Rural Health Information Hub Latest News

Union Community Care’s COVID-19 Story Spotlighted

HRSA’s new Health Center Stories webpage provides examples of health centers’ creative and inspiring efforts to boost vaccine confidence and connect with their communities. HRSA chooses stories to highlight in its Digest publication. Union Community Care’s work to get COVID-19 tests to people experiencing homelessness and residents of public housing was spotlighted in the COVID-19 section of the Feb. 22 edition of the Digest. Read the full story on the Health Center Stories webpage, as the first story under the COVID-19 Response Efforts section.

Mask Mandates Dropped in Every State but One

As COVID-19 cases continue to decline across the country, all states but one — Hawaii — have dropped their mask mandates or have made plans to do so in the coming weeks. This week, Target and Apple stores joined other retailers in pulling back their own mandates. In recent days, some cruise lines said they are relaxing mask requirements for vaccinated passengers after putting stricter rules in place during the omicron surge. But how to handle masks in schools remains a point of contention in many districts.

Pennsylvania COVID-19 Death Rate Plummets

Pennsylvania’s seven-day average of daily COVID-19 deaths fell to 84 as of Sunday, about half the level of late January, according to tracking by SpotlightPA. Sunday’s level is the lowest since early December. The commonwealth’s all-time peak average of 222 daily deaths came in mid-January of 2021. Based on data from the Department of Health, Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 death toll stood at 42,789 as of Monday. Data indicate the level of new infections also has plunged, with Pennsylvania averaging 2,478 new infections per day as of Monday, down from an average of about 28,000 new infections per day in mid-January. Across the country, new cases have plummeted 90% from five weeks ago, although it’s important to note that the data generally doesn’t capture positive home test results

COVID-19 Vaccine Payment Bulletin

The PA Department of Human Services (DHS) has finally released the long-awaited Medical Assistance Bulletin outlining payment for administration of COVID-19 vaccine during a vaccine-only visit in which no other services are provided on the same date. The bulletin announces DHS is implementing an alternative payment methodology (APM):

  1. To pay the MA Program Fee Schedule rate for the administration of the vaccine on or after Dec. 1, 2020
  2. To pay the enhanced MA Program Fee Schedule rate for the administration of the vaccine to homebound MA beneficiaries during a vaccine-only visit for dates of service on or after April 1, 2021

It is important to note that the bulletin applies to fee-for-service only; providers rendering services to MA beneficiaries in the managed care delivery system (HealthChoices) must utilize the COVID-19 vaccine administration codes for DHS tracking purposes but must contact the managed care organization (MCO) with billing questions. The bulletin outlines the procedure codes for administration of the vaccine, which are distinct to each COVID vaccine and the specific dose in the required schedule. In order to bill under this new APM, a request to opt in to the APM as of Dec. 1, 2020, must be submitted by the FQHC/RHC chief financial officer (CFO) via email to DHS at financialgatekeeper@pa.gov within 30 days of issuance of the bulletin (by March 26, 2022) and must include both the FQHC/RHC nine-digit service location number for which the opt-in is to be applied. The email should indicate the FQHC/RHC is accepting the APM. Claims submitted within 60 days of the issuance of the bulletin (April 25, 2022) will not be subject to the time frames for submission of claims in 55 Pa. Code §1101.63(b). Read the full bulletin.

HRSA Makes Changes to Health Center COVID-19 Survey

Beginning with the Health Center COVID-19 Survey issued on Feb. 24, HRSA will add new options for questions 7b and 8b. These questions ask where health centers distributed N95 masks and test kits received through HRSA’s COVID-19 Response Programs. Here are the new options:

  • Provided to migratory/seasonal agricultural workers directly or through partnerships with community organizations serving these individuals
  • Provided to individuals with limited English proficiency directly or through partnerships with community organizations serving these individuals
  • Provided to older adults and/or individuals with disabilities directly or through partnerships with community organizations serving these individuals
  • Provided to school-age children and/or their families directly or through partnerships with schools

