Graph from the COVID Tracking Project, published daily by The Atlantic.
The world has changed since the April surge and coronavirus is stronger than ever. Hospitalizations for COVID reached a record high this week (124,686 on December 29) , soaring past levels seen in April (59,924) or July (59,712). The coronavirus challenge remains daunting.
COVID is a Local and National Crisis
Individuals in nearly every city, town and rural area across the country are battling the virus. By now you may know someone who’s been infected. Your neighbor may be working at a health care facility or nursing home and facing risks and loss like they’ve never seen before. The effects of coronavirus are being experienced locally in neighborhoods, towns and cities but national health policy matters. And national leadership is about to change.
Health experts warn that the vaccination is not going to remove coronavirus completely. Vaccination is one element, but personal hygiene, social distancing and facial coverings will be needed for the foreseeable future to reduce transmission since this coronavirus is new, so strong and so widespread. Medical researchers are still learning about the virus, and as more is learned, methods of prevention and treatments will be refined. And there will likely be other, as yet unknown, viruses to show up in the future. The prevention basics that so many have been practicing during 2020 will help prevent the spread of something new.
Public Health Policy Requires Leadership
National leaders in health policy will shape the response to coronavirus during 2021 and lay a foundation for responding to the pandemic long term. The rollout of vaccines is going more slowly than many had hoped and much more work needs to be done to vaccinate as many people as quickly as possible in the U.S. and around the world. The incoming Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy has warned that vaccinations may not be widely distributed until midsummer or early Fall 2021.
There is no one person or one agency that can wave a magic wand and make it happen because the rollout is a complicated collaboration among federal, state and local governments and among pharmaceutical companies, healthcare facilities, and public health authorities. And yet, national leadership matters.
Below are some of the key public health appointments President-elect Biden has announced to date.
Health Leadership Appointments
- Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) – Xavier Becerra, current California Attorney General
- Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – Dr. Rochelle Walensky, current head of the infectious-diseases department at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston
- Surgeon General – Dr. Vivek Murthy, served as the 19th surgeon general from 2014 to 2017 under President Obama
- Coronavirus Chief – Jeffrey D. Zients, current acting director and deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget
The highly respected Dr. Anthony Fauci continues as Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
The Affordable Care Act is clearly here to stay. It survived heavy attack from the Trump administration, is favored by President-elect Biden and the pandemic has shown its value for everyday Americans.
HIPAA Compliance is Failing and Enforcement Remains a Priority
HIPAA is not political. Enforcement under the Trump administration was strong and will continue under the next administration.
On December 17, 2020, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issued its long-awaited final report on the Phase 2 HIPAA Compliance Audit. The results are devastating. Consider Risk Analysis, the foundation on which a HIPAA Compliance program must be built. An astounding 94% of covered entities failed the Risk Analysis audit despite being given all audit questions well in advance and being told they were on the short list to be audited.
OCR Director Roger Severino cited the Audit report as justification for the recent flurry of HIPAA enforcement actions. It is a call to arms for incoming HHS Secretary Becerra.