All US states are now authorized to use their own coronavirus tests, the Trump administration announced Tuesday.
Medicare patients will also now be able to use tele-medicine services through FaceTime and Skype at no additional charge in an effort to keep elderly Americans at home and safe from exposure to COVID-19, which has killed 94 people in the US.
It comes after widespread outcry over a shortage of tests for the new disease that’s spread like wildfire to 5,244 Americans, including deadly outbreaks among elderly people and nursing home patients.
US state health officials are now also working to get remote testing facilities up and running, which would help to limit the influx of people potentially infected with coronavirus into broader health care facilities, where the virus can spread quickly.
President Donald Trump announced Tuesday that all US states are now allowed to make, approve and use their own coronavirus tests instead of waiting for FDA authorization
The Trump administration waived certain medical privacy laws in order to facilitate better access to remote health care for at-risk Americans, and gave states the authority to do the same.
Already, New York was granted similar permissions by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in an effort to expand testing and contain the spread of the virus.
On the heels of that expansion, some 10,000 people in New York have now been tested, Governor Cuomo said in a Tuesday press conference.
States, too, are now allowed to expand telehealth coverage for their patients if they so choose.
Both the expansion to telehealth access and test authorization are unprecedented actions in the US.
‘It’s something that’s never been done before,’ said President Trump.
So far, nearly 50,000 Americans have been tested for coronavirus, according to a community-built COVID Tracking Project.
According to state reporting, more than 5,200 people are positive for the virus. The COVID Tracking Project documents more than 43,000 have tested negative, and the results of nearly 2,000 tests are pending.
New York was already granted special authorization for its own tests (pictured) and has since tested some 10,000 people, Governor Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday
Officials said drive through testing – like this site in Maryland – is being set up in 47 locations across 12 US states
US Public Health Service Commissioned Corps (USPHS) head Dr Brett Giroir said during the Tuesday press conference that public health labs and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) labs had tested 31,878 people for coronavirus.
Associated clinical labs have tested 27,000 people,8,200 of which were performed yesterday. Dr Giroir said this underscored how quickly the process is being ramped up.
Other hospitals have not yet reported their testing numbers, but Dr Giroir said he expects these in the next day or so.
The USPHS is also working to set up 47 drive-thru labs in 12 states. It opened its first trial site yesterday and Dr Giroir admitted there were ‘a lot of kinks.’
In South Korea, where coronavirus has also been spreading rapidly, 3,692 people per one million residents have been tested for the virus.
Italy lags behind, with 826 people per million being tested.
Vice President Mike Pence said that CVS, Target and Walmart could also offer expanded remote testing across the US.
‘You don’t need the results of testing [to follow] the 15 day coronavirus guidelines, which [are] advice for every American in every community,’ said Pence.
The federal government is urging Americans to work from home, if possible, practice social distancing, avoid gatherings of 10 or more people and refrain from eating or drinking at restaurants and bars.
Officials are pleading, however, for drive-thru restaurants to remain open and the Trump administration said it is working with these establishments and others to provide financial and safety support.
More than 5,000 Americans have coronavirus and 94 have died of the virus
Dr Deborah Birx also urged that Americans cancel all non-essential medical and dental procedures, both to limit potential exposures to the virus for patients and health care workers and in an effort to prevent the health care system from being overwhelmed and overcome by the coronavirus.
Instead, the expansion of telehealth is intended to allow Americans to continue to access health care without face-to-face contact, which risks transmission of coronavirus.
Some 76 percent of US hospitals are set up to provide telehealth services, according to the American Hospital Association (AHA).
Medicaid in nearly all US states previously covered some form of telehealth, as do many private insurers, but Medicare – which covers 44 million Americans, mostly over the age of 65 – lags behind, the AHA says.
Now, all patients will be covered at no additional cost, and loosened restrictions on privacy regulations in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) will allow doctors to communicate with patients using common services like FaceTime and Skype.