Federal agencies warn of pre-symptomatic, asymptomatic viral spread.

Federal officials announced this week that they are making payments available to physicians and providers for counseling patients receiving COVID-19 tests about the vital importance of self-isolation prior to the onset of symptoms.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) made the announcement on Thursday, while highlighting the benefits the change could portend.

“The transmission of COVID-19 occurs from both symptomatic, pre-symptomatic, and asymptomatic individuals, emphasizing the importance of education on self-isolation, as the spread of the virus can be reduced significantly by having patients isolated earlier, while waiting for test results or symptom onset,” the federal agencies said in a joint statement. “The CDC models show that when individuals who are tested for the virus are separated from others and placed in quarantine, there can be up to an 86 percent reduction in the transmission of the virus, compared to a 40 percent decrease in viral transmission if the person isolates after symptoms arise.”

Officials said that the covered provider counseling is to include a discussion with patients on the immediate need for isolation, the importance of informing all members of the patients’ households that they too should get tested, and the review of signs, symptoms, and services available to them to aid in isolating. Patients should also be directed to wear a mask at all times, and informed that they will be contacted by local public health authorities for participation in thorough contact tracing.

CMS said it will use existing evaluation and management (E&M) codes to reimburse eligible providers for such counseling, regardless of where a COVID-19 test is initiated, with covered sites including doctor’s offices, urgent care centers, hospitals, or even community drive-thru or pharmacy testing sites.

The COVID-19 pandemic has now reportedly sickened more than 17 million people worldwide, killing more than 660,000. The U.S. accounts for approximately a quarter of those figures.