RISE rounds up the latest news on COVID-19.

Azar extends COVID-19 public health emergency

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has officially extended the public health emergency declaration for another 90 days. HHS Secretary Alex Azar announced on Twitter that he had signed the declaration prior to its expiration on Saturday, July 25. “The Administration will continue its whole-of-America response to ensure Americans can get the care they need throughout the pandemic,” he said.

The emergency declaration allows providers and health plans to better respond to COVID-19 by taking advantage of flexibilities, including the waiving of telehealth restrictions and cost-sharing for COVID-19 tests. Azar first declared the coronavirus as a public health emergency on January 27 and extended it in April.

The renewal came as welcome news to the industry stakeholders, including the American Hospital Association (AHA), which had called on the administration to extend the emergency declaration. “The declaration of a public health emergency has given hospitals and health systems and our caregivers the ability to respond in an innovative, timely and decisive manner to the virus. It has been an invaluable tool in the battle against COVID-19 by providing the necessary resources to care for patients and communities, such as expanded use of telemedicine and the ability to provide care in alternative care sites,” AHA President and CEO Rick Pollack said in a statement.

HHS unveils new COVID-19 data dashboard after taking over reporting from CDC

The public will now be able to see the overall number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States and overall number of reported deaths through the HHS’ new Coronavirus Data Hub. The new dashboard replaces the information previously provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In mid-July the Trump administration advised hospitals to no longer provide the data to the CDC and to send it directly to HHS. The move outraged health groups that worried that HHS would try to hide information about the number of cases. But HHS officials say the new system will provide the public with more information. As of Friday, July 24, the new dashboard reported 4,024, 492 confirmed cases in the U.S. and 143,868 deaths. Globally, there have been more than 15 million confirmed cases and 628,903 deaths, according to the World Health Organization.

Feds contract with Pfizer to produce millions of doses of vaccine

HHS and the Department of Defense this week announced an agreement with Pfizer Inc., to produce and deliver 100 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine in the United States following the vaccine’s successful manufacture and approval. The agreement will allow the government to acquire an additional 500 million doses. Pfizer is collaborating with BioNTech, a German biotechnology company, to develop COVID-19 investigational vaccines without U.S. government financial support. Phase 1/2 clinical trials are underway for the investigational vaccines in the United States and Germany. However, a vaccine likely won’t be widely available in the country until several months into next year, Anthony Fauci, M.D., the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, told CNN on Friday. Another medical expert told the media outlet that hopes for a vaccine that works immediately is not the right strategy to curb the spread of the virus. William Haseltine, Ph.D., a former professor at Harvard University's medical and public health schools, recommended a broad public health strategy to contain the virus along with a vaccine and therapeutic drugs. Meanwhile, more than 150 health professionals and medical experts have signed a letter urging the Trump administration, Congress, and states to hit the reset button and shut down the country again to slow the spread of the virus.