COVID-19 Roundup: 21 Passengers on Calif. Cruise Ship Test Positive

March 7, 2020

Twenty-one people aboard a cruise ship carrying more than 3500 people off the California coast tested positive for the new coronavirus, but only 46 people overall have been tested, and federal officials are trying to bring the ship to a non-commercial port. COVID-19 (which stands for coronavirus disease 2019) passed a global milestone; SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the disease, has infected more than 100,000 worldwide.

Twenty-one people aboard a cruise ship carrying more than 3500 people off the California coast tested positive for the new coronavirus, The Associated Press reported Friday. Vice President Mike Pence said 19 of the 21 are crew members, and that federal officials are working to bring the ship to a non-commercial port. So far, only 46 people have been tested.

COVID-19 (which stands for coronavirus disease 2019) passed a global milestone; SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the disease, has infected more than 100,000 worldwide. It also appeared in at least 4 new countries and additional US states.

Amid the spread, 2 more medical meetings canceled annual events: AHIP canceled its National Health Policy Conference and National Conference on the Individual and Small Group Market, planned for March 18-20 in Washington, DC, and the American College of Healthcare Executives also canceled, noting that many of its members are from organizations that have banned travel, or they are busy managing the situation in their institutions.

“The health and safety of our conference speakers, attendees, and staff come first,” said Matt Eyles, AHIP’s president and chief executive officer.

Also Friday, President Donald Trump signed a $8.3 billion bill to fight COVID-19; the bill passed Congress this week.

In related stories Friday:

Fauci: Goal Is to Have at Least 1 Million Test Kits Over the Next Week

Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaking on a JAMA webcast, said the CDC had a “misstep” because there were there were technical issues with developing a diagnostic COVID-19 test. Now that private companies are involved in test development, he said the goal is to have a million or more tests available over the next week or two.

The Atlantic: Real Capacity for Testing in the US Not Known

The Atlantic reported that local officials across the country can still test only several thousand people a day, not the tens or hundreds of thousands indicated by the White House, and that capacity varies from state to state. After contacting all 50 states and conducting dozens of interviews, the publication could only verify that 1895 people have been tested for the coronavirus, about 10%, far below what other countries have been able to achieve.

Are Hospitals Ready for Tough Decisions in a Pandemic?

Kaiser Health News reports that while 36 states have drawn up plans for “crisis standards of care”—which are intended to guide already overburdened healthcare systems about how to make tough triage decisions in the midst of a public health crisis like a pandemic, many lack implementation details or were cut and pasted from national recommendations. And some states have done much of the needed prep work, but haven’t released them as plans.

CMS Releases FAQs About COVID-19 Billing

CMS issued frequently asked questions and answers (FAQs) for healthcare providers regarding Medicare payment for laboratory tests and other services related to the virus. The FAQ includes guidance on how to bill and receive payment for testing patients at risk of COVID-19; Medicare payment policy details for laboratory and diagnostic services, drugs and vaccines under Medicare Part B, ambulance services, and other medical services; and information on billing for telehealth or in-home provider services.

3 Biogen Employees Affected

MedCity News reports that 3 Biogen employees tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 after a Boston meeting, though they are said to be recovering and doing well.

Cigna: No Drug Shortages Yet at ExpressScripts

Cigna, owner of ExpressScripts, told Managed Healthcare Executive it has not seen any drug shortages as a result of the virus

In Thursday's developments:

As the busy spring medical conference season begins, some meetings began to cancel while others were taking a wait-and-see approach. Among those canceling Thursday: the 2020 HIMSS Global Health Conference & Exhibition, which was slated to feature a speech from President Donald Trump next week in Orlando, Florida, and the NCCN 2020 Annual Conference, also in Orlando.

The cancellations came a day after the World Health Organization said the virus likely has a 3.4% death rate. Given that the healthcare personnel might be needed at their institutions plus the rapidly changing circumstances, some organizers are deciding now is not the time to convene large gatherings of providers, many of whom work with at-risk populations.

Senate Passes $8.9 Billion Coronavirus Spending Package

The Senate passed an $8.3 billion spending bill Thursday aimed at controlling the spread of the coronavirus. Reuters reported that the package, passed by the House of Representatives Wednesday in a 415-2 vote, includes over $3 billion for research and development of vaccines, test kits, and medical treatments. Another $2.2 billion would aid public health activities on prevention, preparedness, and response to outbreaks, and $1.25 billion is aimed at international efforts to control the spread of the virus.

AHIP's Board of Directors Says Insurers Will Cover Cost of Testing, Ease Other Restrictions

AHIP said when ordered by a doctor, their members (among them Aetna, Cigna, Humana, and Anthem) will cover diagnostic testing when ordered by a physician. The statement said payers will also ease network, referral, and prior authorization requirements and/or waive patient cost sharing, and provide continuous patient access to regular prescription medications. It also said it is encouraging the use of telehealth, at-home care, and other forms of technology-assisted care.

CMS Issues Guidelines for Addressing Virus' Spread in Nursing Homes

CMS said this week facility inspections will focus on infection control in nursing homes and hospitals. In additon, allegations of abuse of patients will be another area of focus. CMS released 3 memoranda to states and accrediting organizations about these inspections.