Russian hackers target vaccine research; Georgia governor reverses local mask mandates — 8 COVID-19 updates

Russian hackers have tried to steal COVID-19 vaccine information from healthcare organizations in the U.S., Britain and Canada, according to The New York Times.

The hacking group APT29, sometimes known as Cozy Bear, has been using spear-phishing and malware attacks to try to access the vaccine research, the National Security Agency confirmed July 16. 

British and Canadian government officials said the hacking group is likely linked to Russian intelligence services.

"APT29 has a long history of targeting governmental, diplomatic, think-tank, healthcare and energy organizations for intelligence gain so we encourage everyone to take this threat seriously and apply the mitigations issued in the advisory," Anne Neuberger, the NSA's cybersecurity director, told NYT.

Seven other updates:

1. Some hospital leaders and public health experts say the new federal reporting requirements for COVID-19 will place additional burdens on hospitals and hinder their access to data, according to The Washington Post. On July 15, hospitals switched to reporting daily COVID-19 data on patient volumes, bed counts and available supplies to HHS, instead of directly to the CDC. "Sidestepping these established tracking systems creates deep concerns that we will be unable to obtain appropriate and reliable information to perform research and manage our response to the virus," Bruce Meyer, president of Philadelphia-based Jefferson Health, told the Post. White House officials said the new system is meant to streamline reporting and allow for more efficient distribution of resources to hospitals. 

2. Alabama and Montana are the latest states to issue face mask policies this week. Montana's policy, effective July 15, requires the use of masks in all indoor public spaces in any county with four or more active cases, reports the Independent Record. Alabama's statewide mandate requires face masks in all public settings when social distancing is not possible. The order takes effect July 16 and will last through the end of July, according to U.S. News & World Report.

3. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp issued an executive order July 15 rescinding local mask mandates in cities like Atlanta and Savannah, reports NPR.The order walks back mandates in more than a dozen local jurisdictions and instead strongly encourages the use of masks.

4. The U.S. will need $75 billion to improve its COVID-19 testing system, according to a report from The Rockefeller Foundation. A bipartisan group of health experts, investors, scientists and former federal health officials penned the 55-page report, which outlines several ways the nation could bolster its COVID-19 response efforts, according to STAT. The U.S. currently performs 4.5 million tests per week. The report's authors say this figure needs to reach 30 million per week. To hit this goal, the U.S. will need to accelerate the adoption of fast, inexpensive point-of-care screening tests, they said. The Rockefeller Foundation has committed $100 million to help support the global COVID-19 response.

5. In Florida, about 31 percent of 54,022 children tested for COVID-19 yield positive results, The Sun Sentinel reports. The positivity rate for the state's entire population is about 11 percent. As of July 14, about 17,000 of the state's 287,800 cases were in people younger than 18.

6. The number of Americans reporting wearing a facemask in public jumped from 62 percent in April to 76 percent in May, according to the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report published July 14. Online survey questions were conducted April 7-9 to 503 adults, while a separate 502 adults responded to the same survey May 11–13.

7. The IRS has extended the deadline for hospitals to complete community health needs assessments to Dec. 31. As urged by the American Hospital Association, the IRS expanded the July 15 extension for tax-exempt hospitals to meet community health needs assessment obligations. The IRS also provided guidance on proper documentation if hospitals choose to rely on the postponement.

Snapshot of COVID-19 in the U.S.

Cases: 3,499,394
Deaths: 137,419
Recovered: 1,075,882

Counts reflect data available as of 8:50 a.m. CDT July 16.

More articles on public health:
CDC case study in Missouri touts benefits of universal mask use
Number of COVID-19 hospitalizations, state by state: July 15
22 states, Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands set daily records for new COVID-19 cases

 

 

The IRS has extended the deadline for hospitals to complete community health needs assessments to Dec. 31. As urged by the American Hospital Association, the IRS expanded the July 15 extension for tax-exempt hospitals to meet community health needs assessment obligations. The IRS also provided guidance on proper documentation if hospitals choose to rely on the postponement.

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