — but it was 150 feet away.

While he said his hospital’s policy still called for a full response to patients whose heart or breathing stopped, he worried any efforts would be challenging, if not futile.

“By the time you get all gowned up and double-gloved the patient is going to be dead,” he said. “We are going to be coding dead people. It is a nightmare.”

 

 

 

 

BANKS PRESSURE HEALTH CARE FIRMS TO RAISE PRICES ON CRITICAL DRUGS, MEDICAL SUPPLIES FOR CORONAVIRUS

https://theintercept.com/2020/03/19/coronavirus-vaccine-medical-supplies-price-gouging/

Image result for BANKS PRESSURE HEALTH CARE FIRMS TO RAISE PRICES ON CRITICAL DRUGS, MEDICAL SUPPLIES FOR CORONAVIRUS

IN RECENT WEEKS, investment bankers have pressed health care companies on the front lines of fighting the novel coronavirus, including drug firms developing experimental treatments and medical supply firms, to consider ways that they can profit from the crisis.

The media has mostly focused on individuals who have taken advantage of the market for now-scarce medical and hygiene supplies to hoard masks and hand sanitizer and resell them at higher prices. But the largest voices in the health care industry stand to gain from billions of dollars in emergency spending on the pandemic, as do the bankers and investors who invest in health care companies.

Over the past few weeks, investment bankers have been candid on investor calls and during health care conferences about the opportunity to raise drug prices. In some cases, bankers received sharp rebukes from health care executives; in others, executives joked about using the attention on Covid-19 to dodge public pressure on the opioid crisis.

Gilead Sciences, the company producing remdesivir, the most promising drug to treat Covid-19 symptoms, is one such firm facing investor pressure.

Remdesivir is an antiviral that began development as a treatment for dengue, West Nile virus, and Zika, as well as MERS and SARS. The World Health Organization has said there is “only one drug right now that we think may have real efficacy in treating coronavirus symptoms” — namely, remdesivir.

The drug, though developed in partnership with the University of Alabama through a grant from the federal government’s National Institutes of Health, is patented by Gilead Sciences, a major pharmaceutical company based in California. The firm has faced sharp criticism in the past for its pricing practices. It previously charged $84,000 for a yearlong supply of its hepatitis C treatment, which was also developed with government research support. Remdesivir is estimated to produce a one-time revenue of $2.5 billion.

During an investor conference earlier this month, Phil Nadeau, managing director at investment bank Cowen & Co., quizzed Gilead Science executives over whether the firm had planned for a “commercial strategy for remdesivir” or could “create a business out of remdesivir.”

Johanna Mercier, executive vice president of Gilead, noted that the company is currently donating products and “manufacturing at risk and increasing our capacity” to do its best to find a solution to the pandemic. The company at the moment is focused, she said, primarily on “patient access” and “government access” for remdesivir.

“Commercial opportunity,” Mercier added, “might come if this becomes a seasonal disease or stockpiling comes into play, but that’s much later down the line.”

Steven Valiquette, a managing director at Barclays Investment Bank, last week peppered executives from Cardinal Health, a health care distributor of N95 masks, ventilators and pharmaceuticals, on whether the company would raise prices on a range of supplies.

Valiquette asked repeatedly about potential price increases on a variety of products. Could the company, he asked, “offset some of the risk of volume shortages” on the “pricing side”?

Michael Kaufmann, the chief executive of Cardinal Health, said that “so far, we’ve not seen any material price increases that I would say are related to the coronavirus yet.” Cardinal Health, Kaufman said, would weigh a variety of factors when making these decisions, and added that the company is “always going to fight aggressively to make sure that we’re getting after the lowest cost.”

“Are you able to raise the price on some of this to offset what could be some volume shortages such that it all kind of nets out to be fairly consistent as far as your overall profit matrix?” asked Valiquette.

Kaufman responded that price decisions would depend on contracts with providers, though the firm has greater flexibility over some drug sales. “As you have changes on the cost side, you’re able to make some adjustments,” he noted.

The discussion, over conference call, occurred during the Barclays Global Healthcare Conference on March 10. At one point, Valiquette joked that “one positive” about the coronavirus would be a “silver lining” that Cardinal Health may receive “less questions” about opioid-related lawsuits.

Cardinal Health is one of several firms accused of ignoring warnings and flooding pharmacies known as so-called pill mills with shipments of millions of highly addictive painkillers. Kaufmann noted that negotiations for a settlement are ongoing.

