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8 COVID-19 Developments Healthcare Systems Need to Know

By Mandy Roth  
   March 17, 2020

Face mask shortages, supply issues, testing, and surge capacity are among the issues being addressed by the Trump administration.

Since last Friday, the White House has held three press conferences to update the public about the coronavirus pandemic, also referred to as COVID-19. On Friday, President Donald Trump declared a national emergency; on Sunday, the administration issued updates; and on Monday, the President released 15 Days to Slow the Spread, which recommends the strictest measures yet to protect the American public.

During each of these events, administration officials discussed topics of great interest to hospitals and health systems. Following are eight developments related to supply chain shortages, surge capacity plans, testing, and more that every health leader should be familiar with as they formulate plans to address the influx of patients and protect their own healthcare workers.

1. New Resources Will Supply Millions of Face Masks

N95 masks, previously used for industrial purposes, have been approved for use by healthcare workers, which should place another 30 million masks per month in the marketplace from just one resource, said Vice President Mike Pence. St. Paul, Minnesota-based 3M and Charlotte, North Carolina-based Honeywell were among the manufacturers that were mentioned as sources that will contribute to replenishing this essential item to the supply chain.

2. Government is Stockpiling Essential Medical Supplies

The government is stockpiling essential medical equipment and supplies including respirators, ventilators, and masks, which states can request. During a teleconference today, Trump said the nation's governors were told that while it would be more efficient to obtain these items through their own supply chains, and they have been authorized to order them directly, the federal government has ordered and is amassing these supplies.

3. Surge Capacity Preparations Are Being Explored

Should hospitals become overburdened and extra medical facilities are needed, the administration is exploring options to prepare for surge capacity, said Trump. He said the government is taking over buildings that aren't in use and "doing a lot of things in that regard, but we hope we don't have to get there."

4. COVID-19 Testing Has Expanded

Initially, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) developed the only test available for use by public health labs, said Admiral Brett P. Giroir, MD, assistant secretary for health in the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS). Giroir said the initiative has now entered a new phase with high throughput screening now available from commercial laboratories.

During a Sunday news conference Pence said, "We will now have access in the days ahead to more than 2,000 labs across the country that have the equipment today to process coronavirus tests much more rapidly in a much higher volume for the American people." Since last week, through emergency use authorization, the FDA approved two new tests from Swiss-based pharmaceutical company Roche and Thermo Fisher Scientific, a Waltham, Massachusetts-based company, within 24 hours of receiving their applications.

Related: President Trump Declares National Emergency Due to COVID-19 Outbreak, Includes Hospital Waivers

Giroir said 1.9 million of those tests will be available this week, another 2 million next week, and 5 million the following week. In addition, he said that through deregulation, there is also growth of laboratory-derived testing where individual laboratories can develop their own tests.

Johns Hopkins Medicine is one such facility that has developed its own coronavirus screening test which will "soon allow the health system to test as many as 1,000 people per day," according to an article published on the organization's website. The news item says the FDA began allowing academic medical centers to develop their own tests on Feb. 29, which were fast-tracked for approval.

5. Drive-Through Testing Sites Will Prioritize Healthcare Professionals

On Sunday, the White House announced a drive-through community-based testing initiative that involves the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers working in conjunction with state public health departments. A model for these facilities now exists along with personnel, support, and equipment that will vary depending on each state's needs. These testing sites will be situated away from hospitals and emergency rooms.

Priority groups for testing will be people over the age of 65 who exhibit symptoms and healthcare workers. "We want to make sure that our healthcare workers have the opportunity to be tested," said Pence on Monday. "Using that new high throughput test … with commercial labs, we'll be able to do that much more expeditiously."

6. Some Testing is Unaccounted For

Giroir said that test results on the CDC website do not necessarily include "home-grown tests" being conducted by CLIA-certified labs with high complexity. The White House Coronavirus Task Force is working to address that issue, he said.

7. Vaccine Trial Underway

The first injection to test a new COVID-19 vaccine took place on Monday. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci, MD, said he believed the 65-day turnaround from obtaining the sequence to conducting a Phase 1 trial was a "record." The trial involves 45 normal individuals in Seattle, ages 18 to 55, who will receive two injections of varying doses. Participants will be followed for one year for safety and to determine whether the inoculation "induces the kind of response that we predicted would be protective," Fauci said.

8. HHS Experienced a Cyberattack?

It appears that an unknown entity conducted a cyberattack on HHS. At the Monday afternoon press conference, HHS Secretary Alex Azar said during the previous 24 hours HHS computer systems and the website experienced "a great deal of enhanced activity. Fortunately," he said, "we have extremely strong barriers, no penetration into our networks, no degradation of the functioning of our network, no limiting of our capacity for people to telework. We've taken very strong defensive actions." The source of this enhanced activity remains under investigation.

“We want to make sure that our healthcare workers have the opportunity to be tested.”

Mandy Roth is the innovations editor at HealthLeaders.


N95 masks, previously used for industrial purposes, have been approved for healthcare usage.  Another 30 million masks per month will be available from just one of multiple resources.

The government is stockpiling respirators, ventilators, and masks.

Drive-through testing sites will prioritize service to healthcare workers.

Millions of testing kits will become available over the next few weeks.

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