Provided to individuals living in HUD-assisted housing and/or individuals experiencing homelessness directly or through partnerships with local housing authorities

 

Supreme Court Won’t Hear Challenge to State Mask Mandate

The Supreme Court again rejected an opportunity to hear arguments in a lawsuit that sought to challenge Maine’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for healthcare workers. The Supreme Court had already rejected the Maine challengers in October, when, over three dissents, the justices refused to intervene on an emergency basis. Maine is one of three states, along with New York and Rhode Island, that require vaccination of healthcare workers and allow exemptions only for medical reasons. Although the Supreme Court has limited the federal government’s power to require COVID-19 shots or tests, the justices have allowed state and local mandates, even without religious exemptions. The court left in force New York’s requirement in December.

COVID-19 Can Destroy Placenta and Lead to Stillbirths

New research bolsters evidence from small case reports and confirms that placenta damage rather than an infection of the fetus is the likely cause of many COVID-19-related stillbirths. Researchers in 12 countries, including the U.S., analyzed placental and autopsy tissue from stillbirths and newborns who died shortly after birth. The cases all involved unvaccinated women who had COVID-19 during their pregnancy. Researchers found that placentas were infected and extensively destroyed. Read more.

COVID-19 Rapid Antigen Over-The-Counter Test Kits Available in Pennsylvania

The Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH) wants to increase Pennsylvanians’ access to COVID-19 testing and enhance residents’ ability to live, work, and play safely. As part of this, DOH is distributing rapid over-the-counter COVID-19 test kits to vulnerable communities, providing free testing resources to those most in need.

  • Distribution will be happening in waves over the coming weeks
  • This wave of public distribution began Monday 2/14 in the following 16 counties: Berks, Cambria, Clearfield, Clinton, Crawford, Fayette, Indiana, Lackawanna, Lawrence, Lebanon, Lycoming, McKean, Mifflin, Northumberland, Schuylkill
  • State Health Centers are serving as the distribution sites in 15 of the 16 counties (Lackawanna alternate site: Community Intervention Center)
  • See communication below for further test pickup information
  • Distribution information beyond next week will be communicated by Friday 2/18

Test information:

  • Tests have received Emergency Use Authorization from the FDA
  • Tests are approved for at-home use and do not require a medical provider to oversee use
  • Tests are approved for individuals two and older; tests can be self-collected by an individual aged 14 years and older, children aged 2-13 years should be tested by an adult
  • Tests provide results in about 15 minutes

Pickup information:

  • Test kits are provided on a first-come, first-serve basis at the pickup sites & times below. No appointment is necessary
  • Tests are free to all individuals
  • Individuals are not required to show symptoms of COVID-19 in order to pick up a test kit
  • Individuals are limited to picking up a maximum of 4 tests to ensure equitable distribution across the Commonwealth

Test pickup schedule:

Berks County

Test kits will be available for pick up at the Berks County State Health Center (625 Cherry St., Room 401, Reading, PA, 19602) at the following times:

  • Friday Feb 18: 9 am-11 am, 1 pm-3 pm

Cambria County

Test kits will be available for pick up at the Cambria County State Health Center (184 Donald Lane, Suite 1, Johnstown, PA, 15904) at the following times:

  • Thursday Feb 17: 10 am-12 pm, 1:30 pm-3 pm
  • Friday Feb 18: 10 am-12 pm, 1:30 pm-3 pm

Clarion County

Test kits will be available for pick up at the Clarion County State Health Center (Applewood Center, Suite D, 162 S. 2nd St., Clarion, PA, 16214) at the following times:

  • Thursday Feb 17: 9:30 am-11:30 am, 1:30 pm-2:30 pm

Clearfield County

Test kits will be available for pick up at the Clearfield County State Health Center (1123 Linden St., Clearfield, PA, 16830) at the following times

