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July 17, 2020

Covid-19 roundup: HHS to supply 2K SNFs with point-of-care coronavirus testing

Daily Briefing

     A new study suggests that pregnant patients infected with the novel coronavirus can pass the virus to their fetuses, Surescripts partners with CDC to improve coronavirus case reporting, and more.

    • FDA has given fast track designation to two Covid-19 vaccine candidates from Pfizer and BioNTech. The designation will allow for an expedited review process of the vaccines. Pfizer and BioNTech said, if the candidates receive FDA approval, the companies plan to begin late stage clinical trials later this month, enrolling as many as 30,000 participants (CIDRAP News, 7/13).
    • Researchers from Harvard University and Stanford University last week launched an alliance called the Collective and Augmented Intelligence Against Covid-19 (CAIAC). The collective, which will be open to health care organizations and government bodies, aims to develop an AI-powered decision support tool to guide policymakers' action against the coronavirus. The tool initially will focus on digital contact tracing for coronavirus cases and identifying misinformation about the virus, among other aims (Adams, Becker's Health IT, 7/9; Walsh, Axios, 7/9).
    • The MIT Press last month launched an open access journal that will publish reviews of preprint studies regarding the novel coronavirus to help cull misinformation and highlight important findings. According to Nick Lindsay, director of journals for MIT Press, preprint studies "have been a tremendous boon for scientific communication, but they come with some dangers, as we've seen with some that have been based on faulty methods." He added that MIT Press aims to "debunk research that's poor and elevate research that's good" (Begley, STAT News, 6/29).
    • NIH and officials working on Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration's coronavirus vaccine initiative, have developed two master protocols for clinical trials involving monoclonal antibodies to the coronavirus. One of the trials will test the use of monoclonal antibodies in outpatient settings, while the other will test the antibodies for use in inpatient settings. Janet Woodcock, director of FDA's drug center, said the Operation Warp Speed team hopes to have efficacy data from the trials by early fall (Wang, Inside Health Policy , 7/13 [subscription required]).
    • Quest Diagnostics on Monday announced that its average turnaround for the majority of the company's coronavirus test results is at least seven days. According to Quest, turnaround on the tests is slow because the "soaring demand" for tests is overwhelming capacity (Sullivan, The Hill, 7/13).
    • A study of 31 pregnant women infected with the coronavirus suggests that women who are pregnant can transmit the virus to their fetus—although the researchers noted that just two infants involved in the study tested positive for the virus, and neither became ill. The study found that the virus was detected in umbilical cord blood, placentas, and, in one women, breast milk. Claudio Fenizia, assistant professor of immunology at the University of Milan and leader of the study, said while the results are preliminary, they should be "considered a ringing bell to raise awareness that [such transmission] is possible" (Bernstein, Washington Post, 7/9; Budryk, The Hill, 7/9).
    • Surescripts has partnered with CDC to help improve reporting on coronavirus cases. The company has launched a clinical direct messaging service to support the electronic reporting of coronavirus cases and cases of other infectious diseases to public health surveillance systems. The service aims to replace the manual process used by hospitals to report cases of infectious diseases, as mandated by state laws (Landi, FierceHealthcare, 7/14).
    • Two studies have linked tocilizumab, a drug used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, with lower death rates from Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, among patients on ventilators. According to CIDRAP News, tocilizumab blocks an inflammatory protein in the body involved in so-called "cytokine storms," which can cause respiratory failure in Covid-19 patients (Van Beusekom, CIDRAP News, 7/13).
    • The University of North Carolina School of Medicine, UNC Health, and volunteers from Google have partnered to develop the Heroes Health app, which aims to provide mental health support to frontline health care workers. The app asks users to complete weekly questionnaires on a variety of symptoms related to mental health conditions. It also assess users' sleep quality, as well as symptoms related to anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and depression, and it presents various no- or low-cost mental health resources for users (Kim Cohen, Modern Healthcare, 7/14).
    • Vice President Pence on Tuesday announced that HHS will be supplying 2,000 skilled nursing facilities (SNFs) with coronavirus point-of-care tests. According to HHS Assistant Secretary for Health Adm. Brett Giroir, HHS next week will send machines that can perform 20 tests per hour to SNFs in the most at-risk regions, with the goal to eventually stock all of the more than 15,000 SNFs in the country with the machines (Mills-Gregg, Inside Health Policy, 7/14 [subscription required]; Connole, Provider Magazine, 7/14).
    • Walmart as of Monday, July 20, implemented a new policy requiring all customers to wear face coverings at both Walmart and Sam's Club stores. The company also has added "health ambassadors" to the front of some of its stores to remind customers of the policy (D'Innocenzio, AP/Washington Post, 7/15; Manfredi, FOXBusiness, 7/12).

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