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CMS admin. meets with Tampa Bay health leaders to discuss COVID-19 impact on healthcare systems

CLEARWATER, Fla. — A member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force met with Florida healthcare leaders in Clearwater Thursdday to discuss COVID-19’s impact on local hospitals and long-term care facilities.

Testing, vaccines and telehealth were all hot topics during the round table with Seema Verma, the director of the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and a White House Coronavirus Task Force member.

“From day one, President Trump has had a strong focus on protecting the most vulnerable, and that’s our nursing home population,” said Verma.

As nursing homes prepare to loosen restrictions, Verma announced that the task force is working to distribute rapid COVID-19 tests to nearly every nursing home in the country by the end of the week.

“Now, having these point-of-care tests right in the nursing homes, that’s gonna actually allow them to even potentially test visitors,” said Verma.

The group of healthcare workers also discussed the importance of telehealth for senior citizens, as they are continuously urged to stay home.

“If you asked me last year, I could count on one hand how many telehealth visits our primary care physicians did. This year, 78,000 thus far,” said Dr. Nishant Anand, Chief Medical Officer at BayCare Health System.

Local doctors are hoping the government can help expand telehealth services, so they’re available even after the pandemic.

“If you have a mental health issue or behavioral health issue, having to drive in, the act of driving in, having to be potentially judged, sign in, having to go into that office, that is a disservice,” said Dr. Anand.

And as we prepare for flu season, doctors are emphasizing the need for greater testing capacity.

“Whether it’s flu season, whether it’s pneumonia, whether it’s a respiratory illness, whether it’s RSV, you name your viral respiratory illness, it is going to be virtually impossible to tell the difference between the flu and COVID,” said Dr. Anand.

And they’re also stressing the importance of getting vaccinations.

“Not everybody gets a flu shot every year, and we want to make sure that this year in particular, and also I think this is really the foundation for our efforts around encouraging people to get the [COVID-19] vaccine when it becomes available,” said Verma.

Currently, there are three COVID-19 vaccines that have entered clinical trials. Verma says the federal government is starting to begin production of some of those vaccines and is working on strategies to best distribute them so that they are available to every American that wants one.

“All of the scientists that are involved in this, everybody’s focused on making sure that we have a vaccine that is safe and effective. We are bringing in outside people, inside people, and really bringing together the nation’s scientists and experts to make sure that we can deliver a vaccine that is safe and effective,” said Verma.

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