COVID-19 Update

March 9, 2020

On Sunday evening, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its Guidance on Evaluating and Testing Persons for Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).

The CDC says: “Clinicians should work with their local and state health departments to coordinate testing through public health laboratories. In addition, COVID-19 diagnostic testing, authorized by the Food and Drug Administration under an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA), is becoming available in clinical laboratories. This additional testing capacity will allow clinicians to consider COVID-19 testing for a wider group of symptomatic patients. Clinicians should use their judgment to determine if a patient has signs and symptoms compatible with COVID-19 and whether the patient should be tested. Most patients with confirmed COVID-19 have developed fever and/or symptoms of acute respiratory illness (e.g., cough, difficulty breathing). Priorities for testing may include:

  • Hospitalized patients who have signs and symptoms compatible with COVID-19 in order to inform decisions related to infection control.
  • Other symptomatic individuals such as, older adults (age ≥ 65 years) and individuals with chronic medical conditions and/or an immunocompromised state that may put them at higher risk for poor outcomes (e.g., diabetes, heart disease, receiving immunosuppressive medications, chronic lung disease, chronic kidney disease).
  • Any persons including healthcare personnel, who within 14 days of symptom onset had close contact with a suspect or laboratory-confirmed4 COVID-19 patient, or who have a history of travel from affected geographic areas5 (see below) within 14 days of their symptom onset.”

Today, the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that a diagnostic test for COVID-19—designed for use in a diagnostic system that can process up to 1,000 tests in 24 hours—will receive advanced development support from HHS' Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR). The molecular diagnostic test from Hologic, Inc. becomes the first COVID-19 product selected for development through ASPR's Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority streamlined selection process, called an easy broad agency announcement (EZ-BAA).

On Friday (March 6), the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services issued frequently asked questions and answers (FAQs) for healthcare providers regarding Medicare payment for laboratory tests and other services related to COVID-19 as well as a summary of actions that CMS has taken concerning the novel coronavirus.

Current information suggests that person-to-person spread will continue to occur and more cases will be identified in Illinois and throughout the U.S.

As part of the government-wide efforts to respond to the global outbreak of COVID-19, HHS intends to purchase 500 million N95 respirators over the next 18 months for the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS).  Through guaranteed orders, this acquisition encourages manufacturers to immediately increase production of N95s for use by healthcare professionals. These guaranteed orders offer reassurance to manufacturers that they will not be left with excess supplies if private sector orders are cancelled once the COVID-19 response subsides.

In Illinois, there are currently four confirmed COVID-19 cases and three presumptive positive cases, pending confirmation by the CDC. The cases include:

  • The seventh case, announced Sunday, is a man in his 60s who has not traveled to any countries impacted by coronavirus; he has no known connection to any other existing cases.
  • The sixth case, announced Friday evening, is a woman in her 50s who is an employee at Jacqueline B. Vaughn Occupational High School in the Portage Park neighborhood in Chicago.  She recently traveled on the Grand Princess cruise ship on which 21 crew members and passengers have tested positive for the coronavirus.
  • In the fifth case, a Vanderbilt University student was diagnosed with the virus after returning to Illinois from a study abroad program in Italy. The student was recently released from a Chicago hospital.
  • The other four individuals in Illinois who had tested positive for the virus have been released from Chicago-area and suburban hospitals.

Also, health officials are now trying to track down people who came into close contact with a St. Louis woman in her 20s, who tested positive for the coronavirus after flying into O’Hare International Airport, staying with a friend in the Chicago area, and then taking an Amtrak train to her home last week.