October 29, 2021 Edition

CHEAC Publishes Second Volume of #WeArePublicHealth Newsletter

CHEAC is pleased to report that the second volume of the #WeArePublicHealth newsletter has been published. The latest version of the newsletter highlights the many activities and services delivered by California’s 61 local health departments (LHDs). This edition features LHDs engaged in maternal and infant health equity programs, COVID-19 immunization and pandemic response efforts, opioid use disorder prevention services, and other items.

The second edition of the #WeArePublicHealth newsletter is available here.

Ahead of Halloween, CDPH Warns Consumers About Risks of Decorative Contact Lenses

California Department of Public Health (CDPH) Director and State Public Health Officer Dr. Tomás Aragón this week warned consumers about the risks associated with wearing decorative contact lenses ahead of the Halloween holiday.

The sale of contact lenses without a prescription is illegal. The right to dispense, sell, or furnish contact lenses is limited exclusively to licensed physicians and surgeons, licensed optometrists, and registered dispensing opticians. Decorative lenses are intended to temporarily change the appearance of the eye, but not correct vision. CDPH notes risks associated with these lenses include infection, ulcers, decreased vision, cuts or scratches to the surface of the eye, itchiness, or redness. If left untreated, injuries can progress rapidly, and in severe cases, blindness and eye loss can occur.

Consumers who have experienced an eye injury are instructed to contact their health care provider. Consumers can report the illegal sale of decorative contact lenses without a prescription to CDPH’s Food and Drug Branch Hotline at 800-495-3232 to initiate an investigation.

Additional information is available here.

Newsom Receives COVID-19 Booster Dose, Encourages Residents to Receive Theirs When Eligible

During a visit to a health clinic in Alameda County on Wednesday, Governor Gavin Newsom received his COVID-19 booster vaccine. The Governor, after receiving his initial single-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine in April of this year, opted for the Moderna COVID-19 booster.

The Governor was joined by California Health and Human Services (CalHHS) Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly and other local leaders in Oakland to encourage eligible Californians to receive their COVID-19 booster dose and keep immunity strong, particularly as the winter months approach.

Recall, the FDA, CDC, and Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup last week cleared the way for the administration of booster doses among specified populations, including the use of “mix-and-match” COVID-19 vaccines for boosters.

Additional information is available here.

FDA Authorizes Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccine for Children 5-11

On Tuesday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) recommended the agency issue an emergency use authorization (EUA) for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for use in children ages 5 to 11 years old. The panel’s vote in recommending the EUA was 17-0 with one abstention.

The FDA VRBPAC received data from Pfizer-BioNTech indicating the vaccine is safe and 90.7 percent effective in preventing COVID-19 infections in this age group. A dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for young children contains one-third the amount of active ingredient compared to the adult dose. Children would receive a second dose 21 days or more after their first dose.

The FDA adopted the recommendation from VRBPAC today, authorizing the vaccine for use among children 5-11. The decision now moves to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) to make its own recommendations and offer guidelines on the vaccine’s use among this age. The CDC ACIP is scheduled to meet on Tuesday and Wednesday of next week.

Following the FDA VRBPAC recommendation on Tuesday, California Health and Human Services (CalHHS) Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly and California Department of Public Health (CDPH) Director and State Public Health Officer Dr. Tomás Aragón issued a statement indicating the recommendation brings the state closer to protecting more residents and ending the pandemic. The officials noted the evidence shows the vaccine is safe and highly effective in the age group. CDPH will await further federal direction, as well as direction from the Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup, before administering vaccines to children ages 5-11.

Materials from the FDA VRBPAC meeting are available here. Materials for the upcoming CDC ACIP meeting are available here.

Latest CDC Study Shows COVID-19 Vaccination Offers Higher Protection than Previous Infection

Today, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a study in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) reinforcing that vaccination is the best protection against COVID-19. The latest study examined more than 7,000 people across nine states who were hospitalized with COVID-19-like illness, finding that those who were unvaccinated and had a recent infection were five times more likely to have COVID-19 than those who were recently fully vaccinated and did not have a prior infection.

