HHS Shakes Up National Hospital Reporting

HHS announced significant changes to the process for hospitals to fulfill the agency’s request for daily data reporting on bed capacity, utilization, personal protective equipment, and in-house laboratory testing data.

The CDC National Healthcare Safety Network COVID-19 module is no longer being used. Hospitals now have to either: 

  • report data to their state health departments (if their state promises to then report the data to HHS; or

  • report directly to the HHS TeleTracking portal.

HHS has made significant updates to the data fields it is asking for in daily reporting. For example, HHS is asking for information on both pediatric and adult patients and is asking hospitals for information about their inventory of remdesivir.

Editorial Note: This is a controversial decision in the public health and academic world. The CDC has built a trusted brand for decades and public health and academics alike trust that the CDC behaves on the up and up, makes data available and is committed to data integrity. There’s less confidence in HHS because there are far more political appointees there- whereas CDC is dominated by career folks. There is concern that the data will become less transparent and questions about whether HHS will edit the data.

Journal Articles of the Week

An mRNA Vaccine against SARS-CoV-2

Moderna has completed their Phase I Trial in the U.S. of their mRNA-1273 vaccine. The results are promising. It induced anti–SARS-CoV-2 immune responses in all participants, and no trial-limiting safety concerns were identified. These findings support further development of this vaccine.  The Phase II trial is underway with results expected by late August. At that point, it will move to a Phase III Trial which will test safety and efficacy in much larger populations. NCT04283461.  



Covid-19 Vaccine-Development Multiverse

  • Penny M. Heaton, M.D.


Characteristics of Persons Who Died with COVID-19

An early release MMWR outlines characteristics of people who died with laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 and was obtained through CDC’s case-based surveillance data and supplemental surveillance data from 16 public health jurisdictions.


MMWR: Factors Associated with Cloth Face Covering Use Among Adults During the COVID-19 Pandemic 

Another early release MMWR discusses the findings of two internet surveys that assessed a sample of adults’ use of cloth face coverings and the behavioral and sociodemographic factors that might influence wearing a cloth face-covering out in public.

Within days of the release of the first national recommendation for use of cloth face coverings, most people who reported leaving their home in the previous week reported using a cloth face covering.

Testing Update: Problems Persist but Some Action Steps Underway

Testing continues to be a problem in Arizona. Demand far outstrips the supply of available tests and the time it takes to get samples back from the lab is too slow. Reports from the field suggest that samples sent to the Sonora Quest labs are coming back between 7-14 days after specimen collection.

That kind of turn around time doesn’t provide actionable information to persons that get tested because they don’t know their status in time and they are far less likely to go into isolation if they’re not sure whether or not they really have COVID. 

In addition, the county health departments get the data back from the lab too late to do an effective case investigation and conduct contact tracing. The case may have already recovered and infected their roommates, family members, co-workers and community persons. 

Business owners (especially assisted living and skilled nursing facilities) are also behind the 8-ball because the data on their employees comes back so late that there’s no real actionable information- and they’re unable to make evidence based decisions about who is safe to attend work.

Fortunately the governor and health director have committed to increasing statewide testing capacity to 35,000 tests per day by July 31 (2-weeks).  Great that they set a discrete goal – but I would have loved to see a SMART Goal something like this:

By July 31, Arizona will be testing 35,000 persons per day with 90% of tests returned to the patient within 72 hours. I  addition, I think we really need to have the ADHS dashboard track sample turn-around times. After all, What Gets Measured Gets Done.

Editorial Note: The governor has yet to use public health emergency authority to require assisted living and skilled nursing facilities to routinely test their staff in order to prevent the virus from leaking into these congregate settings. Folks in these facilities continue to be a very large portion of the hospital patient census, and better testing and infection control in these settings could improve available hospital capacity and save lives. 

Last week the FDA has granted emergency use authorization for pooled coronavirus testing for Covid-19. The approach involves combining samples from multiple people, which are only tested individually if the batch comes back positive. Perhaps this approach, along with increased use of antigen testing and requiring routine staff testing in congregate settings can help us out with our hospital capacity issues.

