April 16, 2020

Map: America's 637,000 Covid-19 cases—and 28,500 deaths

Daily Briefing

    The number of Americans dying from the new coronavirus continues to rise each day, with U.S. officials reporting 28,586 U.S. deaths linked to the virus as of Thursday morning—up by more than 2,600 deaths from Wednesday.

    US Covid-19 cases surpass 630K, death toll tops 28K

    As of Thursday morning, U.S. officials had reported 636,917 cases of Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, in the country—up from 606,800 cases as of Wednesday morning.

    Officials as of Thursday morning also had reported 28,586 U.S. deaths linked to the new coronavirus—up from 25,922 deaths reported as of Wednesday morning. According to the New York Times, Wednesday marked the third day this week that officials reported more than 2,000 U.S. deaths tied to the virus in a single day.

    Officials say expanded testing is needed to reopen businesses, ease social distancing

    While the number of U.S. patients with Covid-19 continues to grow, the Trump administration and some state officials are taking steps to evaluate whether they can begin easing social distancing measures that have closed many non-essential businesses throughout the country.

    CDC Director Robert Redfield in an interview with ABC's "Good Morning America" on Wednesday said the governors of up to 20 states believe they may be ready to reopen by May 1 because their states haven't been significantly affected by the new coronavirus. However, Redfield during a separate interview on Wednesday with CBS' "This Morning" said the states likely would have to keep some mitigation steps in place, including social distancing guidelines, until a vaccine and treatments become available.

    Federal and public health officials have said the United States also needs to ramp up testing and contact-tracing procedures to safely lift social distancing guidelines and reopen businesses. USA Today reports that a yet-to-be released public health strategy developed by CDC and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) envisions everyone in the country with Covid-19 symptoms, including health care workers, being tested for the virus to prevent a resurgence in Covid-19 cases.

    But laboratories throughout the United States are saying funding shortfalls could threaten Covid-19 testing capacity. According to The Hill, Congress so far hasn't approved any aid packages with funding dedicated to labs.

    CMS increases payments for high-production Covid-19 lab tests

    However, labs could see a funding boost under a new policy CMS announced Wednesday, under which Medicare will nearly double its payments for certain lab tests that use high-throughput technologies to diagnose large numbers of Covid-19 cases quickly.

    According to CMS, "High-throughput lab tests can process more than two hundred specimens a day," but CMS Administrator Seema Verma said many labs have not been using the tests because they're costlier and more complex than traditional tests. "That's why we're increasing the reimbursement," Verma said.

    CMS said Medicare will pay labs $100 for Covid-19 clinical diagnostic lab tests that use high-throughput technologies, effective April 14. The higher payments will remain in effect through the duration of the Covid-19 national emergency.

    The move aims to increase access to Covid-19 testing, particularly for Medicare beneficiaries, including nursing home residents who are particularly vulnerable and have been among the hardest hit by Covid-19 outbreaks across the United States. Verma said the increased payments will be an "absolute game-changer for nursing homes, where risk of coronavirus infection is high among our most vulnerable"  (Chiacu/Heavey, Reuters, 4/15; Dennis, Washington Post, 4/15; CMS release, 4/15; Cirruzzo, Inside Health Policy, 4/15 [subscription required]; Brady, "Transformation Hub," Modern Healthcare, 4/15; King, FierceHealthcare, 4/15; Stein/Murphy, USA Today, 4/15; Sullivan, The Hill, 4/15; New York Times, 4/16).

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