CMS Issues Guidance on Containing Spread of Coronavirus

Gregory Twachtman

March 05, 2020

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services issued two guidance documents related to helping contain the spread of the coronavirus, primarily aimed at ensuring that health care providers are implementing proper infection control procedures.

The first guidance document, "Guidance for Infection Control and Prevention Concerning Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19): FAQs and Considerations for Patient Triage, Placement and Hospital Discharge," issued March 4, provides some basic guidance, including identifying which patients are at risk, how facilities should screen for COVID-19, how facilities should monitor or restrict health care facility staff, and other recommendations for infection prevention and control.

"Hospitals should identify visitors and patients at risk for having COVID-19 infection before or immediately upon arrival to the healthcare facility," the guidance document notes. "For patients, implement respiratory hygiene and cough etiquette (i.e., placing a face mask over the patient's nose and mouth if that has not already been done) and isolate the patient in an examination room with the door closed. If the patient cannot be immediately moved to an examination room, ensure they are not allowed to wait among other patients seeking care."

The document offers further information regarding the care of patients and provides numerous links to existing guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The second document, "Guidance for Infection Control and Prevention of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) in Nursing Homes," issued the same day, provides information on how to limit and monitor visitors as well as monitor and restrict health staff. It details when to transfer residents with suspected or confirmed coronavirus infection, and when a nursing home should accept a resident diagnosed with COVID-19.

Facilities "should contact their local health department if they have questions or suspect a resident of a nursing home has COVID-19," the document states. "Per CDC, prompt detection, triage and isolation of potentially infectious patients are essential to prevent unnecessary exposure among patients, healthcare personnel, and visitors at the facility."

The CMS also announced that it is suspending all nonemergency survey activity.

"CMS is suspending nonemergency inspections across the country, allowing inspectors to turn their focus on the most serious health and safety threats like infectious diseases and abuse," the agency stated in a March 4 memo. "This shift in approach will also allow inspectors to focus on addressing the spread of . . . COVID-19. CMS is issuing this memorandum to State Survey Agencies to provide important guidelines for the inspection process in situations in which a COVID-19 is suspected."

In a statement, CMS Administrator Seema Verma said these actions "represent a call to action across the health care system. All health care providers must immediately review their procedures to ensure compliance with CMS' infection control requirements, as well as the guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention."

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