However, none of these things will work if the turn around times for samples continue to be insufficient.

Let’s Use Evidence-based Criteria to Decide When (or whether) It’s Safe to Open K-12 Schools

School season is rapidly approaching. A huge public health policy question out there is “how do we decide when school can start this Fall (if at all) and under what circumstances”?  Thus far, the governor has been talking about when schools would be allowed to open for in-person instruction rather than under what circumstances.

A couple of weeks ago, he postponed the start of school until August 17, a date that he described as “aspirational”.  Setting a date for school to start is arbitrary if it’s not linked with evidence-based public health metrics. It makes a lot more sense to tie school openings to evidence-based performance criteria.

There are 2 categories of criteria that should be used to make the school opening decision:

  • The quality of school district mitigation plans & their ability to execute those plans with fidelity; and

  • Evidence-based criteria that measure community transmission. 

Both these factors should be in place before considering setting a date for in-person instruction to begin.

While many school districts have quality mitigation plans to lower the risk of spread, community transmission is too high right now to adequately protect kids and staff- even if they have good plans.  Testing capacity is inadequate, sample turn-around times are insufficient, contact tracers get tardy data, public health laws are inadequate and unenforced, and testing & infection control are inadequate in care homes.  All the above issues are fueling community spread and need to be improved before schools open this Fall.  But, how would we measure success?

Fortunately, we can come up with evidence-based performance measures to help determine whether community transmission is low enough warrant opening our K-12 schools for in person instruction.

Let’s explore the possibilities.  Consider the 4 bullets below as the criteria that would need to be met to set a date to open schools for in-person instruction:

  • A 30-day reduction in the number of new COVID cases in the community measured by a 7-day moving average;

  • A community percent positive rate of less than 5% for 2-weeks measured by a 7 day moving average;

  • Eighty percent of case and contact tracing investigations completed within 96 hours of sample collection over a 21 day period; and

  • Community hospitals open for elective procedures.

When a community meets all these criteria, the district could be free to set a date for in-person instruction (if their county health department has validated their mitigation plans).  County personnel could conduct periodic on-site validation of school’s mitigation plans.  If community transmission rebounds and the above criteria are no longer met, then districts would need to suspend in-person instruction.

Another advantage to this evidence-based performance criteria approach is that members of a community would have a common goal to work toward- as nearly everybody agrees that in-person school instruction is important and worthy of trying to achieve.  Having measurable criteria in place to make that happen can build additional community motivation to achieve and maintain the important mitigation measures that reduce transmission of the virus.

Latest Model Analysis has Encouraging (or at least not discouraging) Signs

We just received Dr. Gerald’s latest COVID analysis. For the first time in many weeks there are some encouraging signs. New cases have stabilized (albeit at a very high level). Likewise, the percent positive drifted downward slightly in the last week. Hospitalizations for COVID also stabilized (although at extremely high levels). Take home for this week is at least things didn’t get worse- so by that standard- things got a little better.

For the week ending July 12th, Arizona recorded 15,160 new Covid-19 cases. However, this undercounts the actual number of new cases because as 50% of PCR results take more than 5 days to be reported. For example, last week’s tally has been revised up by 32% because of slow turn-around times.

The percent of patients testing positive drifted down slightly – going from 23% the week ending July 5 to 19% the week ending July 12. A declining test positive percentage in the face of declining testing capacity lends additional evidence that viral transmission is slowing in response to the public’s adherence with new face mask ordinances, additional business restrictions, and other recommended health behaviors.

On the hospitalization front, total Covid-19 hospitalization increased 311% from 1093 to 4487 occupied beds between May 22 and July 13. The good news is that In the last week total Covid-19 hospitalizations increased only 1% (going from 4384 to 4410 occupied beds). If the trend continues hospitals should see stabilizing or declining admissions over the coming weeks.

While these leading and contemporary indicators are stabilizing- no such luck for deaths. The week ending July 5th is now the week with the largest number of Covid-19 deaths (339). Because deaths lag new cases by about 2 weeks, deaths will continue to increase for the next week or two before moderating or declining.

