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Pennsylvania Administration Requires Masking to Protect Kids

With a focus on protecting students and keeping them in classrooms, Pennsylvania Governor Wolf joined the Departments of Health, Human Services and Education to discuss the current state of COVID-19 and a new Secretary of Health order requiring masks to be worn inside K-12 school buildings, early learning programs and child care providers, which will take effect at 12:01 am on Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2021. Universal masking in schools, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend, reduces the risk that entire classrooms will need to quarantine due to a positive COVID-19 case. For eligible adolescents in Pennsylvania, 18.2 percent of children ages 12-14 are fully vaccinated and 38.3 percent of children ages 15-19 are fully vaccinated. The order applies to everyone indoors at K-12 public schools including brick and mortar and cyber charter schools, private and parochial schools, career and technical centers (CTCs), and intermediate units (IUs). The order also applies to early learning programs and childcare providers for children ages 2 and older, as recommended by the CDC.

See the initial FAQs on the new order.

Employee Mandates Are Moving the Needle

Workers are more likely to get vaccinated when their employers require them to, according to the latest installment of the Axios/Ipsos Coronavirus Index.

  • Respondents Whose Employer Require COVID-19 Vaccination: 80% said they were already vaccinated; 10% said they were likely to get a vaccine and 11% said they were either “not likely” or were a “hard pass” on the idea.
  • Respondents Whose Employer Had No COVID-19 Vaccination Requirement: 68% said they’d already been vaccinated; another 6% were likely to get the vaccine, and 27% said they were either “not likely” or were a “hard pass” on vaccination.

Mandates will likely accelerate over the next several months, according to a new report by advisory firm Willis Towers Watson that found that 52% of the employers surveyed said they may impose a mandate, which would be a dramatic increase from the 21 percent who mandate vaccines now. Nearly a third of employers said they might make vaccination a requirement to gain access to the workplace, while about one in five are considering making vaccination a condition of employment.

Read more.

New Online Tool in Pennsylvania Aims to ID, Address Health Inequities

A new tool launched by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services can help providers and community organizations identify and address health inequities, state health experts say. The tool, an interactive data dashboard known as PA HEAT or the Pennsylvania Health Equity Analysis Tool, aims to give providers, community organizations and the public the opportunity to address health equity concerns in their communities.

Geisinger Requiring COVID-19 Vaccine for All Employees

Officials called it “a necessary step to protect the health of our patients and their colleagues.”

Geisinger Health System announced Wednesday that all employees will be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by October 15.

All workers must complete a Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson vaccine series by October 15. All new employees will be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as a condition of employment beginning on October 15, according to a release.

Officials called it “a necessary step to protect the health of our patients and their colleagues.”

The COVID-19 vaccine requirement includes all new employees, faculty, medical staff, residents, fellows, temporary workers, trainees, volunteers, students, and temporary staff, regardless of employer.

An exemption process is available for employees who have a documented and specific medical reason or sincerely held religious belief that preclude them from receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.

Geisinger claims that about 70 percent of employees are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

In a statement, Geisinger’s CEO said: “We understand that some employees who have consciously chosen to not get vaccinated may be disappointed by this decision. We hope they will understand that this is a necessary step to protect the health of our patients and their colleagues.”

Officials say they want to focus on educating employees about the benefits of the vaccine first, but those who continue to refuse will be terminated.

CMS Revises Guidance on Resuming Normal Medicaid Operations Post-Public Health Emergency

On August 13, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued its highly anticipated revisions to previous guidance on the resumption of normal Medicaid operations (or “unwinding”) when the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency (PHE) expires. Key revisions to previous guidance include:

  • Extending the timeframe for completing pending eligibility and enrollment actions to up to 12 months post-PHE
  • This does not change previous guidance on resuming timely processing of applications within four months post-PHE.
  • Completing an additional redetermination for individuals determined ineligible for Medicaid during the PHE
  • This rescinds the option under previous guidance for states to rely on an eligibility action processed within six months of the date of coverage termination post-PHE. In effect, the six-month “lookback” option for an eligibility action is no longer available.
  • States must make a full redetermination prior to taking an adverse action with respect to any beneficiary.
  • CMS reiterates that 30 days for beneficiary response to state requests to verify eligibility, along with minimum of 10 days of advance notice and fair hearing rights prior to termination or other adverse action, are required.
  • States must take steps to transition beneficiaries determined ineligible to other insurance affordability programs.

