New Data Reveals How The End Of Covid-19 Pandemic Protocols Could Negatively Impact US Healthcare 

Whenever the Covid-19 pandemic ends, the US healthcare system may be disrupted greatly due to the amount of hospital systems who have been able to acquire new technology and resources to keep up with temporary emergency measures throughout the pandemic.  

When the many temporary emergency measures that have been implemented throughout the US’s healthcare system end, an estimated 15 million Medicaid recipients will likely need to find new coverage. Congress will need to take action in order to preserve the broad telehealth access that many Medicare users have been able to use throughout the pandemic. 

Beyond just patients, payment policies are also likely to change for doctors, hospitals, and insurers. Many are raising concerns over these issues because of their tie to the coronavirus public health emergency declaration that was made more than two years ago and needs to be periodically renewed in order to keep these protective policies in place. 

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The state of emergency is set to end on April 16th, and it’s expected that Biden will likely extend it through July, but many healthcare workers are hoping for a more secure extension that will last longer. Juliette Cubanski is a Medicare expert working with the Kaiser Family Foundation who recently spoke on the potential consequences of stepping back from the state of emergency. 

“The flexibilities granted through the public health emergency have helped people stay covered and get access to care, so moving forward the key question is how to build on what has been a success and not lose ground.”

Medicaid currently covers 79 million people through its state-federal health insurance program which is designed to assist low income individuals. The amount of people covered by Medicaid has increased at record rates throughout the pandemic. 

The Urban Institute revealed research that estimates about 15 million people could lose their Medicaid coverage when the public health emergency ends, at a rate of 1 million individuals per month. Matthew Buettgens of the Urban Institute stated that almost all of the people losing Medicaid will likely be eligible for “another source of coverage through employers, the Affordable Care Act or, for kids, the Children’s Health Insurance Program.”

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“But that’s not going to happen automatically. Cost and lack of awareness about options could get in the way. This is an unprecedented situation. The uncertainty is real,” said Buettgens. Chiquita Brooks-LaSure is an administrator at the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, CMS, and she advises states to take it slow when it comes to rolling back on policies so that they have time to connect with Medicaid recipients who will be disenrolled to provide them with additional coverage. 

“We are focused on making sure we hold on to the gains in coverage we have made under the Biden-Harris administration. We are at the strongest point in our history and we are going to make sure that we hold on to the coverage gains,” said CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure. 

The end of the public health emergency could impact telehealth access for millions enrolled in traditional Medicare and other insurers. 

“Congress has given itself 151 days after the end of the public health emergency to come up with new rules. If there are no changes to the law after that, most Medicare beneficiaries will lose access to coverage for telehealth,” the Kaiser Foundation’s Cubanski said.

Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra recently told The Associated Press that his department is “committed to giving ample notice when it ends the public health emergency. We want to make sure we’re not putting in a detrimental position Americans who still need our help. The one that people are really worried about is Medicaid.”

Paralympics Bar All Fans From Attendance Due To Covid-19 Concerns

Just as all fans were recently banned from the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games, organizers for the Paralympics this year announced that all spectators will be barred from the event due to the coronavirus pandemic.

During the Olympics some fans were able to spectate from outlying areas away from Tokyo, however, for the Paralympics organizers are planning on barring all fans with the exception of some children for a couple of events. Organizers are also telling the public not to come out to view any road events. 

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International Paralympic Committee president Andrew Parsons, organizing committee president Seiko Hashimoto, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike and Olympic Minister Tamayo Marukawa all met last week to finalize these decisions before announcing it to the public. 

The Paralympics begin on August 24th with about 4,400 athletes projected to participate. The Olympics this year had around 11,000 athletes, so the smaller scale should hopefully make it easier for organizers to manage health and safety procedures. 

The announcement also comes as Japan, and Tokyo specifically, sees a rise in Covid-19 case numbers. Parsons spoke at a news conference where he proclaimed that there was no room for complacency in the wake of the Olympics. 

“In light of the current case numbers in Tokyo and wider Japan, everyone attending these games must be vigilant.” 

New Covid-19 infections tripled in Tokyo throughout the 17-day period that the Olympics were occuring, however, local health expert’s haven’t directly linked the rise in cases to the Games themselves. Experts instead believe that the Olympic games caused a lot of the public to get distracted and put them into a false sense of security. 

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Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced this week that a state of emergency in Tokyo and other areas will be extended until September 12th; the current state of emergency has been in place since July 12th and was initially meant to end later this month. 

“The surge in infections is reaching alarming record highs,” Suga said.

This past Friday Tokyo logged around 5,800 new cases, and on Sunday it logged about 4,300 more. This rise in infections has put an extreme strain on Japan’s healthcare system and its workers.

Dr. Haruo Ozaki, president of the Tokyo Medical Association, said in an interview that “a significant number of people are still unvaccinated, and characterized the virus situation for the Paralympics as worse than it was during the Olympics.”

About 37% of the Japanese population is thought to be fully vaccinated at this point. Ozaki said the decision to not have fans at the Paralympics was a “minimum necessity, holding the event in general is a political decision, but the judgement by the medical side is that it will be difficult. 

“The Olympics is a festival and might have affected the people in ways to loosen up and served as an indirect cause of rising cases.”

Tokyo Olympics

Japan Declares Covid-19 State Of Emergency Two Weeks Before Olympic Games 

The Tokyo Olympics will still be happening later this month despite the fact that Japan has just entered into another state of emergency due to the spreading of the Covid-19 virus. The Japanese government announced this week that it would be reinstating strict health and safety measures that will take effect next week and last throughout the Olympic Games. 

