Legislative Interim Updates, August 25


In this issue:

Federal Updates

State Updates

COVID-19 News

View our 2019 Legislative Outcomes & Analyses


In the news

COVID-19 Dashboard

Complete the 2020 Census






Federal Updates

Missouri Expands Medicaid

On Tuesday, Aug. 4, Missouri voters approved Medicaid expansion to close a large coverage gap for approximately 230,000 low-income residents. With 53% of voter approval, Missouri has become the sixth Republican-led state where voters have expanded Medicaid and the second to expand during the COVID-19 pandemic. .

The expansion of Medicaid will cover more lives and protect Missouri hospitals from devastating budget cuts, which ultimately result in the loss of jobs and health care services for everyone. In just the past six months, hospitals have either cut or kept vacant more than 3,000 jobs statewide. Expanding Medicaid will bring back these jobs and create thousands more for the state of Missouri. The ballot measure adds Medicaid expansion into the state constitution and requires Missouri to expand Medicaid by next July, and formally notify the federal government by March 1. Missouri is now the 38th state to expand Medicaid.

HHS Expands Access to Childhood Vaccines

On Aug. 19, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a third amendment to the Declaration under the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act (PREP Act) to increase access to lifesaving childhood vaccines and decrease the risk of vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks as children across the United States return to daycare, preschool and school. .

A May 2020 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report found a troubling drop in routine childhood immunizations as a result of families staying at home. This decrease in childhood-vaccination rates is a public health threat and a collateral harm caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. While subjected to several requirements, the amendment authorizes state-licensed pharmacists (and pharmacy interns acting under their supervision to administer vaccines, if the pharmacy intern is licensed or registered by his or her state board of pharmacy) to order and administer vaccines to individuals ages three through 18 years. Expanding access to childhood vaccines will prevent additional strains on the healthcare system and any further increase in avoidable adverse health consequences– particularly if such complications coincide with an additional resurgence of COVID-19.

Census Bureau Halts Counting Operation a Month Earlier than Expected

On Aug. 3, the U. S. Census Bureau announced the collection period for the U.S census has been cut short by one month, from October 31 to September 30. The shortened collection period coupled with the limitations presented by the current COVID-19 crisis make self-reporting a critical civic duty. Particularly problematic will be conducting in-person counts in minority communities as well as of students on college campuses, seniors in assisted living facilities and people experiencing homelessness. Not only are these groups at high risk for infection, they're also among those most in need of in-person outreach. .

Conducted every 10 years, the census is used to determine the number of seats each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives and how billions of dollars in federal funding are spent. Schools, roads, healthcare and other important programs in our community will gain — or lose — funding over the next 10 years, depending on this official population tally.

The Census Bureau will be conducting several outreach measures including phone calls, sending out a 7th Mailing/Paper Questionnaire, and emails to the lowest responding tracts. Additionally, the non-response follow-up anticipates 500,000 enumerators in the field. Standards have been set to ensure safety. If census takers visit your home, they will never ask to enter your home; they will identify themselves and wear a U.S Census Bureau badge; they will only ask questions that are on the questionnaire; and they will never request additional documentation. The 2020 Census does not ask about citizenship or status and will continue to count everyone.

Click here to respond to the 2020 U.S Census

State Updates

Flu Vaccine is Essential Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic

On Aug. 6, Governor Greg Abbott held a roundtable with medical experts, state legislators, and state agencies to discuss Texas' approach to flu season as the state and the country continue to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s been long feared that the U.S. could see an even worse surge of COVID-19 infections in the fall because of flu season, but whether that actually plays out could be up to Texans. .

During the roundtable, leaders focused on the importance of flu vaccines and discussed proactive strategies the state can utilize to mitigate the spread of both COVID-19 and the flu in our communities. Governor Abbott noted that getting COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations under control is key before flu season arrives. Flu cases normally begin to increase in October, with activity peaking between December and February, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Texans should continue to practice social distancing, wearing masks and limiting social interactions. As for preventing a severe flu season, leaders emphasized the importance of getting a flu vaccine as early as possible this year, amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. John Hellerstedt, Commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services, noted that this year’s flu vaccine has proven to be very effective in the Southern Hemisphere during its flu season.

State lawmakers have reasons to be concerned. If COVID-19 is not contained by the fall, and the flu season turns out to be a prolific one, hospital systems will continue to be overwhelmed in the coming months and personal protective equipment could become scarce. Nonetheless, a mild flu season is possible if Texans get their flu vaccines promptly and continue to practice safety measures like social distancing and wearing masks

Governor Abbott Provides Update on PPE Distribution to Texas Schools

On Aug. 4, Governor Abbott visited the Texas Division of Emergency Management’s (TDEM) Warehouse in San Antonio where he provided an update on the state’s distribution of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to Texas school districts for the 2020-2021 academic year. In preparation for the new school year, the state had distributed to schools more than 59 million masks, 24,000 thermometers, 565,000 gallons of hand sanitizer and 500,000 face shields. .

