HHS moves to boost coronavirus case tracking; AstraZeneca expands vaccine deals

The U.S. Health and Human Services department released new guidelines on Thursday to improve tracking of positive coronavirus cases in the country — with a focus on identifying inequities and directing resources as more states relax their lockdowns.

Testing for COVID-19 infections in the U.S. have been a sore point, but have improved gradually as the restrictive stay-at-home orders are eased. The HHS’s new guidelines include requiring laboratories to submit zip code, age, race/ethnicity and gender, along with the positive result.

For at-home collection, which has recently seen increasing support through FDA authorizations, the new rules also apply.

“The laboratory must be able to collect the required information for reporting, so the process for sample collection should include submission of the data elements,” according to HHS.

Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), briefed a U.S. House subcommittee Thursday, as pressure mounts for the federal government to address health inequities in the country. The crisis has disproportionately impacted black and Hispanic communities, exacerbating pre-existing health conditions.

Some cities are seeing sharp spikes in unemployment. (Graphic: David Foster/Yahoo Finance)

Abroad, the dynamic is also becoming more acute, with developing economies in the throes of a surge in confirmed cases, even as the West finally gets the crisis under control. On Thursday, the global case count surged past 6.5 million, with more than 387,000 dead.

In the U.S., more than 1.8 million positive cases have been reported, and more than 107,000 are dead. Even as New York and New Jersey have seen a sustained drop in hospitalizations and deaths, California has resurfaced as a growing concern, along with several other states like Texas, Arizona and North Carolina.

Testing is seen as a linchpin for an economy that’s on the ropes. Despite a market that’s rallied on investor hopes for a sharp recovery, the latest weekly jobless claims — where more than 1.8 million filed — provided a harsh reminder of how badly the crisis has battered the world’s largest economy.

In total, over 42 million individuals have filed for unemployment since the lockdowns took effect, worse than the Great Recession.

Yet amid the green shoots of a revival, analysts at Morgan Stanley anticipate a quick recovery by the end of the year as unemployment drifts lower.

The vaccine race continues

AstraZeneca announced an expansion of its commitment of producing Oxford University’s coronavirus vaccine. The $750 million deal will produce 300 million doses for Gavi, the global vaccine alliance, to ensure access to poorer countries, in addition to an agreement with the Serum Institute of India to produce 1 billion doses by next year.

AstraZeneca also has agreements with the U.S. and U.K. for distribution within each country.

Meanwhile, a new test authorized by the FDA for testing coronavirus patients can help identify some of the most severe cases. The blood test, from Roche, can identify patients who are at risk of intubation, as a result of acute inflammation — which has been identified as a common occurrence among patients who have ended up on ventilators.

Anjalee Khemlani is a reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @AnjKhem

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