Owens & Minor, a health care logistics company that sources and manufactures surgical gowns, N95 masks, and other medical equipment, presented at the Barclays Global Healthcare Conference the following day.

Valiquette, citing the Covid-19 crisis, asked the company whether it could “increase prices on some of the products where there’s greater demand.” Valiquette then chuckled, adding that doing so “is probably not politically all that great in the sort of dynamic,” but said he was “curious to get some thoughts” on whether the firm would consider hiking prices.

The inquiry was sharply rebuked by Owens & Minor chief executive Edward Pesicka. “I think in a crisis like this, our mission is really around serving the customer. And from an integrity standpoint, we have pricing agreements,” Pesicka said. “So we are not going to go out and leverage this and try to ‘jam up’ customers and raise prices to have short-term benefit.”

AmerisourceBergen, another health care distributor that supplies similar products to Cardinal Health, which is also a defendant in the multistate opioid litigation, faced similar questions from Valiquette at the Barclays event.

Steve Collis, president and chief executive of AmerisourceBergen, noted that his company has been actively involved in efforts to push back against political demands to limit the price of pharmaceutical products.

Collis said that he was recently at a dinner with other pharmaceutical firms involved with developing “vaccines for the coronavirus” and was reminded that the U.S. firms, operating under limited drug price intervention, were among the industry leaders — a claim that has been disputed by experts who note that lack of regulation in the drug industry has led to few investments in viral treatments, which are seen as less lucrative. Leading firms developing a vaccine for Covid-19 are based in Germany, China, and Japan, countries with high levels of government influence in the pharmaceutical industry.

AmerisourceBergen, Collis continued, has been “very active with key stakeholders in D.C., and our priority is to educate policymakers about the impact of policy changes,” with a focus on “rational and responsible discussion about drug pricing.”

Later in the conversation, Valiquette asked AmerisourceBergen about the opioid litigation. The lawsuits could cost as much as $150 billion among the various pharmaceutical and drug distributor defendants. Purdue Pharma, one of the firms targeted with the opioid litigation, has already pursued bankruptcy protection in response to the lawsuit threat.

“We can’t say too much,” Collis responded. But the executive hinted that his company is using its crucial role in responding to the pandemic crisis as leverage in the settlement negotiations. “I would say that this crisis, the coronavirus crisis, actually highlights a lot of what we’ve been saying, how important it is for us to be very strong financial companies and to have strong cash flow ability to invest in our business and to continue to grow our business and our relationship with our customers,” Collis said.

The hope that the coronavirus will benefit firms involved in the opioid crisis has already materialized in some ways. New York Attorney General Letitia James announced last week that her lawsuit against opioid firms and distributors, including Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen, set to begin on March 20, would be delayed over coronavirus concerns.

MARKET PRESSURE has encouraged large health care firms to spend billions of dollars on stock buybacks and lobbying, rather than research and development. Barclays declined to comment, and Cowen & Co. did not respond to a request for comment.

The fallout over the coronavirus could pose potential risks for for-profit health care operators. In Spain, the government seized control of private health care providers, including privately run hospitals, to manage the demand for treatment for patients with Covid-19.

But pharmaceutical interests in the U.S. have a large degree of political power. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar previously served as president of the U.S. division of drug giant Eli Lilly and on the board of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization, a drug lobby group.

During a congressional hearing last month, Azar rejected the notion that any vaccine or treatment for Covid-19 should be set at an affordable price. “We would want to ensure that we work to make it affordable, but we can’t control that price because we need the private sector to invest,” said Azar. “The priority is to get vaccines and therapeutics. Price controls won’t get us there.”

The initial $8.3 billion coronavirus spending bill passed in early March to provide financial support for research into vaccines and other drug treatments contained a provision that prevents the government from delaying the introduction of any new pharmaceutical to address the crisis over affordability concerns. The legislative text was shaped, according to reports, by industry lobbyists.

As The Intercept previously reported, Joe Grogan, a key White House domestic policy adviser now serving on Donald Trump’s Coronavirus Task Force, previously served as a lobbyist for Gilead Sciences.

“Notwithstanding the pressure they may feel from the markets, corporate CEOs have large amounts of discretion and in this case, they should be very mindful of price gouging, they’re going to be facing a lot more than reputational hits,” said Robert Weissman, president of public interest watchdog Public Citizen, in an interview with The Intercept.

“There will be a backlash that will both prevent their profiteering, but also may push to more structural limitations on their monopolies and authority moving forward,” Weissman said.

