The U.S. is now reporting over one million new cases of COVID-19 per day as a result of the surge caused by the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2. As cases spike, the federal government has been slow to act as quickly as in prior surges, motivating healthcare industry workers and the public to criticize the response.
Vaccine boosters are now available to everyone over the age of 12 following approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), according to an announcement by the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS). Only the Pfizer vaccine is currently approved for use in those under the age of 18. The CDC also recommended that moderately or severely immunocompromised 5- to 11-year olds should receive an additional primary dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine 28 days after their second shot.
On Monday, the U.S. reported 1.35 million new COVID-19 infections, the highest number in a single day of any country in the world at any time during the pandemic. According to Reuters, the previous record was 1.03 million cases on January 3. Large numbers of cases are reported on Monday due to pauses in reporting over the weekends. The seven-day average has tripled in two weeks to 700,000 new cases per day.
Hospitalizations have also doubled in three weeks, causing both consternation and alarm for hospitals and workers alike as the worker shortage continues. Becker’s reports that hospitals lost 5,100 jobs in December and 3,100 jobs in November. Nursing and residential care facilities also lost 6,100 jobs in December.
The CDC put out guidance at the end of December aiming to mitigate staffing shortages. It recommending that healthcare workers who are asymptomatic or experiencing mild COVID-19 symptoms and are not feverish should return to short-staffed hospitals following five days of isolation, even with a positive test, according to Modern Healthcare. Nurses and doctors warn that this could harm patients and hospital staff as providers must weigh the consequences of exposing workers and patients to the virus. From Kathleen Murphy, president of the Massachusetts Nursing Association:
Nurses are walking away from the bedside. They can’t go through this again because of these ethical dilemmas. We’re all wrestling with the decreased quarantine time guidance by the CDC because we don’t want to put our patients and colleagues at risk.
National Nurses United, the nation’s largest nurses’ union, announced that they would hold actions across the country in protest of the CDC guidance. The union demands that the hospital industry invest in safe staffing and that President Joe Biden prioritizes nurse safety and public health.
Healthcare labor groups like the SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW) is condemning a temporary guidance published on Saturday by the California Department of Public Health to permit healthcare personnel who tested positive for COVID-19 to return to work if they are asymptomatic. From Dave Regan, president of SEIU-UHW via Fierce Healthcare:
Our union will fight for safe working conditions for hospital workers who have continuously put their life on the line during this pandemic. We intend to expose any hospital employer who knowingly puts patients at risk by forcing COVID positive caregivers back to work.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced new guidance on the promise made by President Joe Biden in December to cover the cost of at-home COVID-19 testing kits. According to a CMS press release, purchase of a test kit from a pharmacy or store may be reimbursed by private health insurance plans. Insurers are required to cover eight free over-the-counter tests per covered individual per month.
President Biden also announced last month that the federal government would purchase and distribute 500 million COVID-19 rapid test kits and distribute them for free. Modern Healthcare reports that the government has not yet purchased the tests and have only completed an initial bidding period. The test kits will be delivered in batches over a period of months. The government expects to get the first delivery of tests in the coming weeks.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) updated hospital COVID-19 data reporting requirements, Becker’s reports. The changes were released on January 6 and now include pediatric inpatient beds, pediatric inpatient bed occupancy and pediatric intensive care unit beds and occupancy.