According to the CDC, the data demonstrate the vaccination can provide a higher, more robust, and more consistent level of immunity to protect people from hospitalization for COVID-19 than infection alone for at least six months.

The study utilized data from the VISION Network, representing data from across 187 hospitals in the U.S. Additional information is available here.

HHS Announces Actions to Expand Access to OTC COVID-19 Tests

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is taking several new actions to help reduce costs for COVID-19 testing, expand access to tests, and bring more tests to market in the U.S.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is investing $70 million from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to bring more high-quality, at-home COVID-19 tests onto the market in the U.S., in coordination with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). NIH’s new Independent Test Assessment Program (ITAP) will establish an accelerated pathway to support FDA evaluation of tests with potential for large-scale manufacturing. The program is an extension of the NIH Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADx) initiative.

Under the new program, NIH, FDA, and other CDC and HHS experts will assess and conduct studies on over-the-counter (OTC) tests and work with companies to compile proper data, work toward benchmarks for performance, and support other needs to ensure successful regulatory review submissions to the FDA. According to HHS, the goal of this initiative is to accelerate the availability of more high-quality, accurate, and reliable OTC tests to the public as quickly as possible.

Separately, the FDA is streamlining the regulatory pathway for manufacturers to develop OTC at-home tests. FDA has issued recommendations for labeling updates to facilitate OTC single-use testing for symptomatic individuals for tests currently authorized only for serial testing. Developers of these specific tests will now be able to request authorization to add single-use testing for symptomatic individuals without submitting additional data.

Additionally, FDA announced it has authorized another OTC rapid antigen test. The FDA has granted an emergency use authorization (EUA) to Celltrion Diatrust for its COVID-19 Home Ag Test for OTC single-use testing for symptomatic adults and OTC serial testing for all adults. The latest EUA issued brings the total count to 10 at-home COVID-19 tests authorized by the FDA.

Additional information from HHS is available here.

Conditional Sailing Order Extended by CDC into 2022

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) this week announced a temporary extension of the Framework for Conditional Sailing Order (CSO) for cruise ships through January 15, 2022. CDC’s CSO was issued last year, establishing strong health and safety protocols to manage COVID-19, resume passenger operations, and avert overwhelming uses of medical resources.

CDC notes that after the temporary extension expires on January 15, the agency intends to transition to a voluntary program, in coordination with cruise ship operators and other stakeholders, to assist the cruise industry to detect, mitigate, and control the spread of COVID-19 onboard cruise ships.

The full CDC CSO is available here. Additional information about the temporary extension is available here.

CDC Invests $26M in Advanced Outbreak Forecasting and Analytics

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced the investment of $26 million in funding to develop next-generation infectious disease forecasting and analytics.

Under the investment, $21 million will support research and development of advanced infectious disease models and tools. Funding will support three years of work at five leading academic institutions: University of Albany, State University of New York; Johns Hopkins University; Stanford University; the University of Utah; and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

$5 million will also support collaborations with the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy to further advance federal infectious disease modeling capabilities. Funds will support rapid-response research projects and provide high performance computing resources.

Funding for these investments was provided through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA). Additional information from the CDC is available here.

Auditor Issues Report on CDSS Pandemic Food Assistance Program

California State Auditor Elaine Howle this week published a report as part of her office’s high-risk audit program on COVID-19 pandemic food assistance programs under the authority of the California Department of Social Services (CDSS). CDSS is responsible for managing federal COVID-19 funds that were dedicated to two nutrition programs – Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program-Emergency Allotment (SNAP-EA) and the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) – intended to address increasing levels of food insecurity among residents during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Auditor Howle, CDSS quickly distributed SNAP-EA payments to eligible families. However, CDSS has taken many months to issue P-EBT payments for the majority of the school year 2020-21 and all of summer 2021, “undermining the program’s purpose.” Families, as a result, had to wait an average of more than 200 days to receive P-EBT payments that were intended to provide assistance in lieu of free or reduced-price meals children would have ordinarily received. CDSS has projected that families will have to wait at least 209 days on average to receive payments intended for the remainder of school year 2020-21.