Weissman’s group supports an effort led by Rep. Andy Levin, D-Mich., who has called on the government to invoke the Defense Production Act to scale up domestic manufacturing of health care supplies.

There are other steps the government can take, Weissman added, to prevent price gouging.

“The Gilead product is patent-protected and monopoly-protected, but the government has a big claim over that product because of the investment it’s made,” said Weissman.

“The government has special authority to have generic competition for products it helped fund and prevent nonexclusive licensing for products it helped fund,” Weissman continued. “Even for products that have no connection to government funding, the government has the ability to force licensing for generic competition for its own acquisition and purchases.”

Drug companies often eschew vaccine development because of the limited profit potential for a one-time treatment. Testing kit companies and other medical supply firms have few market incentives for domestic production, especially scaling up an entire factory for short-term use. Instead, Levin and Weissman have argued, the government should take direct control of producing the necessary medical supplies and generic drug production.

Last Friday, Levin circulated a letter signed by other House Democrats that called for the government to take charge in producing ventilators, N95 respirators, and other critical supplies facing shortages.

The once inconceivable policy was endorsed on Wednesday when Trump unveiled a plan to invoke the Defense Production Act to compel private firms to produce needed supplies during the crisis. The law, notably, allows the president to set a price ceiling for critical goods used in an emergency.

 

 

 

 

Seattle Coronavirus Care: Short in Staff, Supplies and Space

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At ground zero of America’s coronavirus outbreak, Seattle is overwhelmed by patients needing care. Social distancing and persistent hand washing is no longer enough. “The next step is to start thinking about alternate care systems.”

Amid the first signs that the novel coronavirus was spreading in the Seattle area, a senior officer at the University of Washington Medical Center sent an urgent note to staffers.

“We are currently exceptionally full and are experiencing some challenges with staffing,” Tom Staiger, UW Medical Center’s medical director, wrote on Feb. 29. He asked hospital staff to “expedite appropriate discharges asap,” reflecting the need for more beds.

That same day, health officials announced King County’s — and the nation’s — first death from the coronavirus. Now as cases of virus-stricken patients suffering from COVID-19 multiply, government and hospital officials are facing the real-life consequences of shortcomings they’ve documented on paper for years.

Medical supplies have run low. Administrators are searching for ways to expand hospital bed capacity. Health care workers are being asked to work extra shifts as their peers self-isolate.

And researchers this week made stark predictions for COVID-19’s impact on King and Snohomish counties, estimating 400 deaths and some 25,000 infections by April 7 without social-distancing measures.

“If you start doing that math in your head, based on every person who was infected infecting two other people, you can see every week you have a doubling in the number of new cases,” state health oficer Dr. Kathy Lofy said.

Hand-washing, staying home from work and other measures were no longer enough to sufficiently slow the virus, Lofy said.

Hospital administrators are rapidly changing protocols as the outbreak stresses the system, while frontline health care workers are beginning to feel the effects of disruptions to daily life. UW Medicine on Thursday told employees it would begin postponing elective procedures, beginning March 16.

“We’ve seen what has happened in other countries where they’ve had really rapid spread. The health care system has become overwhelmed,” Lofy said. “We want to do everything we can to prevent that from happening here.”

“We’re Always Full”

King and Snohomish counties offer some 4,900 staffed hospital beds, of which about 940 are used for critical care, according to the researchers — with the Institute for Disease Modeling, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center — who modeled the outbreak’s potential growth. “… This capacity may quickly be filled,” they wrote.

Some of Seattle’s largest hospitals were already near capacity before the outbreak. Harborview Medical Center in downtown Seattle operated at 95 percent of its capacity in 2019, based on its licensed 413 beds and the days of patient care it reported to the Department of Health.

Of 81 hospitals that reported data for all of 2019, excluding psychiatric hospitals, the median hospital operated at 50 percent of its licensed capacity, according to a Seattle Times analysis. Many hospitals staff fewer beds than the maximum their license allows for, so the actual occupancy rate is likely higher.

Katharine Liang, a psychiatry resident physician who works rotations for Seattle-area hospitals, said requests for UW Medicine staffers to discharge patients in a timely fashion are not uncommon as administrators seek extra beds.

“The safety net hospitals, we’re always full,” Liang said, referring to medical centers that care for patients without insurance or means to pay.

Susan Gregg, a spokeswoman for UW Medicine, which operates UW Medical Center, Harborview Medical Center, Valley Medical Center and Northwest Hospital, said that each hospital had a surge-capacity plan being adapted for the outbreak.

