Rural Health Information Hub Latest News

Provider Relief Fund – Phase 4 Payments

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), is making more than $2 billion in Provider Relief Fund (PRF) Phase 4 General Distribution payments to more than 7,600 providers across the country this week. With this funding, more than $18 billion will have been distributed from the Provider Relief Fund and the American Rescue Plan Rural provider funding in the last three months.

These payments come on the heels of the nearly $9 billion in funding that was already released by HHS in December 2021. With today’s announcement, a total of nearly $11 billion in PRF Phase 4 payments has now been distributed to more than 74,000 providers in all 50 states, Washington D.C., and five territories and approximately 82 percent of all Phase 4 applications have now been processed.

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New FAQ Videos in Spanish about COVID-19 Vaccine & Kids!

Pediatrician Ilan Shapiro, MD returns to THE CONVERSATION / LA CONVERSACIÓN with a new series of FAQ videos, en español, about the COVID-19 vaccine for children, including more newly eligible 5-11 year-olds. Presented with the American Academy of Pediatrics, Dr. Shapiro answers some of the most common questions parents and caregivers are asking about the COVID-19 vaccine, including: How do we know the COVID-19 vaccine is safe for kids? Do kids need the COVID-19 vaccine? What is in the vaccine given to kids? And more!

Study Finds Rapid Tests Highly Accurate for Kids

While PCR tests for COVID-19 have become the “gold standard” in detecting the virus, a new study says rapid tests are highly accurate when it comes to children and teens. The study, led by researchers from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in collaboration with other institutions and published in MedRxiv, shows that rapid tests given to adolescents at school or at home have a similar accuracy to PCR tests.

USPS Now Taking Orders for Free COVID-19 Tests

The U.S. Postal Service has begun taking orders for free at-home coronavirus test kits via the website COVIDtests.gov or COVID-19 Home Tests | USPS. Each household order will contain four rapid tests, which the Postal Service says will be shipped for free “in late January.” The White House says it will prioritize shipments to Americans from ZIP codes that have experienced high rates of COVID-19 cases and deaths, with the first 20% of each day’s orders going to those areas.

Spread the Word About Vaccine Boosters

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services released new resources – posters, flyers, videos, and talking points – to help promote the extra protection from COVID-19 boosters.  All vaccinated adults aged 18+ are eligible for a booster. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) expanded booster eligibility to include adolescents ages 12 to 17, recommending that they receive a booster shot five months after their initial vaccination.

The CDC also released a new resource, based on input from rural health departments and organizations, with 12 strategies to increase vaccine uptake in rural communities (pdf).  Search by zip code to find nearby locations providing adult and pediatric vaccines and boosters for COVID-19 and the flu at vaccines.gov.

Statement by CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure On the U.S. Supreme Court’s Decision on Vaccine Requirements


The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is extremely pleased the Supreme Court recognized CMS’ authority to set a consistent COVID-19 vaccination standard for workers in facilities that participate in Medicare and Medicaid. CMS’ vaccine rule will cover 10.4 million health care workers at 76,000 medical facilities. Giving patients assurance on the safety of their care is a critical responsibility of CMS and a key to combatting the pandemic.

Vaccines are proven to reduce the risk of severe disease. The prevalence of the virus and its ever-evolving variants in health care settings continues to increase the risk of staff contracting and transmitting COVID-19, putting their patients, families, and our broader communities at risk. And health care staff being unable to work because of illness or exposure to COVID-19 further strains the health care system and limits patient access to safe and essential care.

CMS is already implementing its health care worker vaccination rule in 25 states and territories that were not covered by preliminary injunctions. Today’s decision will enable us to fully implement this rule, and we look forward to working with health care providers and their workers to protect patients. We will continue our extensive outreach and assistance efforts encouraging individuals working in health care to get vaccinated.

CMS is disappointed in the decision on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Emergency Temporary Standard, and agrees with President Biden and Secretary Walsh: This is a major setback for the health and safety of workers across the country.

The bottom line is that vaccine requirements work and are an important tool to protect patients – and also to keep our health care workers healthy. We’ve already seen many health care providers successfully implement requirements for their staff. We look forward to working with health care providers to get their workers vaccinated. Protecting vulnerable patients across the country from the devastating effects of COVID-19 remains a top priority for the Biden-Harris Administration and CMS.

Additional Background:

Health care workers and others interested in learning more about or obtaining a COVID-19 vaccination can visit https://www.vaccines.gov/ for additional information.

As a result of today’s decision, health care providers subject to the Omnibus Health Care Staff Vaccination rule in the 24 states (Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, West Virginia, and Wyoming) covered by this decision will now need to establish plans and procedures to ensure their staff are vaccinated and to have their employees receive at least the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Today’s decision does not affect compliance timelines for providers in the District of Columbia, the territories, and the 25 states where the preliminary injunction was previously lifted. See the guidance released on December 28, 2021, for additional information.

