Long-term care facilities receive nearly $12 million investment from DOH

To help long-term care facilities build resilience to sustain quality care as the population ages, the Department of Health (DOH) announced plans to distribute approximately $11.7 million in federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) funding. 

Acting Secretary of Health and Pennsylvania Physician General Dr. Denise Johnson said in a statement the investments will contribute to the long-range success of facilities that care for Pennsylvania’s most vulnerable residents. 

“These funds will be invested in key areas including workforce development, staff retention, and infrastructure developments that support infection prevention control and emergency preparedness.” 

The “Long-Term Care Quality Investment Pilot Request for Applications (RFA)” is open to skilled nursing facilities (SNFs), personal care homes (PCHs), assisted living facilities (ALFs), and intermediate care facilities (ICFs). Facilities must be enrolled by Dec. 9 in the state’s LCT RISE program’s quality improvement work initiative to be eligible to receive funding. 

Philadelphia facilities are not eligible for this funding, as the Philadelphia Department of Public Health received its own funding. The application deadline is 1:30 p.m. on Dec. 31, 2022. Funds are anticipated to be awarded in the second quarter of 2023.

New mask mandate could be a headache for Pennsylvania businesses

New guidance through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) allows anyone fully vaccinated to forgo face coverings in public settings, which could prove difficult for small businesses currently enforcing mask mandates.

Alison Beam, acting secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Health, announced Thursday that Pennsylvania’s mask order will be following the CDC’s guidance. When Pennsylvania’s vaccination numbers rise over 70%, the state plans to completely lift its masking order.

Spokespersons for the Pennsylvania Restaurant & Lodging Association (PRLA) and the Pennsylvania branch of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) see the move as positive for the state’s businesses, but noted that it may put some businesses in a precarious position.

“It’s the culmination of 14 months of these restaurant operators doing everything they can to keep their guests and employees safe,” said Ben Fileccia, director of operations and strategy at PRLA.

Despite the order, it is up to each individual business to decide if it will continue to enforce mask wearing among staff and customers even if they are fully vaccinated. That could leave a grey area for business owners, as it’s unlikely that the managers of an establishment will go to every unmasked customer and ask if they are vaccinated, said Greg Moreland, Pennsylvania state director at NFIB.

“I think some businesses will continue the order until everyone is unmasked,” said Moreland. “Some businesses will move forward with the guidance and hope and pray for the best but hoping and praying for the best isn’t necessarily the best option.”

Hershey Entertainment & Resorts Company announced it will be follow the DOH and CDC guidelines and allow fully vaccinated guests to remove their face coverings at Hershey Park. Park visitors will be trusted to follow the guidance based on their vaccination status.

“It is important that we all continue to remain vigilant and work together to prioritize the health and safety of those around us,” said Quinn Bryner, director of public relations and strategy at Hershey Entertainment. “We appreciate our guests partnering with us in following all guidelines.”

Some of PRLA’s members have said they may continue to have their staff members wear masks if it makes guests feel more comfortable, but they will trust their guests to be honest with them, said Fileccia.

One concern that businesses may have about allowing customers to enter their stores maskless is liability.

Late last year, Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed Republican-backed legislation that would have safeguarded businesses from COVID-19 related lawsuits. The possibility of being liable for someone tracing the illness back to their establishment could cause business owners to continue the mask order.

“There are concerns on the liability front,” said Moreland. “For these small businesses to feel comfortable to take the sign off the door, they want reassurance that they won’t be hit with some frivolous lawsuit that could put them out of business.”

Vaccinated adults aged 65 + are 94% less likely to be hospitalized with COVID than their unvaccinated peers

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that fully vaccinated adults 65 years and older were 94% less likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 than people of the same age who were not vaccinated.

The findings, released April 28, confirmed clinical trial data showing vaccines prevent severe COVID-19 illness, according to the CDC.  The risk for severe illness with COVID-19 increases with age, the CDC reports, with older adults at highest risk.

“These findings are encouraging and welcome news for the two-thirds of people aged 65 and up who are already fully vaccinated,” said Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, director of the CDC. “The results are promising for our communities and hospitals. As our vaccination efforts continue to expand, COVID-19 patients will not overwhelm health care systems – leaving hospital staff, beds, and services available for people who need them for other medical conditions.”