“Our daily planning sessions monitor our available beds, supply usage and human resources,” Gregg said in a statement.

While Washington state has a robust system for detecting and monitoring infectious diseases, it has struggled to build the capacity to respond to emergencies like the coronavirus outbreak, according to a review of public data and interviews.

On a per-person basis, the state lags most others in nurses and hospital rooms designed to isolate patients with infectious, airborne diseases, according to a nationwide index of health-security measures.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention launched this initiative — called the National Health Security Preparedness Index — in 2013 to comprehensively evaluate the nation’s readiness for public health emergencies.

The state’s greatest strength, according to the index, is in its ability to detect public-health threats and contain them — scoring 8.5 points out of a possible 10, above the national average.

“It’s a leading state now in terms of how testing capabilities are playing out” for COVID-19, said Glen Mays, a professor at the Colorado School of Public Health who directs the index work.

With the scope of the outbreak becoming clear, the focus is turning to an area that is the state’s weakest on the index: providing access to medical care during emergencies.

When it comes to nurses per 100,000 people, Washington state ranked near the bottom — 46th among states and the District of Columbia — in 2018. It ranked 43rd nationally in the number of hospital isolation rooms — commonly referred to as “negative pressure” rooms, which draw in air to prevent an airborne disease from spreading — per 100,000 people and in neighboring states.

“It’s an area of concern,” Mays said of the state’s health care delivery capacity.

This vulnerability is well known to state policymakers. John Wiesman, Washington state’s health secretary, serves on the national advisory committee of the index and has championed its use as a tool for improvement, Mays said. He recalled Washington seeking lessons from other states that have been more successful and building a “medical reserve corps,” another area where the state has lagged.

The state scored 2.5 points for managing volunteers in an emergency in 2013. In 2018, it had improved to just 2.6.

Health Workers Strained

Less than a week after diagnosed cases of COVID-19 grew rapidly in the Seattle area, administrators at several area hospitals had to hunt for additional medical supplies and called for rationing. They also established fast-shifting isolation policies for sick or potentially exposed staffers.

“Hospitals are being very vigilant. If you have the slightest signs of illness, don’t come to work,” said Alexander Adami, a UW Medicine resident, on Monday.

On March 6, UW Medicine directed employees who tested positive for COVID-19, the illness caused by coronavirus, to remain isolated at home for a minimum of seven days after symptoms developed, according to internal UW documents. Hospital workers told workers with symptoms who hadn’t been tested to remain isolated until they were three days without symptoms. Those who tested negative, or had influenza, could return after 24 hours.

Quarantines for sick workers means others must backfill.

“Programs are having to pull residents in other blocks in other hospitals and other clinics to fill gaps,” Adami said. “There simply aren’t enough people.”

School closures further complicate staffing.

Liang, the resident physician who works rotations for several area hospitals, said she had been pulled into an expanded backup pool on short notice to cover shifts.

Liang is the mother of a 1-year-old. On Wednesday, her family’s day care closed, as it typically does when Seattle schools close. Gov. Jay Inslee has ordered all schools in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties to close until late April.

“I’m not really sure what we’re going to do going forward,” Liang said. “My demands at home are increasing, and now, at the same time because of the same problem, my demands at the hospital are increasing as well.”

Adami, a second-year internal medicine resident, said residents were used to taxing hours, and demands had not been much more excessive than usual, but he remained concerned for the future.

“I would be worried about: We eventually get to the point where there are so many health care workers who become sick we have to accept things like saying, All right: Do you have a fever? No? Take a mask and keep working, because there are people to care for,” he said.

One sign of demand: Some hospitals are asking workers at greater risk of COVID-19 to continue in their roles, even after public health officials encouraged people in these at-risk groups among the broader public to stay home.

Staff over the age of 60 “should continue to work per their regular schedules,” a UW Medicine policy statement said. People who are pregnant, immunocompromised or over 60 and with underlying health conditions were “invited to talk to their team leader or manager about any concerns,” noting that hospital workers’ personal protective equipment would minimize exposure risks.

A registered nurse at Swedish First Hill who is over 60 and who has a history of cardiac issues said she told a manager last week of her concern about working with potential or confirmed COVID-19 patients.

She said a manager adjusted her schedule for an initial shift, but couldn’t guarantee that she would be excused from caring for these patients.

