RISE rounds up the latest news on COVID-19.

OIG alerts public to COVID-19 fraud schemes

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) recently issued an alert that scammers are using telemarketing calls, text messages, social media platforms, and door-to-door visits to perpetrate COVID-19-related scams.

According to OIG, fraudsters are offering COVID-19 tests, HHS grants, and Medicare prescription cards in exchange for personal details, including Medicare information. However, these services are unapproved and illegitimate. Scammers can use the personal information to fraudulently bill federal health care programs and commit medical identity theft.

OIG urges people to protect themselves by not providing personal, medical, or financial details to anyone in exchange for vaccine information and obtain vaccinations from trusted providers. In addition, they should not post photos of vaccination cards on social media. Be aware that legitimate contact tracers will never ask for your Medicare number, financial information, or attempt to set up a COVID-19 test for you and collect payment information for the test. Anyone that suspects COVID-19 health care fraud should report it immediately online or call 800-HHS-TIPS (800-447-8477).

CDC revises mask guidelines for vaccinated Americans

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Tuesday revised previous guidance and said that people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 should wear masks in public indoor spaces in parts of the country where there is a surge in virus transmission. Previously the CDC only advised unvaccinated people to wear masks indoors. In addition, the agency called for everyone in K-12 schools to wear a mask, regardless of their vaccination status, when they return for in-person learning this fall. The revised guidance is due to the spread of the Delta variant, which is more contagious than the strain that was dominate in the U.S. in the spring, and low vaccination rates. Although rare, vaccinated people can still contract and spread the virus.

HHS, DOJ issue guidance on ‘Long COVID’ and disability rights under the ADA

HHS and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) jointly published guidance on how “long COVID” can be a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act. “Long COVID” refers to people who experience symptoms that can last weeks or months after first developing COVID-19.

"Some individuals recover quickly from COVID, but others experience debilitating long-term impairments that substantially limit major life activities," said Robinsue Frohboese, acting director of HHS Office for Civil Rights. "Today's guidance makes clear that these individuals are entitled to equal opportunities and full participation in all aspects of life.” 

VA requires health workers to get vaccinated–major medical groups urge the same for all health workers

Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) will make COVID-19 vaccines mandatory for all medical personnel, including Veterans Health Administration facilities staff. Each employee will have eight weeks to be fully vaccinated. The move is the best way to keep Veterans safe, especially as the Delta variant spreads across the country, said VA Secretary Denis McDonough in the announcement. “Whenever a Veteran or VA employee sets foot in a VA facility, they deserve to know that we have done everything in our power to protect them from COVID-19. With this mandate, we can once again make—and keep—that fundamental promise.”

In recent weeks, VA has lost four employees to COVID-19—all of whom were unvaccinated. At least three of those employees died because of the increasingly prevalent Delta variant. There has also been an outbreak among unvaccinated employees and trainees at a VA Law Enforcement Training Center, the third such outbreak during the pandemic.

Meanwhile, more than 50 health and medical groups, including the American Medical Association and the American Nurses Association, have called for all health care and long-term care employers to mandate employees be vaccinated against COVID-19. “Due to the recent COVID-19 surge and the availability of safe and effective vaccines, our health care organizations and societies advocate that all health care and long-term care employers require their workers to receive the COVID-19 vaccine," the joint statement said. "This is the logical fulfillment of the ethical commitment of all health care workers to put patients as well as residents of long-term care facilities first and take all steps necessary to ensure their health and well-being.”