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April 13, 2020

Covid-19 roundup: Covid-19 drug candidate from Pfizer shows promise in early testing

Daily Briefing
    A new CDC rule allows manufacturers to make reusable respirators, a digital health care company develops a rapid antibody test for the new coronavirus, and more.
    • Digital health care company Scanwell Health is looking to receive federal approval for its testing kit that can detect antibodies for the new coronavirus within a few hours. The kit would allow users to prick their fingers for the blood test at home, and then submit a scanned image of the test's results to doctors via their smartphones. A positive test result would indicate that a patient was exposed to the new coronavirus in the past and had developed antibodies to fight the disease (Nadi, NBC News, 4/4).

    • Covid-19 weekly webinar: What health care leaders need to know

    • Centene has established a "Medical Reserve Leave" policy that states the health insurer will provide employees who join a "medical reserve force" to help states address Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, with up to three months of paid leave. Centene Chair and President Michael Neidorff said the company established the policy to "ensure our clinical staff are paid and that their benefits are protected during their time of service" (Japsen, Forbes, 4/6; Centene release, 4/6).

    • Mount Sinai Health System has updated its stroke platform to monitor Covid-19 patients remotely. Through the Precision Recovery Platform, Covid-19 patients who do not require hospitalization can text a number to video chat with a physician and use an app to input and track their symptoms. If a physician feels a patient has developed concerning symptoms, they can check in with the patient via video or send an emergency medical team to perform an in-person evaluation (Garrity, Becker's Hospital Review, 4/7).

    • Stanford University researchers have developed online calculators that will allow hospitals and policymakers to better allocate needed health care staff and equipment during surges of Covid-19 patients. The regional and hospital calculators, developed by the Systems Utilization Research for Stanford Medicine, use U.S. Census Bureau and hospital data to estimate the number of Covid-19 hospitalizations, acute hospitalizations, and ICU patients that a region or hospital might see in within the coming weeks. The calculator then uses the information to determine how many ICU beds, acute-care beds, and ventilators a region will need (McCormick, Wall Street Journal, 4/7).

    • More than 50 organizations—including the World Health Organization, the United Nations Children's Fund, and Save the Children—have published a new children's book intended to help kids understand and cope with Covid-19. The book, called "My Hero is You, How kids can fight Covid-19," explains how children can protect themselves and others from the disease, as well as how to manage their emotions as the nation practices social distancing. The book is aimed at children ages 6 to 11 and will be available in more than 30 languages (WHO release, 4/9).

    • HHS on Wednesday issued guidance that allows pharmacists to administer FDA-authorized Covid-19 tests. HHS Secretary Alex Azar and Assistant Secretary for Health Brett Giroir said the latest authorization will expand Covid-19 testing to retail and independent community-based pharmacies. The guidance does not address whether the government or private payers will reimburse pharmacists for administering the tests (Wang, Inside Health Policy, 4/8 [subscription required]).

    • Amazon is starting to build a lab to test employees for Covid-19 in order to protect essential workers, like warehouse workers and delivery drivers, from the new coronavirus. Amazon last week said it established a team of scientists, program managers, and software engineers to create the lab. The company said it will "start testing small numbers of our front line employees soon" (Soper, Bloomberg, 4/9).

    • Pfizer last week announced that it has identified a promising Covid-19 drug candidate that it hopes to start testing on humans in August. The drugmaker said initial tests show the potential treatment prevents the novel coronavirus from replicating, which could slow or halt the spread of the virus in patients. Pfizer said it also will start testing its approved rheumatoid-arthritis drug Xeljanz as a potential Covid-19 treatment this week (Paavola, Becker's Hospital Review, 4/9; Hopkins, Wall Street Journal, 4/9).

    • CDC on Thursday published an interim final rule that allows manufacturers to develop smaller and lighter powered air-purifying respirators (PAPRs) for use in a health care setting. CDC issued the interim final rule without the usual public notice or comment period. Health officials said the new devices will be more cost-effective than N95 respirators because they are reusable and don't require test fitting. "Because these PAPRs are reusable, it is likely that 1% of the stock of PAPRs would be required compared to that of single-use items," the agency said (Brady, Modern Healthcare, 4/9).

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