The Governor also discussed the Texas Education Agency’s (TEA) guidance for school openings—noting that local school boards have the ability to determine how and when to open for in-person instruction, not local governments. Under the state's guidance, local health officials can only intervene if there is an outbreak once students return to campus, at which point they can temporarily shut down a school. Even so, Governor Abbott stressed that the policy does not mean local health authorities cannot be involved in the reopening process. Local school boards remain free to consult with the health experts. As Texas approaches the school year, the state will continue to purchase and distribute PPE at no cost to the districts.

Legislators Urge Governor Abbott to Create Statewide Complete Count Committee

On Aug. 18, fifty-four members of the Texas House of Representatives sent Governor Abbott a letter urging him to create a statewide Complete Count Committee by August 30th. Currently Texas’s response rate is 6.1 points behind its final 2010 rate and experts estimate that Texas could face an undercount of over 1.49% (around 437,000 Texans) because of the new census deadline. .

In past years, Texas has endured the tangible consequences of a population undercount in the decennial census. An undercount of even 1% could result in a significant loss in federal funding for Texas of at least $300 million per year for the entire decade and could be the difference between two or three new Congressional seats. In the letter, legislators highlight efforts that had been made by former Texas Governors to achieve an accurate census count and encouraged Governor Abbott to follow their example.


COVID-19 Cases in U.S. Children on the Rise

The CDC issued a new report this month on the impact of COVID-19 on children who are hospitalized with the SARS-CoV-2 infection. An analysis of pediatric COVID-19 hospitalization data from 14 states found that although the cumulative rate of COVID-19 associated hospitalizations among children (8.0 per 100,000 population) is low compared with that in adults (164.5), one in three hospitalized children was admitted to an intensive care unit. These findings confirm that children are very much at risk for severe COVID-19 and call on public health authorities and clinicians to continue to track these infections and reinforce prevention efforts, especially in congregate settings such as child care centers and schools. .

Another recent report from The American Academy of Pediatrics and The Children’s Hospital Association found that there has been a 90% increase in COVID-19 cases in U.S children over the past four weeks. Multiple factors have led to a recent increase in the number of coronavirus infections in children in the past couple of weeks, including increased testing, increased movement among children and a rise in infection among the general population.

In Texas, the number of COVID-19 tests administered has fallen sharply in recent weeks, while the rate of people testing positive has risen, a trend that has worried public health experts as officials consider sending children back to school. Governor Abbott shared most recently that the Texas Department of State Health Services is investigating.

U.S. in “New Phase” of Coronavirus Pandemic

Dr. Deborah Birx, U.S Global Aids Coordinator & Special Representative for Global Health Diplomacy, warned recently that the ‘U.S is in a new phase’ of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Birx stated that what we are seeing today is much different from March and April; the virus is now extraordinarily widespread. .

Birx stressed the importance of following health recommendations, especially to those living in rural areas. Currently, we are seeing the second wave of COVID-19 devastating our rural communities. As states move closer and closer toward re-opening, Brix continues to stress the need to stop “super spreading events.” Like other public health officials, Dr. Birx is suggesting that each state needs a dramatically tailored approach with a set of guidelines based on what we are seeing at the community level. When asked if schools in states with a 5% positivity rate should remain closed or have distanced learning, Dr. Birx stated: “If you have high caseload and active community spread, just like we are asking people not to go to bars, not to have household parties, not to have large spreading events, we are asking people to distance learn at this moment so we can get this pandemic under control.” While deferring to current CDC guidelines regarding the reopening of schools, Dr. Birx suggested that it is still too early for students to safely return to classroom learning.

National Call for Individuals Who Have Recovered From COVID-19 to Donate Blood Plasma

The federal government recently announced a national call to action and campaign to encourage individuals who recover from COVID-19 to donate their plasma, which may contain antibodies that could help other patients fight the virus. As part of the effort, HHS released several public service announcements featuring public health experts. The Fight Is In Us campaign seeks to dramatically increase convalescent plasma donations by the end of August. .

In Bexar County, the South Texas Blood & Tissue center announced that Carabin Shaw PC and Wyatt Law Firm PLLC are providing $50,000 each in gift cards to encourage South Texans who have recovered from COVID-19 to donate convalescent plasma. These plasma donations will be used to treat patients with active cases. Nationally, blood centers collecting convalescent plasma are looking to double the 100,000 doses given to patients so far by the end of August. The South Texas Blood & Tissue Center provided more than 4,400 of those doses.

For more information on health care research, policy or advocacy, please contact Chris Yanas at cyanas@mhm.org.

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