Hospitals Get Regulatory Relief to Deal with the Patient Surge

The Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association recently asked the ADHS for some regulatory relief so that their member hospitals can more effectively respond to the ongoing surge of COVID patients.

AzHHA asked for waivers that would allow the transport of patients in private vehicles, let hospitals send some emergency room patients to urgent care, and allow them to put adult and pediatric patients in the same room among other things. 

The ADHS responded later in the week and agreed to waive some but not all of the requests. Here’s the letter from ADHS and here’s the administrative order.

QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer) Suicide Prevention Training FREE Online 

The Arizona Department of Education’s Project AWARE Grant is providing an opportunity for school and youth serving organization employees to take a free online suicide prevention training during the COVID-19 restrictions. This training will provide participants with a certificate that complies with the requirements of ARS § 15-120, (the Mitch Warnock Act). This statute requires all 6th -12th grade public and charter school personnel to take an approved evidence-based suicide prevention training at least once every three years.

The QPR training being offered here is one of these approved training. A full list of approved evidence-based suicide prevention trainings can be found at:https://www.azahcccs.gov/AHCCCS/Initiatives/suicideprevention/training_for_schools.html.

There are a limited number of free training codes. We hope that you will take advantage of the opportunity to learn the basics of suicide prevention and how to assist someone in crisis. The QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer) Institute training is approximately one hour in duration and can be completed remotely. There is a five minute (or less) post-assessment survey to complete once you’ve finished with the training. Your participation in the post-assessment survey will help us to continue providing free trainings through our grant funding.

The content of this training will cover sensitive topics around suicide and mental health. The decision to participate is based solely on your individual discretion. The Arizona Department of Education does not require participation in this particular training; it is one of many trainings available to facilitate compliance with A.R.S. § 15-120. If at any time, you find yourself overwhelmed and/or triggered by the content, you have the option to pause and/or end the course.  

By accepting an online code from ADE, participants affirm that their mental and emotional well-being is the priority, and that they will contact the local Warm and/or Crisis line if the content is overwhelming. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 Arizona Warm Line: 1-888-404-5530

Online attendees also agree to complete a post-assessment survey. QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer)

Online Suicide Prevention Training Instructions to access:

1. Navigate to: http://qprtraining.com/setup.php

2. Enter the organization code AZED1

3. Select Create Account

4. Complete and submit registration form- Note: QPR will display and email the newly created Username and Password.

5. Log into begin training at http://qprtraining.com/

6. Complete the Project AWARE Online Assessment (you should automatically be re-routed to it)

8. Print your certificate from the link at the end of the training, save a copy for your records, and submit a copy to your supervisor, if appropriate. Print the QPR card, the booklet, and other resources offered at the end of the course for your reference.

If you have any questions, good news, or challenges, please reach out to schoolsafety.socialwellness@azed.gov  with Subject Title: QPR Training Learn more about Project AWARE or watch this short video.

Journal Article of the Week

A mathematical model reveals the influence of population heterogeneity on herd immunity to SARS-CoV-2

DOI: 10.1126/science.abc6810

Population heterogeneity can significantly impact disease-induced immunity as the proportion infected in groups with the highest contact rates is greater than in groups with low contact rates.

We estimate that if R0 = 2.5 in an age-structured community with mixing rates fitted to social activity then the disease-induced herd immunity level can be around 43%, which is substantially less than the classical herd immunity level of 60% obtained through homogeneous immunization of the population.

Our estimates should be interpreted as an illustration of how population heterogeneity affects herd immunity, rather than an exact value or even a best estimate.

Staffing Surge Initiative

The ADHS is implementing a new Surge Staffing Initiative. Similar to the Surge Line, this program will try to stabilize community hospital hot spots to deal with the ongoing surge of patients. It may also provide some relief for nursing staff. 

The initiative allows hospitals to apply to receive out-of-state nurses. The nurses will be deployed for a 6 week period for up to 20% of their licensed capacity at no cost.  The Arizona Surge Line staff will make the deployment decisions. 

Hospitals received the application forms this week. Here’s an example of the application questions and attestations.  

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