USDA Launches Pilot Program to Deploy Renewable Energy Infrastructure to People in Rural Towns

Funding Will Help People in Particularly Underserved Rural Communities Cut Energy Costs, Increase Energy Resiliency and Address Climate Change

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the Department is making up to $10 million available to help people living in rural towns develop community renewable energy projects that will help them cut their energy costs and contribute to the nationwide effort to reduce pollution that contributes to climate change. These funds will be targeted to help people who live in communities that have been historically underinvested and disinvested.

USDA is making the funds available through the new Rural Energy Pilot Program to help the people of rural America build back better, stronger and more equitably than ever before. Through this program, USDA is supporting the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to making environmental justice a part of every agency’s mission to address the disproportionate health, environmental, economic and climate impacts on disadvantaged communities.

“Under the leadership of President Biden and Vice President Harris, USDA is providing grant assistance for people who live in particularly underserved rural towns to help them cut their household energy costs and address climate change at the local level,” Vilsack said. “As we continue to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure, USDA is targeting resources and investments to help meet our nation’s energy needs and combat climate change. The new program we’re announcing today will pilot the viability of community-scale renewable energy investments to mitigate the energy-burdened circumstances of particularly disadvantaged rural communities. This assistance will help to keep people in their hometowns by supporting good-paying jobs, business opportunities, and a more affordable cost of living.”

Background:

USDA will make up to $10 million in grants available to particularly underserved rural communities. The funds can be used to deploy community-scale renewable energy technologies and innovations to reduce climate pollution and increase resilience to the impacts of climate change. These technologies include solar, wind, geothermal, micro-hydroelectric and biomass/bioenergy. Up to 20% of awarded funds may also be used for community energy planning, capacity building, technical assistance, energy efficiency and weatherization.

USDA is offering priority points to projects that advance key priorities under the Biden-Harris Administration to help communities recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, advance equity and combat climate change. These extra points will increase the likelihood of funding for projects seeking to address these critical challenges in rural America.
Details on an upcoming informational webinar is forthcoming and will be posted to the Rural Energy Pilot Program webpage.

Prospective applicants must inform the Agency by submitting a required Letter of Intent prior to submission of a complete application. The letters must be submitted via electronic upload into a secure cloud vault, by 11:59 p.m. EST on April 19, 2022.

Application guides and submission information are available on the program website, under the To Apply tab, https://www.rd.usda.gov/programs-services/energy-programs/rural-energy-pilot-program.

For additional information, see page 2747 of the Jan. 19 Federal Register.

Under the Biden-Harris Administration, Rural Development provides loans and grants to help expand economic opportunities, create jobs and improve the quality of life for millions of Americans in rural areas. This assistance supports infrastructure improvements; business development; housing; community facilities such as schools, public safety and health care; and high-speed internet access in rural, tribal and high-poverty areas. For more information, visit www.rd.usda.gov. If you’d like to subscribe to USDA Rural Development updates, visit our GovDelivery subscriber page.

USDA touches the lives of all Americans each day in so many positive ways. Under the Biden-Harris Administration, USDA is transforming America’s food system with a greater focus on more resilient local and regional food production, fairer markets for all producers, ensuring access to safe, healthy and nutritious food in all communities, building new markets and streams of income for farmers and producers using climate-smart food and forestry practices, making historic investments in infrastructure and clean energy capabilities in rural America, and committing to equity across the Department by removing systemic barriers and building a workforce more representative of America. To learn more, visit www.usda.gov.

Oral Antiviral COVID-19 Therapies Update

In December, the FDA approved the first oral antiviral https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/coronavirus-covid-19-update-fda-authorizes-first-oral-antiviral-treatment-covid-19 for the treatment of mild-to-moderate coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in adults and pediatric patients (12 years of age and older weighing at least 40 kilograms or about 88 pounds) with positive results of direct SARS-CoV-2 testing, and who are at high risk for progression to severe COVID-19, including hospitalization or death. A limited number of FQHCs in Pennsylvania have begun to receive a supply of oral antivirals. Pennsylvania locations with oral antivirals obtained through the PA Department of health can be found at: https://www.health.pa.gov/topics/disease/coronavirus/Pages/Prevention-Treatment.aspx#oral Scroll down the page and note there are separate links for Mulnupiravir providers and Paxlovid providers. Individuals can also search by address using this therapeutics map: https://protect-public.hhs.gov/pages/therapeutics-distribution In addition, around 200 health centers nationwide, including seven in Pennsylvania, have been invited to participate in the HRSA program to distribute oral antivirals. As supply increases, oral AVs should be a more accessible solution, but supply is currently very limited in both programs.