Notably, the Auditor indicates the key factors that have delayed CDSS’ issuance of P-EBT funds have largely been outside of its control. Auditor Howle points to the timing of federal legislation and the associated guidance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), as well as unclear communications from the federal government regarding expectations for states’ distribution of P-EBT funds for creating unavoidable delays in allocating payments. CDSS also had to work with capacity constraints of the vendor who produces benefit cards and food retailers that accept the cards.

Auditor Howle indicates that as of September 2021, nearly 500,000 P-EBT cards issued by CDSS for school year 2019-20 had not been used at all, leaving at least $182 million in payments unclaimed and at risk of reverting to the federal government. The Auditor’s Office sets forth recommendations for CDSS to ensure families are able to maximize their benefits. Specifically, CDSS is recommended to identify schools attended by children whose families have not used their P-EBT payments and request that those schools provide families with basic information about the program and their eligibility. CDSS, in response, agreed with the Auditor Howle’s findings and plans to implement the recommendations.

The full report on CDSS pandemic food assistance programs is available here.

HHS Announces $256M to Expand Access to Title X Family Planning Services

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently announced the availability of up to $256 million in grant funding to support equitable, affordable, client-centered, and high-quality family planning services through the Title X family planning program. Recall, Title X is the only federal grant program dedicated solely to providing individuals with comprehensive family planning and related preventive health services in communities throughout the country.

Title X services are delivered through a diverse network of clinics including state and local health departments, federal qualified health centers, hospital-based sites, and other private nonprofit and community-based health centers. In California, eight local health departments have served as Title X subgrantees, delivering reproductive health services to residents at 46 sites in those jurisdictions. LHDs that are not direct subgrantees work closely with community-based Title X providers to ensure access to essential health services.

The announcement of available funding follows the issuance of a final rule by the Biden-Harris Administration that rolls back restrictions on patient referrals for certain reproductive health services put in place by the previous administration. The Biden-Harris Administration’s final rule is set to take effect on November 8.

Additional information on the funding is available here.

HHS Secretary Becerra Unveils New Overdose Prevention Strategy

This week, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra unveiled the new HHS Overdose Prevention Strategy, designed to increase access to the full range of care and services for individuals who use substances that cause overdose and their families. The new strategy focuses on multiple substances involved in overdose and the diverse treatment approaches for substance use disorder.

The new strategy prioritizes four key target areas – primary prevention, harm reduction, evidence-based treatment, and recovery support – and aims to maximize health equity for underserved populations using the best available data and evidence to inform policy and actions, integrate substance use disorder services into other types of health and social services, and reduce stigma.

Further, the strategy recognizes that the full continuum of integrated care and services are needed to help prevent substance use, expand quality treatment, and sustain recovery from substance use disorders. The strategy also provides coordinated, federal support for harm reduction and recovery support.

Additional information on the HHS Overdose Prevention Strategy is available here.

CDC Launches Educational Campaigns to Combat Drug Overdose Deaths

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently launched four complementary education campaigns intended to reach young adults 18-34 to save more lives from drug overdose deaths. The campaigns feature information about the prevalence and dangers of fentanyl, the risks and consequences of mixing drugs, the life-saving power of naloxone, and the importance of reducing stigma around drug use to encourage treatment and recovery.

The campaigns were developed in collaboration with young adults who reported using drugs, as well as peer recovery professionals. Each campaign includes new resources on all four topics to help individuals make informed decisions, access needed services, and ultimately reduce the rise in drug overdoses and overdose deaths.

The four campaigns are focused on:

According to the CDC, drug overdoses have claimed nearly 900,000 lives in the U.S. over the past 20 years. Recent reports show that drug overdose deaths have accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic, outpacing overdose death rates from any previous year.

More information from the CDC is available here.

California Launches Homeless Encampment Grant Program for Local Governments

Today, Governor Gavin Newsom announced that the California Homeless Coordinating and Financing Council (HCFC) has released the application for $50 million in funding for the Encampment Resolution Grant Program. The funds will be available on a competitive basis to local governments that commit to addressing specific, persistent encampments by using these resources to provide pathways to permanent housing for individuals experiencing unsheltered homelessness.

