COVID Q&A: hydroxychloroquine, deaths, and dangerous hand sanitizers

Is hydroxychloroquine considered an effective treatment for COVID-19?

Hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine have not been shown to be safe and effective for treating or preventing COVID-19, according to the FDA, citing reports of serious heart rhythm problems in patients with COVID-19 treated with hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine.

Anyone considering using hydroxychloroquine should consult with a medical professional before beginning to use it. The U.S. National Institutes of Health recommends against using hydroxychloroquine except for people in clinical trials due to lack of evidence of clinical benefit and increased risk for abnormal heart rhythms and other side effects with the use of this medicine.

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From DHW Director Jeppesen: We remain focused on our mission to serve Idahoans. You can track our progress in our Strategic Plan and Performance Reports.

Although COVID-19 has changed the way we work for the past five months, it hasn’t changed the need to serve Idaho’s most vulnerable residents. We want all Idahoans to be able to live their best lives.

The impact we have on those we serve is often immeasurable. We work with struggling families to make sure they have a safe place to raise their children. We assist people in crisis – whether it is a physical or behavioral health crisis. We also help people who need public assistance, while always keeping the path to self-reliance in our sight.

We are focused on our mission: Dedicated to strengthening the health, safety, and independence of Idahoans, and we keep track of our progress through our Strategic Plan. Our 2021-2025 Strategic Plan outlines our strategies to:

  • Address state and community issues (e.g. affordable, available healthcare)
  • Focus on public health issues and responses (e.g. COVID-19)
  • Protect children, youth, and vulnerable adults (e.g. reunification of families and behavioral health services)
  • Help Idahoans become as healthy and self-sufficient as possible (e.g. reduce Idaho’s suicide rates)
  • Strengthen the public’s trust in confidence in DHW (e.g. prevent accumulation of ineffective, outdated regulations)

We invite you to review our Strategic Plan and Performance Reports. As we continue with our plan, we will be able to show a positive influence on Idaho’s health and human services system.

Continue reading “From DHW Director Jeppesen: We remain focused on our mission to serve Idahoans. You can track our progress in our Strategic Plan and Performance Reports.”

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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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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Public Health staff, programs work hard to keep Idahoans safe and healthy. We need your support during COVID-19.

Public Health employees take their jobs to protect the health and safety of Idahoans very seriously, even when Idaho isn’t in the middle of a deadly pandemic.

Public health practitioners look after our health and safety in Idaho through a range of services that include, but are not limited to, maternal and child health, immunizations, chronic and communicable diseases surveillance and intervention, food safety regulation, environmental health, emergency medical services licensing, vital records administration (including birth and death records), rural healthcare provider recruitment, laboratory services, and bioterrorism preparedness. They also record and compile health statistics, so we have some historical context for what makes us sick or unwell.

Public health programs and services promote healthy lifestyles and prevention activities while monitoring and intervening in disease transmission and health risks as a safeguard for Idahoans. Public health activities largely go unnoticed until there is a crisis like this COVID-19 pandemic.

I am very proud of the work we are doing at the state and local levels to help keep Idaho healthy and safe, for both COVID-19 response and non-COVID activities.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, state and local public health have been working collaboratively to respond. Public health at the state level works with and supports the locals as they manage the pandemic response. When the state issues guidelines and protocols, they have been developed in close coordination with the health districts.

Continue reading “Public Health staff, programs work hard to keep Idahoans safe and healthy. We need your support during COVID-19.”