Hours later, the nurse said she suffered a cardiac event and was later admitted to another hospital with a stress-induced cardiomyopathy. The nurse did not want to be named for fear of reprisal by Swedish.

“I’m afraid for my life to work in there,” the nurse said. “I don’t think we’re being adequately protected.”

The nurse is now on medical leave.

In a statement, Swedish said it could not comment on an individual caregiver’s specific circumstances, but that employees at a higher risk are able to request reassignment and if it can not be accommodated, they can take a leave of absence.

“Providing a safe environment for our caregivers and patients is always our top priority, but especially during the current COVID-19 outbreak,” according to the statement.

Anne Piazza, senior director of strategic initiatives for the the Washington State Nurses Association said she had heard from a “flood” of nurses with similar concerns.

Additionally, “we are seeing increased demand for nurse staffing and that we do have reports of nurses being required to work mandatory overtime.”

Wuhan was Overwhelmed

China might provide an example of what could happen to the U.S. hospital system if the pace of transmission escalates, according to unpublished work from researchers with Johns Hopkins University, Harvard University and other institutions.

In Wuhan, the people seeking care for COVID-19 symptoms quickly outpaced local hospitals’ ability to keep up, the researchers found. Even after the city went on lockdown in late January, the number of people needing care continued to rise.

Between Jan. 10 and the end of February, physicians served an average of 637 intensive-care unit patients and more than 3,450 patients in serious condition each day.

But by the epidemic’s peak, nearly 20,000 people were hospitalized on any given day. In response, two new hospitals were built to exclusively serve COVID-19 patients; in all, officials dedicated more than 26,000 beds at 48 hospitals for people with the virus. An additional 13,000 beds at quarantine centers were set aside for patients with mild symptoms.

The researchers analyzed what might happen if a Wuhan-like outbreak happened here.

“Our critical-care resources would be overwhelmed,” said Caitlin Rivers, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security who helped lead the study.

“The lesson here, though, is we have an opportunity to learn from their experience and to intervene before it gets to that point.”

Preparing For The Worst

Hospital administrators are stretching to make the most of their staff, avoid burnout and find space for patients flooding into hospitals.

As of Thursday afternoon, there hadn’t been an unusual uptick in hospitals asking emergency responders to divert patients elsewhere, according to Beth Zborowski, a spokeswoman for the Washington State Hospital Association.

Zborowski said administrators are getting creative to deal with shortages of supplies, staff and space, such as potentially hiring temporary workers.

The state is trying to reduce regulations to help scale up staffing.

The state health department’s Nursing Commission said last Friday it would give “top priority” to reviewing applications for temporary practice permits for nurses to help during the COVID-19 crisis.

After the governor’s emergency proclamation, the Department of Health also said it was allowing volunteer out-of-state health practitioners who are licensed elsewhere to practice without a Washington license.

All the doctors with UW Medicine have been trained, or are being trained on how to care for patients via telemedicine. The number of people using the service has increased tenfold since public health officials urged patients to not visit emergency rooms or visit clinics for minor issues, said Dr. John Scott, director of digital health at UW Medicine.

Some hospitals are creating wards for COVID-19 patients. EvergreenHealth, in Kirkland, converted its 8th floor for the use of these patients.

King County officials last week purchased a motel, which could allow patients to recover outside a clinical setting and free up beds.

“These are places for people to recover and convalesce who are not at grave medical risk, and therefore do not need to be in a hospital,” said Alex Fryer, spokesperson for King County Executive Dow Constantine.

Supply problems are ongoing, even after the federal government fulfilled a first shipment that included tens of thousands of N95 respirator masks, surgical masks and disposable gowns from a federal stockpile.

Piazza said the nursing association continues to receive reports that members at area hospitals are being asked to reuse or share personal protective equipment, wear only one mask a shift or conserve masks for use exclusively with COVID-19 confirmed patients.

“We need to address the safety of frontline caregivers,” Piazza said.

State officials placed a second order for supplies last weekend.

Casey Katims, director of federal affairs for Inslee, said three trucks of medical supplies from the federal stockpile arrived Thursday morning, including 129,380 N-95 respirators; 308,206 surgical masks; 58,688 face shields; 47,850 surgical gowns; and 170,376 glove pairs.

If the measures taken now aren’t enough, state officials have contingency plans they’ve been working on “for a while now,” said Lofy, the state health officer.

“The next step is to start thinking about alternate care systems or alternate care facilities. These are facilities that could potentially be used outside the clinic or the health care system walls.”