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Coronavirus update: Medicare to pay for COVID-19 tests

The Omicron variant is less severe for young children, study finds

Medicare and money concept
Photo (c) ATU Images - Getty Images
COVID-19 ‌tally‌ ‌as‌ ‌‌compiled‌‌ ‌by‌ ‌Johns‌ ‌Hopkins‌ ‌University.‌ ‌(Previous‌ ‌numbers‌ ‌in‌ ‌parentheses.)‌

Total‌ ‌U.S.‌ ‌confirmed‌ ‌cases:‌ 80,155,446 (80,150,811)

Total‌ ‌U.S.‌ ‌deaths:‌ 982,566 (982,233)

Total‌ ‌global‌ ‌cases:‌ 491,572,015 (490,825,132)

Total ‌global‌ ‌deaths:‌ 6,153,616 (6,151,961)‌

Medicare now covers over-the-counter COVID-19

Starting today, Medicare will cover the cost of an over-the-counter, self-administered COVID-19 test. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) says Medicare will cover up to eight over-the-counter COVID-19 tests each calendar month.

If you are in a Medicare Advantage plan, the tests covered under this initiative will be covered outside of your existing plan’s coverage and in addition to any over-the-counter tests that may be covered under the plan as a supplemental benefit.

There should be no out-of-pocket expense. Medicare says participating pharmacies will distribute the tests kits to Medicare recipients and then bill Medicare.

Omicron less severe for young children, study finds

Researchers at Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) School of Medicine have published a study that suggests young children below age 5 who are infected with the COVID-19 Omicron variant have less risk of severe health outcomes than those infected with the Delta variant.

The study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, compares the health outcomes of coronavirus infection from Omicron to Delta in children aged 4 and younger. That age group is not eligible for vaccination. 

The findings show that the Omicron variant is six to eight times more infectious than the Delta variant. The severe clinical outcomes ranged from a 16% lower risk for emergency room visits to 85% less risk for mechanical ventilation. Researchers found that about 1.8% of children infected with the Omicron variant were hospitalized, compared to 3.3% who were infected with the Delta variant.

China extends Shanghai lockdown

The Chinese government has extended the COVID-19 lockdown in Shanghai after the Herculean task of testing all 25 million residents of China’s largest city. Thousands of medical personnel from all over the country poured into the city over the weekend to perform the tests.

Monday was supposed to be the final day of the lockdown, which was imposed to get a spike in new cases of the virus under control. City officials said the lockdown will continue while health authorities assess the situation. 

The lockdown is likely to be felt by American consumers because Shanghai has many factories that produce goods for export. Economists say the production disruption is likely to make supply chain issues worse.

Around the nation

  • Virginia: The number of new cases is rising in Virginia, but the all-important hospitalization metric is moving in the right direction. The Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association (VHHA) reports that there were 242 patients being treated for COVID-19 on Sunday, down from 282 the previous Sunday.

  • Colorado: State health officials are reporting an increase in coronavirus cases, with 21% identified as the new Omicron BA.2 variant, according to state epidemiologist Rachel Herlihy. While about a million Colorado residents are eligible for a second booster shot, officials say they currently lack enough vaccine doses to administer the jab to all of them.

  • New York: Despite the expiration of most emergency pandemic measures, the state health department is urging increased public health action to blunt the recent rise in new cases. "The high number of COVID-19 cases in Central New York suggests that transmission of the virus is widespread throughout the region, and levels remain above the state average," State Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett said. "The good news is we have tools to address this."

  • Vermont: The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has removed three Vermont counties from its “high” COVID-19 community level category in its latest data update. All three counties have recorded declines in the number of new COVID-19 cases.

  • Nevada: State health officials are moving quickly to ramp up a campaign to urge older residents to get a second shot. “We know booster doses are continuing to provide people with protection against severe disease, hospitalizations and death,” said Dr. Fermin Leguen, district health officer for the Southern Nevada Health District.  “Having the option to get an additional booster is significant for people who may be at higher risk for severe disease, especially if cases begin to increase.”

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