HHS changed testing guidelines despite CDC experts' objections; health workers account for 14% of global cases — 5 COVID-19 updates

More than 30 million COVID-19 cases have been recorded worldwide, doubling in about two months after hitting 15 million at the end of July.

Five updates:

1. Controversial changes to federal COVID-19 testing guidelines were published in August despite serious objections from CDC scientists, reports The New York Times. The publication spoke with several sources familiar with the matter and reviewed internal documents about the new recommendation, which says that people without symptoms don't always need to be tested, even if they've been exposed to the virus. Sources said HHS officials rewrote the guidelines in August and published them on the CDC's public website without undergoing the CDC's scientific review process. "That was a doc that came from the top down," one federal official told NYT. "That policy does not reflect what many people at the CDC feel should be the policy." HHS Assistant Secretary Adm. Brett Giroir, MD, who is coordinating federal testing efforts, told NYT the original draft of the recommendation came from the CDC but went through about 20 revisions, including from members of the White House COVID-19 task force. Dr. Giroir said he was unclear why the recommendation did not undergo CDC's scientific review process. 

2. Healthcare workers account for 14 percent of global COVID-19 cases, according to a Sept. 17 news release from the World Health Organization. In some countries, the healthcare infection rate is as high as 35 percent, despite representing less than 3 percent of the population in the large majority of countries. However, data availability and quality are limited, and it's not possible to determine if health workers were infected at work, the news release notes. 

3. There may be 207,000 to 218,000 COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. by Oct. 10, according to a forecast the CDC published Sept. 17. The prediction is based on forecasts of national COVID-19 deaths over the next month from 40 modeling groups.

4. The COVID-19 vaccine initiative Covax has raised less than 10 percent of funds needed to support the global effort. Sept. 18 marks the deadline for countries to join Covax, which aims to accelerate the development of and improve access to COVID-19 tests, vaccines and treatments. Jeremy Farrar, director of The Wellcome Trust — one of the group's backing the initiative — is calling on leaders to join the initiative and secure the $35 billion needed in funding. The U.S. has opted not to participate in Covax.

5. At least 42 percent of U.S. school employees are at high risk for severe COVID-19, a Health Affairs study finds. Researchers examined health, socioeconomic and employment data from 95,830 adults included in the 2014-17 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey. Individuals were considered to be at a higher risk for severe COVID-19 if they were obese; 65 years or older; suffered from diabetes, cancer, emphysema, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, kidney disease or coronary heart disease. Factors that might lead to increased risk included current smoking, treated asthma and treated high blood pressure. Researchers found between 42.0 percent and 51.4 percent of all school employees met this definition for increased or potential increased risk of severe COVID-19. Of all adults with risk factors, between 33.9 million to 44.2 million had direct or within-household ties to schools.

Snapshot of COVID-19 in the U.S.

Cases: 6,676,410
Deaths: 197,655
Recovered: 2,540,334 

Counts reflect data available as of 8:30 a.m. CDT Sept. 18.

More articles on public health:
Global flu activity less than expected for this time of year, WHO says
26 states where COVID-19 is spreading fastest, slowest: Sept. 18
US adult obesity rate surpasses 40% for first time, hiking COVID-19 risks


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