Medical specialty group wants Trump to declare national emergency over coronavirus

Groups representing doctors and nurses are worried whether healthcare workers will be adequately protected from coronavirus. (Pixabay)

As the coronavirus outbreak spreads, groups that represent doctors and nurses are worried about whether adequate steps are being taken to protect healthcare professionals from the virus.

The American College of Physicians (ACP), the largest medical specialty organization in the U.S., went so far as to ask that President Donald Trump declare a national emergency over the coronavirus outbreak. The internists’ group laid out a series of steps (PDF) federal, state and local governments as well as other stakeholders should take to address coronavirus.

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The recommendations focus on expanding coverage for COVID-19 testing and treatment, removing barriers to care and keeping the country’s front-line physicians and other healthcare professionals safe.

“President Trump should issue an emergency declaration as appropriate for all states, the District of Columbia, and territories for COVID-19,” said Robert McLean, M.D., ACP president, in the letter. “Doing so will enable states to receive crucial emergency Medicaid waivers and access other resources.”

Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar declared a public health emergency in late January in response to the outbreak.

The physician group also said the government must ensure a sufficient supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) for physicians and other healthcare professionals, a concern echoed by the American Nurses Association (ANA).

As the World Health Organization declared coronavirus a pandemic, the ANA, which represents 4 million nurses, urged the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to make “more definitive statements” on COVID-19 transmission after it recently released updated guidelines on PPE advising that face masks are an acceptable alternative for clinicians when there is a shortage of N95 respirators.

“Nurses must feel confident in this guidance that a medical mask, along with the other required droplet PPE, is appropriate to provide patient care for known COVID-19 cases,” the ANA said in a statement.

While it acknowledges the challenge of ensuring an adequate PPE supply, the nurses' group said it is concerned the CDC recommendations are based solely on supply chain and manufacturing concerns and not on evidence about the transmission of COVID-19.

“Nurses must trust that the decisions made at all levels are focused on their protection. This is necessary for them to walk into a room every day and to safely continue providing ongoing patient care in all healthcare settings,” the group said.

Trump issued a presidential memorandum Wednesday aimed at making general use respirators available. “Unfortunately, at present, public health experts anticipate shortages in the supply of personal respiratory devices (respirators) available for use by healthcare workers in mitigating further transmission of COVID-19,” Trump wrote.

He authorized Azar to take “all appropriate and necessary steps” to facilitate the emergency use of general use respirators by healthcare personnel and granted authority to the Secretary of Labor to take steps to increase their availability.

The ACP also urged the government to facilitate the use of telehealth for COVID-19 testing and treatment

The Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) agreed and sent a letter to HHS and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services leaders urging immediate action to implement new telehealth waiver authority provided under the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2020.

”This essential step would allow medical practices more flexibility to provide telehealth services to their patients during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the MGMA said.