The program was created as part of the 2021-22 State Budget and provides targeted grants to fund selected proposals submitted by eligible cities, counties, and continuums of care (CoCs).

HCFC designed the program to fund projects statewide that:

  • Prioritize the most unsafe and/or persistent encampments around the state
  • Provide services for people in those encampments to address the immediate crisis of unsheltered homelessness and provide a path to permanent housing
  • Support the sustainable restoration of public spaces to their intended uses while safeguarding the needs of unhoused people seeking shelter

Applications for the competitive grants are due on December 31, and HCFC intends to announce awards for the first projects in the spring. Eligible local entities are encouraged to submit concepts for innovative, efficient service delivery models to assist person experiencing unsheltered homelessness in encampments, including proposals for new partnership opportunities with the state and with philanthropic organizations.

In addition to the new grant program, HCFC is working to spur innovative approaches to encampments with a special cohort of the Governor’s 100-Day Challenge focused on serving persons experiencing unsheltered homelessness. Sacramento, Santa Cruz, Merced, Fresno, and San Bernardino counties have come together to participate in this challenge, which begins November 10 with a project design session.

During the 100-Day Challenge, local homelessness response system entities are encouraged to work together to set audacious goals, streamline systems, and find innovative ways to assist persons experiencing homelessness. Communities are supported in the challenge by coaches from the Rapid Results Institute, which provides intensive technical support and guidance.

Beginning January 1, 2022, HCFC will become the California Interagency Council on Homelessness (Cal-ICH) and will be cochaired by Business, Consumer Services, and Housing Agency (BCSH) Secretary Lourdes Castro Ramirez and California Health and Human Services Agency (CalHHS) Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly. Cal-ICH and its staff will continue to be housed administratively under BCSH.

Additional information from the Governor’s Office is available here.

Newsom Announces CalHHS Appointments

On Tuesday, Governor Gavin Newsom announced a series of appointments to top-level posts within the California Health and Human Services Agency (CalHHS). Appointments include:

  • Melissa Stafford Jones, Director of Children and Youth Behavioral Health Initiative – Melissa Stafford Jones has served as the Executive Director of the First 5 Association of California since 2020. She was previously Executive Director of the Dean & Margaret Lesher Foundation from 2017 to 2020 and Regional Director for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Region IX from 2014 to 2017. Ms. Stafford Jones was also the President and Chief Executive Officer of the California Association of Public Hospitals and Health Systems (CAPH) from 2005 to 2013, where she was Vice President and Director of Policy from 2000 to 2005.
  • Corrin Buchanan, Deputy Secretary for Policy and Strategic Planning – Corrin Buchanan has been Assistant Director of Housing and Homelessness at the California Department of Social Services (CDSS) since 2020. She was Deputy Director of the Office of Diversion and Reentry with the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services from 2017 to 2020, where she was Housing Director from 2016 to 2017 and Program Manager with the Housing for Health Division from 2013 to 2016. Buchanan was also previously a Health Program Planning and Project Manager for the San Francisco Department of Public Health from 2012 to 2013.
  • Brendan McCarthy, Deputy Secretary for Program and Fiscal Affairs – Brendan McCarthy has been Assistant Secretary for CalHHS since 2019. Previously, he was Chief Consultant for the Assembly Committee on Business and Professions from 2018 to 2019, Principal Consultant for the Senate Committee on Appropriations from 2009 to 2018, and Senior Fiscal and Policy Analyst at the Legislative Analyst’s Office from 2004 to 2009.
  • John Ohanian, Director of the Center for Data Insights and Innovation and Chief Data Officer – John Ohanian has served as Interim Director of the Center for Data Insights and Innovation and Chief Data Officer since 2020. He was President and Chief Executive Officer of 211 San Diego from 2007 to 2020 and Chief Executive Officer of Community Information Exchange from 2012 to 2020.

Additional information on the above appointments and more is available here.