The following is the latest COVID-19 information from the state government as 2:00 p.m. on Tuesday, January 5.
Secretary Levine’s News Briefing
Department of Health Secretary Rachel Levine briefed the press yesterday about the state of Pennsylvania’s response to the COVID-19 crisis and took questions from reporters. Among the highlights of her briefing are the following points:
- Secretary Levine discussed the new state policy that hospitals that receive shipments of vaccine doses must set aside 10 percent of their supply to vaccinate non-hospital health care workers, such as EMS personnel. This policy takes effect on Wednesday, January 6. Every hospital that has receive doses must designate a contact whom non-hospital health care workers can contact to schedule their vaccinations.
- Within their own organizations, hospitals should give priority to vaccinating frontline health care workers, beginning with those who come into contact with patients who have been diagnosed with or are suspected of having COVID-19.
- Pennsylvania expects 166,000 doses of Pfizer vaccine this week. 99,000 will be for second doses to health care workers who already received the first dose; 32,000 will be for first doses for additional health care workers; and 39,000 will be for vaccinations at skilled nursing facilities.
- The state also will receive 80,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine this week.
- The number of vaccine doses the state receives from the federal government will fluctuate from week to week so the delivery schedule will fluctuate as well.
- CVS and Walgreens have started to visit long-term-care facilities to administer vaccines. The state is waiting for a report from the companies on which facilities they visited and how many vaccines they gave.
- The slow roll-out of the vaccines nation-wide, Secretary Levine says, is the product of overly optimistic projections for the holiday season.
- It will take months for all Pennsylvanians to be vaccinated.
- Providers and the state will need to hire additional health care professionals to administer vaccines. The additional funding provided by Congress at the end of last year should help with this.
- When the time comes, the state will have ways for people to sign up for appointments to receive their vaccines. It does not want people waiting in long lines to get their shots.
- While the state has received reports of health care workers and long-term-care personnel declining to get vaccinated, it has no numbers on how prevalent this has been.
Department of Health
- The Department of Health has ordered all entities that are receiving and providing COVID-19 vaccines – hospitals, health systems, and federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) – to use at least 10 percent of each vaccine shipment it receives from the federal government to vaccinate Phase 1-A non-hospital health care personnel that fit that definition in the state’s interim COVID-19 vaccine plan. This includes vaccines received through individual pharmacy providers; the department will post the name and locations of those pharmacy providers on its COVID-19 vaccine web site after January 6. That website also has been updated to include fact sheets and a COVID-19 vaccine dashboard with data on vaccinations and shipments. See the department’s news release announcing the order and the order itself.
- The Department of Health revised its frequently asked questions on COVID-19 treatment drugs and biologics.
- In a memo to acute-care hospitals, the Department of Health announced that it has been certified by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to submit CORVENA data files to the Teletracking portal on behalf of Pennsylvania hospitals. The first submission took place on December 31, 2020. Hospitals may continue uploading to Teletracking but any data submitted before 10:00 a.m. may be overwritten with the submission of CORVENA data.
- The Department of Health issued an advisory to hospitals outlining the recommended response to COVID-19 outbreaks originating in the facility, as identified in the health advisory issued on December 9, 2020.
- The Department of Health issued an advisory reminding laboratory providers that patient date of birth, address, telephone number, race, and ethnicity data fields should be included on all laboratory submission forms.
- The Department of Health updated its guidance to skilled nursing facilities to clarify the requirements when a patient is discharged from a hospital to a skilled nursing facility and to incorporate departmental and CMS guidance issued since the document was last updated in late November.
- On December 30 the Department of Health announced that the federal Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care Program has begun vaccinating residents and staff at 126 Pennsylvania skilled-nursing facilities.
- The departments of Health and Human Services published information on a state-funded program that will replace the Regional Response Health Collaborative program (RRHCP), for which federal funding lapsed on December 31, 2020, with new Regional Congregate Care Assistance Teams (RCAT). The new groups will provide more limited COVID-19 outbreak support to the same facilities that were eligible for RRHCP assistance, doing so through February 28, 2021. Learn more from a news release issued jointly by the two departments.
Department of Health – by the numbers
- Pennsylvania continues to experience between 7000 and 9000 new COVID-19 cases a day, as it generally has since mid-December. The overall total of cases in the state now approaches 675,000 since the pandemic began.
