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Gov. Wolf: Pennsylvania is 'building an army of medical professionals' to take on coronavirus

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Gov. Tom Wolf said Pennsylvania is “building an army of medical professionals” to take on the coronavirus pandemic.

He also announced certain restrictions are being lifted on licensing and training for the short term.

“We’re busy building an army of medical professionals to care for everyone who becomes ill during this crisis, and that includes more people to handle the surge of COVID-19 patients, as well as more medical professionals to handle regular medical issues like heart attacks and broken bones,” Wolf said Saturday. “To do this quickly and efficiently, we’re temporarily lifting certain regulations. For example, we’re now allowing any licensed health care professional to provide services over telemedicine. This will help us provide existing standards of care to many patients without having them leave the safety of their homes. We’re also allowing certain licensees to complete continuing education online or through distance learning. This is going to help cut down on their risk of infection and provide them with additional flexibility during this busy time.”

He continued: “We have many highly experienced medical professionals who have retired and allowed their licenses to lapse. If these professionals are in good standing, we are going to be letting them reactive their licenses without fees and without needing to take continuing education credits. This will get doctors and nurses who have decades of experience back to seeing patients. These retirees don’t necessarily need to help COVID-19 patients to be a huge help. By taking patients who have everyday concerns, they are helping to reduce the overall burden on our medical system and they’re freeing up others to assist with the pandemic.”

He said he is also working to minimize administrative requirements for recent medical school graduates so they can start practicing medicine quickly, as well as waiving restrictions on certified nurse practitioners to allow them to work in any area of medicine so they can help where needed. He will allow medical professionals with licenses from other states to practice here.

The temporary license waivers for health care workers include:

Health care professionals

Streamlining the reactivation of licenses for retired Medical Doctors, Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine, Physician Assistants, Respiratory Therapists, Perfusionists, Registered Nurses, Clinical Nurse Specialists, Certified Registered Nurse Practitioners and Pharmacists to return to their field, and 119 applications have been received in the past three weeks.

• Allowing licensed health care practitioners to provide services via telemedicine.

• Allowing doctors with institutional licenses to practice at more than 2 facilities.

Encouraged the use of telemedicine access for opioid use disorder Centers of Excellence patients.

Nursing

• Allowing more than 14,000 Certified Registered Nurse Practitioners to assist in the COVID-19 response by lifting the requirement that they practice within a specialty.

Extending license deadlines, temporary nursing permits and graduate permits.

• Allowing certain nursing school graduates to apply for an immediate graduate permit.

Pharmacy

Allowing out-of-state pharmacies to ship goods to Pennsylvania.

• Allowing temporary expedited licensure for certain pharmacy practitioners and pharmacies.

The Department of State has a dedicated webpage with information about all of the temporary licensing waivers.

As he does in all his comments, he implored Pennsylvanians to practice social distancing.

“If you infect 3 people, and those people infect 3 more, that’s 9 patients. Go five links down this chain and there are 243 people infected,” Wolf said. “Be the missing link. Remove yourself from this chain and save lives.”

Other key points from Saturday’s briefing

• When Wolf was asked about President Donald Trump’s desire that there be big turnouts for Easter services: “I think what he’s expressing, and I don’t want to speak for him, is that we all would like to get through this as quickly as possible. With these great holy days coming up soon, I think he’s expressing the hope that we move quickly. I think all of us, including the president, recognize that what we need to do is make sure that we’re safe, and when we get to the point where we can all get back together and enjoy each other’s lives and enjoy holidays, before we can do that, we’ve go to make sure we’ve addresses the challenges of this disease. To the extent that we’d like to do this as quickly as possible, and that’s what he was expressing, I agree with him.

• Levine was asked about coronavirus cases coming from New York: “It’s hard to determine exactly whether we have seen any cases that have spread from New York, because what we are seeing now is primarily community spread, and we’re not able to track each individual case to try to find out how each patient was exposed.”

• Levine was asked why the state is not keeping records of those who have recovered from COVID-19: “Epidemiologists, our public health scientists, really feel that the recovery rates for COVID-19 will not be clear until the outbreak is actually over and they can examine all of the data from Pennsylvania and throughout the United States. Much of the data from recovery rates is actually from China, who is certainly past the peak in terms of the infection they’ve seen at this time. What that data indicates is that most people indeed do recover from COVID-19. We’ll know more when our outbreak is over.”

• Levine was asked if testing standards have changed for people who potentially have the virus: “The priority for testing is for patients who have symptoms. You do not have to be in a high-risk category to be tested. But we’re not testing patients who have no symptoms whatsoever. Of course, within that testing group, we are prioritizing seniors and those with chronic medical conditions, those who might be in a vulnerable population such as a long-term-care living facility or nursing home. And also health care workers because of the exposures that they would then give to other people. But other symptomatic patients can certainly be tested, especially if they are having significant symptoms. To do that, you should call your health care professional, discuss whether it’s prudent to get tested. And then many hospitals and health systems throughout the state have set up testing facilities to have those swabs taken and sent either to the hospital’s laboratories or to the commercial laboratories.”

• Levine on social distancing: There’s actually evidence that Pennsylvania is doing quite well in terms of social distancing. There have been a number of analyses of social distancing in many different states, and they would give a grade to that state, and Pennsylvania got an A.” 

• Wolf said the state is still trying to figure out exactly what Pennsylvania will get in the $2 trillion federal stimulus bill, but he believes it will be $5 billion, “to be allocated in ways yet to be made known” to lawmakers in Harrisburg.

• Wolf said there has not been any movement toward reopening state budget talks based on the pandemic.