Providers to be paid for promoting self-isolation after COVID-19 test; HHS data system plagued by delays, analysts say — 7 updates

Three top U.S. health officials testified July 31 in front of the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus about the nation's pandemic response. 

Seven updates:

1. On July 31, Adm. Brett Giroir, MD, assistant secretary for health at HHS, testified that more than 59 million total COVID-19 tests have been conducted in the U.S., but said the nation can't test its way out of the pandemic. Dr. Giroir said testing is not a substitute for handwashing, social distancing and mask wearing. Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said the NIH is examining the role children play in spreading the virus. He said he is "cautiously optimistic" the vaccine being developed by Moderna and NIH will be successful, noting that more than 250,000 individuals have registered to volunteer in COVID-19 vaccine trials. Robert Redfield, MD, director of the CDC, reiterated his position that schools should reopen in the fall.

2. Providers will now be reimbursed for counseling people on self-isolation after they are tested for COVID-19, CMS and the CDC said July 30. The incentive aims to slow virus spread from presymptomatic and asymptomatic individuals. CMS will use existing evaluation and management payment codes to pay providers for counseling services at any testing site, including a physician's office, urgent care clinic, hospital, drive-thru or pharmacy testing site. 

3. A new study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, shows that children younger than 5 years old can have anywhere between 10- to 100-fold greater amount of coronavirus genetic material in their upper respiratory tract as compared to adults. The study did not examine transmissibility of the virus, however, CNN reports.  

4. The public COVID-19 data system developed by HHS is updated erratically and plagued by delays and inconsistencies, analysts say, as reported by NPR. Multiple House subcommittees have launched an investigation into the data reporting shift from the CDC. HHS says it has worked to resolve errors and "are pleased with the progress" made during the transition, a spokesperson wrote to NPR.

5. Texas health department data shows that Hispanic residents make up about 40 percent of the state's population but 48 percent of the state's nearly 6,000 COVID-19 deaths, as of July 30, ProPublica reports. The new coronavirus pandemic is disproportionately affecting Hispanic Texas, and a large share of those communities appear to be having worse outcomes. Experts say there are several reasons for the disparity, including that Hispanic residents are more likely to be working in service jobs and are less likely to have health insurance.

6. President Donald Trump suggested delaying the November presidential election in wake of the pandemic, according to a July 30 tweet. The president cited potential fraud occurring with universal mail-in voting procedures.

7. More than 1.4 million Americans filed initial unemployment claims for the week ending July 25, according to seasonally adjusted data released July 30 by the U.S. Department of Labor. About 12,000 more claims were filed this week compared to revised levels for last week.

Snapshot of COVID-19 in the U.S.

Cases: 4,495,375
Deaths: 152,075
Recovered: 1,414,155

Counts reflect data available as of 8 a.m. CDT July 31.


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