The Biden Administration recently announced additional funding to increase genomic sequencing of COVID-19 to 25,000 samples a week.  In a recent article in the Journal for the American Medical Association, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) Director Rochelle Walensky and Dr. Anthony Fauci of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases warned that “[t]he public health response within the US needs to address not only SARS-COV-2 variants from other countries, but also be vigilant for the evolution of domestic VOC given the high level transmission in much of the nation.”  The U.S. is presently analyzing 14,000 cases per week, a significant increase from just last month.

On February 24, 2021 President Biden continued the National Emergency declared on March 13, 2020 under section 202(d) of the National Emergencies Act.  The U.S. recently surpassed 500,000 deaths related to COVID-19.

The White House COVID-19 response team has announced that the U.S. government will send 25 million cloth masks to community health centers and food pantries.  In remarks on February 25, President Biden referenced the increasing pace of vaccination in the U.S., with over 12 million shots being administered in the next week.  He also stated that vaccine distribution to states has increased by 70 percent and that close to 50 percent of individuals over the age of 65 have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose.

On February 24, 2021 the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) Office for Civil Rights published in the Federal Register that it will use enforcement discretion and will not impose penalties where health care providers have used online or web-based scheduling applications (“WSBA”) for COVID-19 vaccination appointments in good faith.  This enforcement discretion will last until the conclusion of the public health emergency.  HHS stated that providers must still use “reasonable safeguards to protect the privacy and security of individuals’ personal health information.”  HHS recommends the following safeguards:

  • Using and disclosing only the minimum PHI necessary for the purpose (e.g., an individual’s name and phone number may be the minimum necessary PHI for scheduling the appointment).
  • Using encryption technology to protect PHI.
  • Enabling all available privacy settings (e.g., adjusting WSBA calendar display settings, as needed, to hide names or show only individuals’ initials instead of full names on calendar screens).
  • Ensuring that storage of any PHI (including metadata that constitutes PHI) by the vendor is only temporary (e.g., the PHI is returned to the covered health care provider or destroyed as soon as practicable, but no later than 30 days after the appointment).

Enforcement Discretion Regarding Online or Web-Based Scheduling Applications for the Scheduling of Individual Appointments for COVID-19 Vaccination During the COVID-19 Nationwide Public Health Emergency, 86 Fed. Reg. 11139, 11141 (Feb. 24, 2021).  The enforcement discretion does not apply to activities other than scheduling COVID-19 vaccines.

Norton Rose Fulbright lawyers will continue to provide relevant updates on the COVID-19 PHE on the Health Law Pulse.