Healthcare News & Insights

Coronavirus update: Health care adjusting as number of cases rises

As the novel coronavirus — or COVID-19  — outbreak continues, there have been school closings, public event cancellations, quarantines and numerous companies limiting travel by their employees. 

The World Health Organization has declared the virus a pandemic and a vaccine has yet to be developed.

Now that 1,629 known cases of coronavirus across 46 states and Washington D.C. have led to 41 deaths, hospitals will have to pay even closer attention to the ever-changing situation.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is urging emergency departments to redouble their infection control and prevention policies, and to notify local public health officials if they suspect a patient has the virus.

With coronavirus officially declared a public health emergency by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), hospitals should consider reviewing their emergency management plan and the possibility of a wave of patients reporting symptoms of the respiratory illness.

That could put a strain on having adequate personal protection equipment (PPE) to protect hospital staff and patients from spreading the virus.

Face mask shortages

Hospitals in areas that have been hit hardest, such as Seattle, have had to dip into their emergency reserves of PPE.

Because of potential shortages, the federal government says face masks that normally wouldn’t be approved for use in a healthcare setting are now allowed to be used by health professionals.

The California Department of Public Health has released some of its reserve supply of 21 million N95 masks.

A few New York hospitals have reportedly boosted their supplies through New York City’s reserve PPE stockpile.

With all that in mind, now would be a good time to review your hospital’s PPE inventory. If you could use some help acquiring additional PPE supplies because of an increase in demand, contact your local/county health department or EMS agency.

Meanwhile, HHS is buying 500 million N95 masks over the next 18 months to build up a strategic national stockpile.

Other changes

The coronavirus is affecting other areas of the healthcare industry as well — which might soften a potential spike in new admissions.

An $8.3 billion bill signed into law has loosened up Medicare regulations, increasing patient access to telemedicine treatment.

Humana won’t be charging for urgent care telehealth visits for the next 90 days, and Aetna is waiving cost-sharing for virtual visits for the same time period.

Because the coronavirus situation is fluid and the country’s policies on handling the illness are in flux, guidelines for hospitals and healthcare facilities are changing every day. We’ll keep you posted.

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