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Health Highlights: Aug. 4, 2020

Last Updated: August 04, 2020.

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

Trump Limits Free Nursing Home COVID-19 Tests

The plan to give every nursing home a fast COVID-19 testing machine has a catch, the Associated Press reported Tuesday.

The catch is that under the Trump administration plan, the government won't give kits to check staff and residents more than a couple of times.

When the plan was announced last month it was hailed, but it may just be another empty promise made to nursing homes, critics charge. Although nursing homes house a small percent of the population, as many as 40% COVID-19 deaths, occur there, the AP said.

"I think the biggest fear is that the instruments may be delivered but it won't do any good, if you don't have the test kits," George Linial, president of LeadingAge of Texas, a branch of a national group representing nonprofit nursing homes and other providers of elder care, told the AP.

Cost to test employees could run from $19,000 to nearly $38,000 a week.

Nursing homes could cover the cost using a $5 billion fund allocated to the facilities by the White House, the administration said.

The government will supply enough kits to test residents once and staff twice, Adm. Brett Giroir, the Health and Human Services department's "testing czar," told reporters.

Arrangements have been made with manufacturers so nursing homes can order tests, for less than they are spending now, Giroir said.

Actually providing at least one testing machine to each of the 15,400 nursing homes is still being worked out, but it's a top priority, Giroir said.

"This is not wrapped up with a bow on it," he told reporters on a recent call. "We (are) doing this as aggressively as possible."

The administration hopes to deliver 2,400 fast-test machines and hundreds of thousands of test kits by mid-August, Giroir said.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said that getting a machine to every nursing home could take 14 weeks, the AP noted.

"Part of the problem is resources and a lack of clarity about who pays for this in the future." Tamara Konetzka, a research professor at the University of Chicago, told the AP.

"Doing one round of testing doesn't really solve the problem in a pandemic that could last months or years," she said.


Medicare Should Expand Telehealth: Trump

President Donald Trump signed an order on Monday that will broaden the role of telehealth for Medicare patients, the Associated Press reported.

Although the executive order is limited to rural patients, the administration is sending a signal to Congress pass legislation to permanently use telehealth as an option for all Medicare recipients, the wire service reported.

The administration is "taking action to make sure telehealth is here to stay," Trump said.

The executive order also sets up an experiment whereby hospitals in rural areas can receive predictable Medicare payments in exchange for better performance on some measures of quality, the AP reported.

The order directs the departments of Agriculture, Health and Human Services, and the Federal Communications Commission to work to build an infrastructure that supports telehealth in rural areas.

Services telehealth can handle include emergency room visits, nurse consultations and speech and occupational therapy.

Medicare has already expanded its coverage for telehealth due to the coronavirus pandemic. But that will end in most areas when the emergency ends.

The administration has authority to expand some services in rural areas, but Congress must pass a broader program, according to the AP.

Telehealth has been popular among Medicare patients because it's a way to keep older patients safe and avoid catching the virus by going out for doctor appointments.

In the last week of April, nearly 2 million Medicare patients used telehealth. Only thousands had used the program before the pandemic, the AP noted.

"In an earlier age, doctors commonly made house calls," Seema Verma, the Medicare Administrator, said in a statement. "Given how effectively and efficiently the health care system has adapted to the advent of telehealth, it's become increasingly clear that it is poised to resurrect that tradition in modern form."


McDonald's, Target and Gap Say Shoppers Must Wear Masks

As the pandemic coronavirus continues to ravage the country, McDonald's, Target and Gap will now require both staff and shoppers to wear face masks, CBS News reported Saturday.

McDonald's President and CEO Chris Kempczinski told "CBS This Morning" the company made the change in response to the pandemic.

More than 155,000 Americans had died from the virus according to Johns Hopkins University and over 4.6 million have been infected with COVID-19.

"We've for quite some time required our crew to wear masks, but we thought that in light of what we're seeing, it's prudent now that we also ask our customers to wear masks in the restaurant as well," Kempczinski told CBS.

Gap Inc. and Target have instituted a similar policy.

About 90% of Target stores required customers to wear masks due to local and state regulations, but the policy is being spread "to include guests at all stores nationwide," the retailer said in a statement.

Gap said,"given the recent increase in COVID-19 cases in the U.S. and Canada, we want to do everything we can to help stop the spread of the virus." Their policy includes Old Navy and Banana Republic stores, CBS reported.

Many Americans, however, resist wearing masks even though the scientists say they can help save lives. Some companies have backtracked on policies requiring masks, CBS noted.

Dollar Tree and Family Dollar, for example, no longer mandate masks, while Lowe's said it wouldn't enforce a face mask policy days after it started it.

Some stores are concerned that enforcing mask requirements could put workers at risk, noting that violent incidents have occurred.

Walmart and CVS said they will limit enforcing the mask mandate. McDonald's Kempczinski told CBS he did not rule out getting authorities involved if customers who refuse to wear masks cause trouble.

Previous: Schools Can Reopen Safely If Precautions in Place, Australian Study Shows Next: Coronavirus Cases Now Climbing in the Midwest

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