According to a database maintained by The New York Times and based on CDC data, as of Monday, the percentage of those ages 65 or older who had been fully vaccinated in the counties in southcentral Pennsylvania ranged from 73% in Lancaster County to 62% in Adams County.

The assessment looked at 417 participants in 24 hospitals in 14 states. Close to half of the patients were more than 75 years old.

In this CDC assessment, both Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccine products were equally represented.

The CDC recommends everyone 16 years of age and older in the U.S. population get the applicable COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible.


Pennsylvania state health officials outline their COVID-19 vaccine plan

As pharmaceutical companies race to create, test and stockpile doses of vaccines to protect against the coronavirus causing the COVID-19 pandemic, Pennsylvania is contemplating a similarly daunting challenge: distributing those doses as quickly and effectively as possible.

Every indication so far is that a COVID-19 vaccine won’t be ready until sometime next year. But those in charge at the Pennsylvania Department of Health say they have a plan and are preparing now for the arrival.

The spread of COVID-19 continues in Pennsylvania. On Thursday, there were 2,900 additional positive cases, bringing the statewide total to 220,566. This is the highest daily increase of cases, according to the Department of Health.

“We do not have a definite date for when we will see a vaccine in Pennsylvania or in other states, but we’re actively preparing to be able to receive, store, distribute and administer that vaccine whenever it shows up,” Secretary of Health Rachel Levine said.

Officials at the state Department of Health on Thursday said they plan to distribute vaccines in several phases, outlining for the first time who will have first access to vaccines, how they will be administered and how the state plans to promote vaccines — once they are deemed safe and effective — to its population, including to some people who might be wary.

Who will get the COVID-19 vaccines first in Pennsylvania?

The state plans to distribute the vaccine in phases, relying on frameworks developed by the CDC.

In the first phase, when vaccine doses are likely to be limited, high-risk workers in health care settings, first responders, other essential workers, people with pre-existing health conditions and adults in long-term care are likely to be prioritized.

Levine said more work remains to further prioritize distribution within those groups.

How effective will the vaccines be in preventing the spread of COVID-19?

“It’s important to remember that when the vaccines are available,” Levine said, “they’re not going to be a magical cure for the coronavirus and will not immediately end the pandemic.”

Levine said she anticipate that the COVID-19 vaccine will be somewhat similar to the flu vaccine.

“Similar in that it will help prevent the virus — that many, maybe most people who get the vaccine, will not contract COVID-19,” she said. “But that some people will. And if someone does get it, hopefully the symptoms will not be as severe and won’t last as long.”

Experts expect vaccine supply to be limited. Federal officials have begun to stockpile doses of several vaccines, in hopes they prove to be safe and effective. Researchers expect it will take more than one to vaccinate the U.S. population.

Levine said 5 out of the 6 vaccines currently under development would require two doses.

Several potential vaccines are in phase 3 clinical trials and manufacturers could seek authorization for emergency use from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the next few months.

What about anti-vaxxers?

But after a vaccine is approved with demonstrated safety, one of the most significant challenges the state faces is convincing people it’s in their interest, and their community’s interest, to get vaccinated.

Levine said the health department is already planning its strategy to promote vaccination and messaging.

“We need to message the importance of getting this vaccine, or one of the vaccines when it becomes available,” Levine said. “We are going to need to work past that vaccine hesitancy, and that is our plan.”

Many questions — such as details on storage, transportation and logistics — will remain unanswered until a vaccine is authorized for emergency use.

Levine said the federal government has indicated the vaccine itself will be provided to every American at no cost, but health-care providers could charge insurers fees to administer the vaccine or for an office visit.

CDC commends Pa.’s reduction of COVID-19 positive cases

Pennsylvania is one of three states of the country that have had a downward trajectory of COVID-19 cases for more than 42 days, Gov. Tom Wolf announced during a press conference on Wednesday.

Montana, Hawaii and Pennsylvania have had the most consistent drop in positive cases of the virus since the pandemic began, according to a new report Wolf referenced by the Centers for Disease Control.

As of Wednesday afternoon, Pennsylvania has had 79,818 cases of COVID-19— approximately 335 more cases than the day before, according to data reported by the state Department of Health. The number of daily positive cases has continued to decrease since numbers reached as high as 1,599 in late April.