CMS reminds states of the requirement in previous guidance to adopt one of four risk-based approaches to prioritize completion of pending work. CMS encourages states to revise any existing plans considering the new 12-month timeframe for this work. CMS will require states to consider the promotion of coverage continuity within the state’s chosen risk-based strategy. More guidance will be issued on this topic and to assist states in establishing renewal workloads that will be sustainable into the future.

Pennsylvania Health Department Sets Nursing Home Target: 80% by October 1

Pennsylvania set an October 1 target for 80 percent of nursing home staff in the commonwealth to become fully vaccinated. It’s a goal that just 12.5 percent of the state’s skilled nursing facilities have reached so far, according to Department of Health (DOH) Executive Deputy Secretary Keara Klinepeter. Those unable to meet the target must subject their employees to more frequent testing according to DOH and “appropriate regulatory action” will follow if facilities don’t comply. About 72,000 residents live in 692 state-run nursing homes. LeadingAge PA, the organization that represents more than 380 of these long-term care facilities, is strongly encouraging all its members to mandate vaccination for staff. The state long-term care ombudsman said, “We have an ethical imperative to do this. They’re counting on us.”

Pennsylvania Signs Free COVID-19 Testing Agreement for Schools

Pennsylvania Governor Wolf’s administration has entered a partnership with a company to provide free COVID-19 testing in K-12 schools across the commonwealth during the 2021-22 academic year. The initiative is designed to help keep schools open and mitigate the spread of the virus. The administration has not ordered schools to begin universal masking and Gov. Wolf has repeatedly said he did not intend to do so. The turnaround time for testing results is one to two days.

Read more.

Pennsylvania Orders Vaccine Providers to Step Up for Schools

A new order, from the Pennsylvania Department of Health, effective Aug.16, requires COVID-19 vaccine providers to support efforts to vaccinate school educators, staff and students. The order supplements the Updated Order of the Acting Secretary of Health Directing Vaccine Providers’ Administration of COVID-19 Vaccines, dated July 26, 2021. It requires that when requested by an institution of higher education (IHI) or a school entity (SE), that vaccine providers will make every effort to coordinate a vaccine clinic for the employees, contractors, volunteers, students, or students’ families of the IHE or School Entity. Vaccine clinics may be held either at the IHE or SE or in any form or location agreed upon by the vaccine provider and education provider.

Vaccines for Staff at Federally Funded Nursing Homes Will be Required

From Politico

It’s the first time the White House has used the threat of holding back federal funding to boost vaccination rates.

President Joe Biden announced a plan to require Covid-19 vaccinations for staff in federally funded nursing homes — and withhold money for facilities that don’t comply with the policy.

It’s the first time the White House has used the threat of holding back federal funding to boost vaccination rates and will impact roughly 15,000 nursing homes employing 1.3 million people. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid will issue an emergency regulation in September, making staff vaccination a condition of funding.

While Biden officials for months have encouraged vaccinations and backed states’ various incentives for shot recipients, the coming mandate is a significant pivot toward penalizing facilities without requirements.

“More than 130,000 residents of nursing homes have sadly, sadly, over the period of this virus, passed away. At the same time, vaccination rates among nursing home staff significantly trail the rest of the country,” Biden said in remarks at the White House. “With this announcement, I’m using the power of the federal government as a payer of health care costs to make sure we reduce those risks to our most vulnerable seniors. These steps are all about keeping people safe and out of harm’s way.”

The president added that studies indicate high vaccination rates among nursing home staff are associated with 30 percent fewer Covid-19 cases among long-term care patients.

The administration floated a vaccine order earlier this month, earning swift criticism from Republicans and industry groups who warned they would oppose the plan.

Biden unveiled the order in remarks on the need for Covid-19 boosters in the broader population amid the ongoing surge fueled by the Delta variant, which now accounts for nearly every new Covid-19 case in the country. In his remarks, Biden also encouraged masking requirements at schools to keep children safe and backed broader vaccine mandates in the workplace.

The health department would still need to develop and finalize the new regulations slated for next month. Just 60 percent of nursing home staff are vaccinated against Covid-19 currently, according to the agency. Those staff serve about 1.6 million nursing home residents, many of the people most vulnerable to severe Covid-19 and the impact of emerging variants.

New Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data released on Wednesday showed a significant drop in vaccine effectiveness among nursing home residents in particular, compounding concerns that the most vulnerable could remain at heightened risk as long as the virus is circulating around them.

The White House noted in a fact sheet that several states have already instituted vaccine requirements for nursing home staff “and this action will ensure consistent and equitable standards across the country.”