  • Wednesday Feb 16: 10 am-1 pm
  • Thursday Feb 17: 10 am-1 pm

Clinton County

Test kits will be available for pick up at the Clinton County State Health Center (215 E. Church St., Lock Haven, PA, 17745) at the following times:

  • Thursday Feb 17: 8:30 am-3:45 pm
  • Friday Feb 18: 8:30 am-3:45 pm

Crawford County

Test kits will be available for pick up at the Crawford County State Health Center (Parkside Commons, Suite 101, 847 N. Main St., Meadville, PA 16335) at the following times:

  • Thursday Feb 17: 9:30 am-11:30 am, 1:30 pm-2:30 pm

Fayette County

Test kits will be available for pick up at the Fayette County State Health Center (100 New Salem Road, Suite 102, Uniontown, PA, 15401) at the following times:

  • Wednesday Feb 16: 10 am-12 pm, 1:30 pm-3 pm
  • Thursday Feb 17: 10 am-12 pm, 1:30 pm-3 pm

Indiana County

Test kits will be available for pick up at the Indiana County State Health Center (75 N. 2nd St., Indiana, PA, 15701) at the following times:

  • Wednesday Feb 16: 10 am-12 pm, 1:30 pm-3 pm
  • Friday Feb 18 :10 am-12 pm, 1:30 pm-3 pm

Lackawanna County

Test kits will be available for pick up at the Community Intervention Center (445 N 6th Ave., Scranton, PA, 18503)  at the following times:

  • Wednesday Feb 16: 8 am-2 pm
  • Thursday Feb 17: 8 am-2 pm

Lawrence County

Test kits will be available for pick up at the Lawrence County State Health Center (106 Margaret St., New Castle, PA, 16101) at the following days:

  • Wednesday Feb 16: 9:30 am-11:30 am, 1:30 pm-2:30 pm

Lebanon County

Test kits will be available for pick up at the Lebanon County State Health Center (9 N. 9th St., Lebanon, PA, 17046) at the following times:

  • Thursday Feb 17: 9 am-1 pm

Lycoming County

Test kits will be available for pick up at the Lycoming County State Health Center (1000 Commerce Park Drive, Suite 109, Williamsport, PA, 17701) at the following times:

  • Thursday Feb 17: 8:30 am-4:15 pm

McKean County

Test kits will be available for pick up at the McKean County State Health Center (84-90 Boylston St., Gleason Building, Bradford, PA, 16701) at the following times:

  • Thursday Feb 17: 9:30 am-11:30 am, 1:30 pm-2:30 pm

Mifflin County

Test kits will be available for pick up at the Mifflin County State Health Center (21 S. Brown St., Suite 2A, Lewistown, PA, 17044) at the following times:

  • Wednesday Feb 16: 9 am-11 am
  • Thursday Feb 17: 1 pm-3 pm

Northumberland County

Test kits will be available for pick up at the Northumberland County State Health Center (247 Pennsylvania Ave., Sunbury, PA, 17801) at the following times:

  • Wednesday Feb 16: 9 am-12 pm, 2 pm-4 pm
  • Thursday Feb 17: 9 am-12 pm, 2 pm-4 pm

Schuylkill County

Test kits will be available for pick up at the Schuylkill County State Health Center (One Norwegian Plaza, Suite 103, Pottsville, PA, 17901) at the following times:

  • Wednesday Feb 16: 1 pm-4 pm

Lockdowns Reduced Mortality By 0.2%

Study finds lockdowns only reduced mortality by 0.2%. Researchers – Johns Hopkins University economics professor Steve Hanke, Lund University economics professor Lars Jonung, and special advisor at Copenhagen’s Center for Political Studies Jonas Herby – analyzed the effects of lockdown measures such as school shutdowns, business closures, and mask mandates on COVID-19 deaths. “We find little to no evidence that mandated lockdowns in Europe and the United States had a noticeable effect on COVID-19 mortality rates,” the researchers wrote. The researchers also examined shelter-in-place orders, finding that they reduced COVID-19 mortality by 2.9%. Read more.