The biggest measure that’s being taken is that no spectators will be allowed to attend the games, Olympic Minister Tamayo Marukawa announced this morning. Japanese media outlets reported that all venues in and around Tokyo will be completely unattended.

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The Tokyo Metropolitan Government reported 920 new Covid cases just 16 days before the Games. This is 200 more than any other single-day total since May. This Thursday the country reported another 896 cases. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga vowed to protect the nation as much as possible from further spreading. 

“New infections are in their expansion phase and everyone in this country must firmly understand the seriousness of it. I vow to do everything we can to prevent the further spread of the infections.”

“I think we can all be very satisfied that the strict measures, having been established to protect everybody — the Japanese people and the participants of the Games — have proven to be successful,” said IOC president Thomas Bach. 

Olympic organizers have outlined a plan that will enforce a “complex web of Covid countermeasures that will limit contact between Olympic participants and non-participant Japanese citizens,” according to Bach. 

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The measures will force “Level 1” participants (athletes, coaches, team officials and more) to be tested daily, and other levels of participation will be tested based on how often they’re in common Olympic spaces. 

Dr. Shigeru Omi, a top government medical advisor, warned of “continuing risks of a resurgence of the infections that puts pressure on [Japan’s] medical systems.”

Olympic Organizers claimed that “in the event that a state of emergency or other priority measures aimed at preventing infection are implemented at any time after July 12, restrictions on spectator numbers at the Games, including non-spectator competitions, will be based on the content of the state of emergency or other relevant measures in force at that time.” It was officially announced today that no spectators would be allowed at the Games. 

 Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike promised that her city would “control the flow of people and be thorough with regard to measures to prevent infection during and around the Games.”

Japanese residents have been adamant in their disapproval of the Games still occurring this year despite the fact that so many countries have such different vaccination and infection rates.

Australia Bushfire

Deadly Bushfires Burning Out Of Control In Several Areas of Australia

Bushfires season has started with a bang in Australia with fires raging up the east coast and warnings of ‘extremely dangerous conditions’ being raised across the country in Western Australia.

This past week has seen fire crews battling over 120 fires in both New South Wales (NSW) and Queensland as well as hundreds of properties being destroyed and even loss of life in some areas.

A man who has yet to be identified was found by fire fighters in destroyed bush land around 250 miles north of Sydney which follows the earlier deaths of Julie Fletcher, 63, George Nole, age unknown, and Vivian Chaplain, 69, all of whom were found in separate locations around NSW.

And with more than a million hectares of land being consumed by the fires since September – more than three times the amount for the whole of last year’s season – fire chiefs have warned that the worst is ‘still ahead of us’.

Residents in Queensland were forced to flee their homes after over 70 fires activated emergency warnings. Although most home owners headed to safer territory some stayed to try to defend their homes, working with fire crews as and where they could.

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In Yeppoon, 400 miles north of Brisbane, Queensland, a 16 year old boy has been charged with arson after it was claimed he had deliberately started a damaging fire, resulting in the loss of 14 homes. Fortunately there were no fatalities in this scenario. Potential arson attacks in the Sydney suburb of South Turramurra have also been criticized by their shocked mayor, Jennifer Anderson, ‘As mayor it seems almost unimaginable that someone would put our community in such danger’.

While in Pechey, just north of Toowoomba (around 78 miles from Brisbane) severe winds brought down a privately owned helicopter that was dropping water onto fires, causing injuries to the 70 year old pilot. Although the pilot was taken to hospital in a stable condition the crash landed helicopter brought fresh problems to the fire fighters, with many fearing it could explode thanks to the winds moving the fires across the land.

Rural Fire Service Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers confirmed that the fight to control the fires was on-going thanks to the predicted higher temperatures coming in although even in the milder temperatures there was still plenty of ‘aggressive fire behavior simply because it’s so dry’.

And even with aerial water drops from helicopters the fires are still burning out of control thanks to the ferocious winds making the flames change directions so often it is difficult to know where to start first.

In New South Wales officials issued the greater Sydney area with its first ever ‘catastrophic’ fire warning and residents have also had to evacuate their homes and some schools have had to close.

Over the last few days fire-fighters have been drafted in from other states as well as New Zealand to help fight the fires and give the Queensland and NSW fire departments some much needed rest before they head back out again. Although there are currently more than 1000 fire-fighters at any one time in the field, it is also believed the army will be called in to carry out Australia’s largest peacetime military operation to help not only with extinguishing the fires but also the massive clear-up operation that will be required once the fires have finally burnt out.

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On the other side of the country in Western Australia two blazes have threatened homes in the port city of Geraldton, roughly 260 miles north of its capital Perth while around twelve fires continue to burn in other areas of the state.

With the bush fire season starting earlier, lasting longer and seeing a much higher amount of scrub land lost – as well as all the wildlife that are in these areas – many are asking if it has anything to do with climate change.

2017 was Australia’s fourth hottest year on record while 2018 was its third, however it was also the warmest summer on record, showing that temperatures are increasing across this great continent. Climate change has been attributed to conditions including increasing temperatures as well as a rise in natural disasters across the world such as fires, droughts, severe snow and tsunamis.

Although this is a worldwide problem, a recent UN report declared Australia was not doing enough in reducing the CO2 emissions. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has refused to answer questions on climate change while his government ministers continue to dismiss climate change concerns completely.

Last week also saw a coalition of retired fire chiefs call out the government for ignoring their warning about the potential for increasing fire tragedies due to climate change.

Tasmanian former chief fire officer Mike Brown stated ‘Things aren’t going to get better if our elected leaders don’t face this issue head on, and deliver the emissions reductions we need.’