How the end of the COVID-19 emergency affects Americans
At the height of the pandemic, Mount Sinai South Nassau Hospital in Oceanside, New York, had more than 400 COVID-19 patients, many of whom were very ill. These days, that number is less than five, with no patients in the intensive care unit, according to Dr. Aaron Glatt, the hospital’s epidemiologist.
These numbers are why Glatt agreed with the federal government’s decision to end the COVID-19 public health emergency. But he also wants the audience to understand what that means.
“People need to realize that the benefits that come with being a public health emergency are going to go away. And some of the free stuff that the government has given…without worrying about reimbursement is going to stop. That’s number one,” says Glatt, who also serves as a department chief. Hospital Medicine and Head of the Infectious Diseases Department.
“The second point is that allowing the emergency to happen has freed up some of the regulatory constraints that would normally have been in place, and those constraints will now come back into play,” he says.
After more than three years, more than 1 million deaths in the United States, and 104.5 million documented infections, the COVID-19 public health emergency ends May 11.
“I think the biggest impact is Ramsey,” says Gene Keats, senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit organization focused on healthcare research. “It’s really a landmark, ‘We have this important announcement that’s over,’ symbolizing the transition from this state of emergency that allowed a lot of flexibility to a different place.”
The epidemic peaked between July 2020 and July 2021. The highest hospitalization rates were recorded in December 2020 and January 2021.
What has changed
The end of the COVID-19 emergency will be felt by Americans in different ways.
“The era of free COVID testing is over,” says Boris Luchnik, acting US Surgeon General (2013-2014) who now leads the University of Maryland School of Public Health. “The things that people will notice, more often than not, will be that something that was taken for granted the last two and a half years in the midst of this pandemic, which we kind of got used to, will now become more complex.”
During the pandemic, the federal government has sent more than 70 million free COVID-19 tests to people’s homes.
Going forward, at-home COVID-19 tests may become more expensive, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, and people with private insurance and traditional Medicare will no longer be guaranteed access to these tests for free, though private insurance companies may choose to cover the costs of testing. .
More than 81% of the US population, roughly 268 million people, have had at least one injection of the COVID-19 vaccine.
The vaccines will remain free until stocks purchased by the federal government run out, which experts say will likely be by the end of the year. After that, the vaccines will continue to be free for most people with public and private insurance.
Medicines used to treat COVID-19 will also be free as long as federal government supplies last, which will likely be until the fall, according to Keats. Congress has not authorized the funding needed for the federal government to continue purchasing more vaccines and treatments. Private insurers have never been required to waive costs for COVID-19 treatment.
For those who are uninsured or uninsured, the Biden administration announced a $1 billion program that will continue to give people without insurance access to COVID-19 care at local pharmacies, through existing public health infrastructure, and at local health facilities.
“You still need to be vigilant.”
PHE expiration is not the only COVID-19 related emergency measure currently in effect. Emergency measures allowing the use of COVID-19 vaccines and treatments will continue beyond May 11.
“People need to be reassured that the fact that the public health emergency is going away is a positive rather than a negative thing. It doesn’t mean that we’re ignoring this problem, that it’s been fixed,” Glatt says. “An enormous amount of public health work will continue, And in general, the American public will care very well going forward with regard to COVID.”
Although Lushniak agrees that PHE should be abolished, he worries that the public will assume COVID-19 is a thing of the past, even though COVID-19 remained the fourth leading cause of death in the United States in 2022, behind heart disease. cancer and unintentional injury. Currently, 150 people die in the United States every day from the coronavirus disease.
“The truth is, it’s not over yet, and we still need to be vigilant,” says Luchnik. “If you’re not feeling well, stay away from large crowds. This whole idea of disease spreading is still there. And there are people at higher risk around us, so let’s take care of others.”
The end of PHE means states will no longer be required to report COVID-19 infections to federal authorities.
However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention usually has individual agreements with each state regarding reporting of infectious disease cases, and all hospitals are required to report COVID-19 admissions through April 2024.
Other methods the CDC will use to track future infections include monitoring hospital emergency room visits for COVID-19 and by testing wastewater for evidence of the virus that causes COVID-19.
“It’s not like everything is going to pass by the wayside, but certainly the data will be less dynamic,” says Luchnick.
This story has been updated.
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