Wolf added that 24 states have seen an increase in cases as Pennsylvania’s continued to drop, which he attributed to the state’s reopening plan.

“We know our decline in cases is because of our choices because half of the states are experiencing an increase in COVID-19 cases as reopening begins,” Gov. Wolf said. “Many of these states are experiencing significant case increases tied to reopening too soon or too much. Pennsylvania is not. We have remained focused on balancing economic interests with public health.”

The state’s focus on continuing to enforce the wearing of masks even in green phase counties was another reason why the state has led in its reduction of cases, according to Wolf.

“Pennsylvanians have done an excellent job at demonstrating how to balance business and public health,” Gov. Wolf said. “If we keep this up, we can continue to be a model to other states and a leader at saving lives and livelihoods during this pandemic.”

Pa. Gaming Control Board issues guide for reopening casinos

The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board has released a 10-page guide outlining what is expected of the state’s casino operators prior to re-opening their facilities in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The new rules include separating slot machines and keeping poker rooms closed for a little longer because of the need for players to touch cards and chips.

Other requirements include establishing a pandemic safety officer who will serve as a point of contact for the board to ensure that all U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state Health Department requirements regarding COVID-19 are followed, and requiring patrons to wear masks.

Because of the impact on security, patrons should be discouraged from wearing hats inside the casino and may be asked to briefly remove masks or hats for identification.

Health checks will also be conducted by security staff at casino entrances.

To encourage distancing at slot machines the board is encouraging casinos to either place Plexiglas barriers between machines, disabling some machines or remove seats to keep patrons further apart.

Table games should be set up to maximize distance between players.

“While these guidelines for casino operations will be subject to amendment as we move closer to a time of reopening, we believe this plan will be effective in mitigating and reducing the risk of exposure to COVID-19 for all employees, patrons, and other guests,” said board director, Kevin O’Toole in a release.

The board is also calling for employee training on COVID-19 mitigation and is ordering the same type of social distancing signs and guides and availability of hand sanitizer that many other facilities have been using.

Extra cleaning and sanitizing protocol must be established.

The casinos must also issue frequent reminders to employees of the procedures and stagger shifts and breaks so that there’s no large group of employees congregating at any one time.

Casinos have also been looking at their own reopening plans. Wind Creek Bethlehem, for example, has said it is considering having players make appointments to come to the casino to better control crowds.

CDC adds six more symptoms of COVID-19

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention added six more symptoms for COVID-19. In addition to fever, cough, and shortness of breath, the CDC has added chills, shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat and loss of taste or smell.

According to the CDC, symptoms usually appear within two to 14 days after exposure to the virus.

The CDC also warns that those having trouble breathing, experiencing persistent pain in the chest, confusion, or bluish lips or face should seek emergency medical attention immediately.

Pa. Senators seek support for bill to allow construction to continue

Several senators led by Sen. David J. Arnold Jr., (R-Lebanon) are seeking relief for construction firms throughout the state who have largely shuttered their companies and most projects after Gov. Wolf’s business closure order on March 19. (PHOTO/FILE)

Several senators led by Sen. David J. Arnold Jr., (R-Lebanon) are seeking relief for construction firms throughout the state who have largely shuttered their companies and most projects after Gov. Wolf’s business closure order on March 19.

Arnold, along with co-sponsor Sen. Camera Bartolotta, and Senators John DiSanto, and Daniel Laughlin, sent a memo to all Senate members on March 27 asking for support for bill that would require the state Department of Community & Economic Development to issue a waiver to the governor’s order. The waiver would allow all private and public construction activities to continue if workers adhere to social distancing guidelines and other mitigation measures defined by the Centers for Disease Control to protect workers and prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Arnold could not say when the bill would be filed since Senate members are unable to meet in person, but was confident it would garner “a lot of support.”

“The premium is on health and safety; we just feel there’s a way to do both,” Arnold said. “We’ve seen in other states that they can get safely back to work, and Pennsylvania should follow suit.”

Pennsylvania is the only state to shut down all active public and private construction sites, while issuing some selective waivers on an ad hoc basis, with no consistency, according to the memo. While governors in New Jersey, California, Illinois and New York have issued shelter in place orders, they have all included exemptions for construction personnel and construction activities.

With highway and other infrastructure jobs across Pennsylvania sitting idle, workers still need to complete these jobs in a timely manner. Stopping these projects, which are of an open-air nature, makes no sense, according to the memo.

The response to the proposed bill from other senators has been positive so far, he added.

“We need to continue on with life as best we can,” Arnold said. “I think this is a field where we can accomplish that.”

Here are some tips for health care workers looking to de-stress while off duty

The stress of the COVID-19 pandemic can be especially taxing for health care workers, so the Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania is offering the following tips to help health care workers unwind and recharge when they are off duty.

  • Take care of your body by eating healthy meals, exercising regularly, getting plenty of sleep and staying home if you are sick.
  • Remember to rest, unwind and do activities that you enjoy during your time off. Keep in touch with family and friends and take a break from media coverage of COVID-19.
  • Take care of your gear. Remove scrub attire prior to leaving the hospital and sanitize items that were used while at work, including cell phone, handbag, laptops, and stethoscope.
  • Leave your shoes at the door.
  • Change your clothes.
  • Shower using the hottest water possible.

According to the HAP, some family, friends and others may react negatively to health care workers fearing they have been exposed to the coronavirus.

Health care workers can help ease those fears by reminding people that safe and appropriate precautions are being taken to protect everyone while they are at work.

To help reduce the stigma towards health care workers and others right now due to the coronavirus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website has published a guide which can be read here.

Pa. Health Secretary, to business leaders: ‘We need your help’ to fight COVID-19

With 185 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in 22 counties in Pennsylvania, state Health Department Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine, is calling on business leaders to do their part to help stem the progress of the virus, including shutting down.

“Now is the time for you to act in your roll as business leaders,” she said during a webinar on how businesses should respond to the coronvavirus organized by the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry. “If a local business stays open, our local residents will think it’s OK to gather and congregate and it is not.”

Speaking to more than 2,600 participants, Levine warned that the state was in a rapidly changing situation.

“This is a very serious community health threat,” she said. “Participation of business leaders is essential.”

State officials are “keenly aware” of the monetary impact on business, Levine said, but the human toll of COVID-19 could be much, much worse if protocols put out by the governor are not followed. The state still has a chance of slowing virus if people stay home and limit their exposure to each other.

“It’s critical to keeping our hospitals from becoming overwhelmed,” said Dr. Levine. “If we wait two weeks it will be much worse. We need your help.”

It is impossible to say if the current call to keep non-essential businesses closed for two weeks would be extended, Levine said, but it’s assumed it will take six to eight weeks or longer for the viral threat to pass.

But keeping businesses closed or having employees working from home, causes a number of legal and procedural issues.

Jonathan Segal, an attorney with Duane Morriss LLP, said there are numerous factors that a company must consider when dealing with the various COVID-19 preventative measures, and reminded business leaders to remember they are dealing with human beings.

His first recommendation is for companies to have a rapid response team to handle any coronavirus concerns. The team should be made up of a diverse group of leaders within a company – ideally with representation from human resources and someone with a health care background – to focus on ways to handle any cases of exposure, or possible exposure within the workplace.

The first line of action should be with managers and the team should explain how to properly handle concerns employees may have about exposure, Segal said.

Under or overreacting to an infection concern could be a problem. Managers should thank an employee for coming forward with information about a positive case of COVID-19 and say that the team will be contacted to make a proper response.

Because circumstances are changing so rapidly, Segal suggests keeping all guidance as general as possible. If employees have questions about the virus, instruct them to contact their health care provider or obtain more information from www.cdc.gov.

Pay is also a concern, and that, too, is a rapidly changing issue with the federal government working on bills to address financial support for those displaced by the virus.

Paid time off, insurance and in some cases, workers’ compensation, can help with those who can’t work. The federal government is also working on support for people who can’t work because their kids’ school is closed, Segal said.

Those working from home should be paid as normal with non-exempt employees generally given a schedule of hours to work so there is less question over what time is worked and how much compensation is due.

The most important thing is to keep lines of communication open and try to be a resource for employees.

Not all staff will have access to email, he said, so make sure they have a way to communicate with each other – even if it’s about non COVID-19 things, to keep up a sense of camaraderie.
“We can talk about employee engagement all we want, but this is where the rubber meets the road,” Segal said.