- Daily death toll figures generally have ranged between 200 and 300 a day since mid-December but have declined in recent days. The total death count rose past 16,500 today.
- The number of Pennsylvanians hospitalized with COVID-19 has been fairly constant since Christmas, as has the number of COVID-19 patients in hospital ICUs. The number of COVID-19 patients on ventilators has declined modestly from its pre-Christmas high.
- More than 19,700 health care workers in the state have contracted COVID-19.
- Nearly 65,000 long-term-care facility residents and employees have contracted COVID-19 in 1479 facilities in all 67 Pennsylvania counties.
- Currently, 13 percent of adult ICU beds in the state are unoccupied, as are 14 percent of medical/surgical beds, 21 percent of pediatric ICU beds, 34 percent of pediatric beds, and 30 percent of airborne isolation units.
- The weekly Pennsylvania COVID-19 Early Warning Monitoring Dashboard, issued by the Department of Health and Governor Wolf, shows that the state’s positivity rate for COVID-19 tests fell from 15.1 percent two weeks ago to 15 percent last week. This is the third consecutive week the rate has declined.
- Despite this, all 67 Pennsylvania counties remain, according to Pennsylvania’s criteria, in “substantial transmission status.”
- Every county in the state has a positivity rate greater than five percent, which is generally considered a “concern,” and 21 of the state’s 67 counties have positivity rates of more than 20 percent.
- The state also reports that it has experienced a “…significant decrease” in people willing to cooperate with contract tracing investigations.
- The Department of Health’s “COVID-19 Data for Pennsylvania” web page has several features of potential interest to health care providers and stakeholders.
- Its “Reduction of Elective Procedures” dashboard tracks the criteria the state is using – staffing, surge percentage, and bed availability – to determine whether it will order hospitals to reduce or eliminate elective procedures to ensure their ability to handle possible influxes of COVID-19 patients. Organized according to the state’s seven health coalition regions, the latest dashboard shows only one potential problem area: staffing shortages among southwestern Pennsylvania hospitals. Despite this, the dashboard shows no need for hospitals in any part of the state to curtail or suspend elective procedures at this time.
- Another feature on the COVID-19 Data for Pennsylvania page is a “Vaccine Dashboard” that shows the number of vaccines administered in the state on a county-by-county basis. As of January 4, more than 135,000 vaccines have been administered. These vaccines are all categorized as “partial” because complete vaccination requires two doses and not the one dose that has been administered so far.
Department of Human Services
- DHS has issued a Medical Assistance bulletin informing pharmacies that the state’s Medicaid program will pay for the administration of COVID-19 vaccines to Medicaid beneficiaries by licensed pharmacists. The policy, announced December 30, has an effective date of December 1, 2020. The department elaborated further on the new policy in this provider guidance and also posted further information about additions to the Medicaid fee schedule for vaccinations.
- DHS has issued guidance to local education agencies participating in the state’s School-Based ACCESS Program during the COVID-19 emergency about services that can be provided directly to program participants during the pandemic and how they must be provided. See that guidance here.
- DHS’s Office of Long-Term Living has begun laying the groundwork for transitioning out of its temporary changes in the Community HealthChoices program by updating two documents: its “Temporary Changes to the Community HealthChoices 1915(c) Waiver” and its “Transition Plan to Phase Out Temporary Changes to the Community HealthChoices 1915(c) Waiver.”
- DHS’s Office of Long-Term Living has updated its guidance for adult daily living providers delivering telephone or remote services during the COVID-19 emergency.
Department of Revenue
Pennsylvania collected $3.7 billion in General Fund revenue in December, which was $465.8 million, or 14.5 percent, more than anticipated, Revenue Secretary Dan Hassell reported on Monday. Fiscal year-to-date General Fund collections total $18.5 billion, which is $467.1 million, or 2.6 percent, above estimate.
Around the State
- The Carlisle Sentinel reports that more than 50 percent of Cumberland County’s COVID-19 cases and deaths occurred in the month of December.
- The number of new COVID-19 cases in Berks County declined for the third straight week, according to the Reading Eagle.
- Hospitals in the central part of the state are preparing for a possible post-holiday surge in COVID-19 patients, the Harrisburg Patriot-News reports.
Resources to Consult
Pennsylvania Department of Human Services
Pennsylvania Department of Health
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention