COVID-19: A Q&A

In our endless desire to make sure Idahoans have accurate, current, and relevant information about COVID-19, we’re continuing to answer questions we have received through the Department of Health and Welfare’s (DHW) social media accounts, in emails, and in our daily lives as we all live with the coronavirus in our communities. Here are some we’ve collected recently.

Q: I’ve heard that hospitals make more money treating COVID-19 patients, so they are labeling more patients as COVID-positive than they are actually treating for COVID-19. Is this true?

A: This is not true. There is a false rumor circulating that hospitals are misrepresenting COVID patient data to increase federal reimbursements for patient care. It is true that the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act increased reimbursements to hospitals for Medicare patients with COVID-19 due to the high cost of COVID-19 patient care.

However, it is not true that healthcare providers have an incentive to misrepresent a patient’s COVID-19 status. To begin with, a misrepresentation of a patient’s COVID-19 status would be fraudulent, exposing the provider to civil and even criminal liability. 

Second, the clinicians who decide whether to diagnose patients with COVID-19 have no economic incentive to do so. The way physicians in hospital systems are compensated for the services they provide is not based on what Medicare or other payers reimburse the hospital system for the care. A diagnosing physician is paid the same amount for services provided to a patient with or without a COVID-19 diagnosis. 

Third, Medicare’s increased reimbursements typically do not cover the increased costs of providing care to COVID-positive patients. COVID-positive patients often suffer more intense symptoms and potential complications than non-COVID patients. These patients often require a combination of medications and sometimes a ventilator for many days to support breathing. Even COVID-19 patients whose disease does not become more severe require more expensive care, including increased use of personal protective equipment, seclusion, and more rigorous disinfection routines. The modest increase in Medicare reimbursement does not come close to covering the cost of care. 

Finally, Medicare is the only payer that has increased hospital reimbursement for COVID-positive patients. Therefore, for the vast majority of patients under age 65, there is no increase in funding for hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

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There’s a path forward for families eligible for P-EBT program: An update from DHW Director Dave Jeppesen

The state of Idaho is participating in the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) Program, but it took some work to get to a path forward.

The P-EBT provides eligible families with a one-time payment for each child who previously received free or reduced-price meals at school. The Department of Health and Welfare does not administer the school lunch program. In order for Idaho to implement the P-EBT program, DHW and the Department of Education had to work out data share agreements to make sure data could be shared between the departments. Conversations between the two agencies started in earnest in early June. Because each individual school district owns the data for families eligible for the school lunch program, we worked together to ensure we were able to get all of the information in a format we could use from local public school districts to implement the program.

Now that the path forward has been determined, DHW and the Department of Education have submitted their plan to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for approval, and we have full confidence that our plan will be approved. When it is approved, we will get P-EBT payments to eligible families as soon as possible.

Idaho remains in Stage 4 of the Idaho Rebounds Plan for two more weeks

During Gov. Brad Little’s press conference on Thursday, he announced that Idaho would remain in Stage 4 for the next two weeks. Although we are staying in Stage 4, there is good news for Idahoans because:

  • Idaho has sufficient healthcare workers, PPE, ventilators, and ICU beds, and we are meeting the demands for testing our healthcare workers statewide. 
  • The state has downward trends in overall case counts as well as our percent-positivity rate.
  • Emergency room visits from those with COVID-like symptoms are declining.

Gov. Little added overall hospital admissions statewide to the list of metrics used to examine Idaho’s situation every two weeks and said those numbers need to be on a downward trend. He also noted that in some of the state’s hot spots, we are starting to see the benefits of the measures that local public health officials and mayors have put in place such as mask/cloth face covering orders or resolutions.

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More emergency funding is available for childcare providers in Idaho

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare (DHW) has launched Phase 2 of the Idaho Child Care Emergency Grant. This is a new opportunity open to all eligible childcare providers, including those who may have previously received grant funding from DHW.

Some basic details about this phase of the Idaho Child Care Emergency Grant include:

  • Applications will only be accepted via email to ChildCareGrant@dhw.idaho.gov through Aug. 31.
  • To qualify, a childcare program must be participating with Idaho Child Care Program and/or are licensed and open and providing full-time childcare.
  • Phase 2 funding should be used to support staffing costs, cleaning and janitorial supplies and services, business operations, and transportation.  
  • This is not a “first-come, first-served” grant opportunity. All eligible applicants will receive at least two monthly award payments.
  • Each applicant will be responsible for the recordkeeping of all required grant documentation and proof of eligible expenditures.
  • Phase 2 grants will be distributed in equal monthly payments, beginning in August until the funds are depleted. Total grant amounts will be determined by provider type, as follows:
Phase II Idaho Child Care Emergency Grant
 Large centers (Licensed capacity of 25+ children)  $ 5,000
 Small centers (Licensed capacity of 13-24 children)  $ 2,500
 Licensed group homes (7-12 children)  $ 1,000
 Family childcare homes (Up to 6 children)  $    500
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Supporting our teachers, staff, and students as schools reopen: A reminder from DHW Director Dave Jeppesen

Back-to-School Framework

On July 9, the state of Idaho released our Back-to-School Framework as schools began to make plans to reopen for the 2020-21 school year. The Framework outlines the expectations, support for local governance and decision-making, as well as guidance and best practices on the key operational components for a safe reopening. As Gov. Brad Little stated, local leadership is paramount.

Additionally, on July 24, Gov. Little announced that the Coronavirus Financial Advisory Committee had approved an additional $40 million to increase testing capacity and improve test turn-around times in Idaho, with $21 million of the testing money specifically for K-12 teachers and staff. An additional $10 million was approved to equip schools with supplies needed to open safely.

Idaho has strategically leveraged federal funds to offset planned reductions. Between direct federal support for schools and the Governor’s actions through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, a total of $122.2 million has been committed to K-12 public education for the upcoming school year.

Ultimately, we want to keep our teachers, staff, and students as safe as possible from the spread of COVID-19. Depending on what is happening locally, each district will make the decision that is best for them. For example, in Ada County, face masks or cloth face coverings will be required at all schools and universities. Central District Health is doing the safe and responsible thing as Ada County has seen significant spread of COVID-19.

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Face coverings are protective, research shows

We have received several questions about whether face coverings actually protect us from the virus that causes COVID-19.

The evidence from many different sources is clear – face coverings are protective, especially when they’re used with the other recommended guidelines of keeping 6 feet between you and everyone else in public, washing or sanitizing your hands frequently, and staying home if you’re sick. Here’s a list of articles and studies and reports that have slight variations on the same theme — #MaskUpIdaho.

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DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: Wear a mask in support of Idaho’s economy

As you know, Gov. Brad Little announced yesterday that Idaho will remain in Stage 4 of the reopening plan for at least two more weeks. Like you, I am troubled by the increasing number of COVID-19 cases in Idaho. I am asking you, the Idahoans who love this state as much as I do, to help us slow the spread.

What is one easy thing that you can do? Wear a mask or cloth face covering when you are in public places. This is critical to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Wearing a mask or cloth face covering is not only a sign of mutual respect to your friends, neighbors, and community, but there is abundant evidence that masks or cloth face coverings help prevent the virus from spreading. It also shows your commitment to local businesses and Idaho’s economy. It’s such a simple thing to do, and it’s the right thing to do.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has confirmed that masks or cloth face coverings are a critical tool in the fight against COVID-19.

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COVID-19 Q&A

In our quest to help separate COVID-19 facts from fiction, we’re continuing to answer questions we have received through DHW’s social media accounts, in emails, and in our daily lives as we all live with the coronavirus in our communities. 

It’s important to remember that the virus that causes COVID-19 is brand new to humans, and more is being learned about it every day. All guidance is based on what public health currently knows about the coronavirus. As more is learned, guidance and knowledge could change, and we will do our best to keep you informed.  

In the meantime, it’s critical to remember to wear a mask or cloth face covering and stay six feet apart in public, stay home if you feel sick, and wash or sanitize your hands frequently.

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Wear a mask for your neighbors and your community: A call for action from DHW Director Dave Jeppesen

STAY THE COURSE TO SLOW THE SPREAD

The continued increase of COVID-19 cases in Ada County, and other areas of the state, is troubling. On social media, we are being asked “What can we do to slow the spread?”  In the absence of a vaccine or therapeutic interventions, the answer is simple, and it bears repeating:

  • Keep at least six feet between you and others in public
  • Wear face coverings in public places 
  • Stay home if you are sick
  • Wash your hands often
  • Cover coughs and sneezes
  • Disinfect surfaces and objects regularly

WEARING A MASK IS AN ACT OF LOVE AND RESPECT FOR OTHERS

During the last few months, the subject of wearing a mask has been hotly debated in public forums (and especially on social media) throughout the United States. In Idaho, some cities and counties are requiring the wearing of masks in public places when it is difficult to maintain six feet of physical distancing. Many businesses nationwide are requiring masks upon entry. We support those efforts.

At DHW, we highly recommend wearing masks or cloth face coverings. It helps slow the spread of COVID19 and shows your concern for your friends, neighbors, and community. There is mounting evidence that masks do prevent the spread of the virus, if we all wear masks or cloth face coverings properly.

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COVID-19: Facts vs. Fiction

There is a lot of COVID-19 information available through social media and other communications channels. Some of it is helpful and factual, and some of it is opinion or speculation. And some is just plain false. We want to help you separate the COVID-19 facts from fiction as you navigate through this pandemic.

Is wearing a mask or cloth face covering really helpful? The evidence is clear — cloth face coverings reduce the spread of COVID-19. They serve two purposes: to protect the public from those who may be infected with COVID-19 and to protect those infected with COVID-19 from spreading the disease to others.

Wearing a mask is most effective when everyone does it, and it also shows respect and concern for your neighbors and community. Masks are appropriate when physical distancing of at least six feet is not possible.

Cloth face coverings should not be placed on young children under the age of 2, anyone with difficulty breathing, anyone who is unconscious, incapacitated, or unable to remove the covering without assistance.

Does COVID-19 more severely affect older adults? Yes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as you get older, your risk for severe illness from COVID-19 increases. For example, people in their 50s are at higher risk for severe illness than people in their 40s. Similarly, people in their 60s or 70s are, in general, are at higher risk for severe illness than people in their 50s. The greatest risk for severe illness from COVID-19 is among those aged 85 or older.

There are also other factors that can increase your risk for severe illness, such as underlying medical conditions. By understanding the factors that put you at an increased risk, you can make decisions about what kind of precautions you should take in your daily life.

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Idaho remains in Stage 4 and a new framework is available for schools to open in the fall: Reminder from DHW Director Dave Jeppesen

I hope you had a chance to watch Gov. Brad Little’s press conference yesterday. He shared the Idaho Back to School Framework 2020, which outlines:

  • Expectations
  • Support for local governance and decision making
  • Guidance and best practices on the key operational components for safe reopening of schools in the fall

Although Gov. Little  expects public schools to open in the fall, decisions will be made locally by the school districts and local public health districts. Plus, most districts will operationalize “blended learning” for students. Blended learning is the combination of technology-based instruction with traditional, teacher-to-student lessons.

I want to echo the Governor’s appreciation of the school districts, teachers, and parents as they continue to face extraordinary challenges as they navigate a new normal for education In Idaho.

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