Biden administration signals end of emergency phase

May 11 marks a big day: Both the national COVID-19 emergency and the public health emergency declarations will expire, the Biden administration has announced.
The White House’s sudden move comes in response to Republican-led bills that aimed to end the emergencies immediately, reports Zoë Richards at NBC News. House Republicans have also passed a bill to end telework in federal agencies, writes Mychael Schnell at The Hill.
The Biden administration argued that some advance notice was needed to help states wind down assistance programs and avoid “wide-ranging chaos and uncertainty throughout the health care system” that a more abrupt change would create.
The change will mean Americans will have to pay their share for COVID-19 tests and treatments, and maybe even vaccines, that have been free.
Starting April 1, states will again be able to remove people from Medicaid if they no longer qualify. Some 13% of enrollees could lose coverage as a result.
Medicare coverage of telehealth will continue through the end of 2024.
The change could also interfere with pandemic data collection, because states would become exempt from sharing case counts and death rates with the CDC, notes Cheyenne Haslett at ABC News.
The end of the emergencies also has other political consequences. It ends the Title 42 policy that has limited entry of migrants at the U.S. border. It could also scuttle the Biden administration’s plans for student loan forgiveness, writes Solcyre Burga at Time.
In addition to these practical considerations, the end of the emergencies sends a powerful message about ongoing risks from the coronavirus, Jennifer Kates, senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation, told The New York Times. “It might let people let their guard down,” she said.
Many have already done that. Fewer than 16% of people have received the latest vaccine, for example, while COVID continues to kill hundreds of Americans every day.
The World Health Organization still considers the pandemic a public health emergency, but has indicated the crisis is in transition.
“There is no ‘level of disease’ that defines a pandemic or emergency,” notes epidemiologist Katelyn Jetelina on her blog. The winter so far has stress-tested the health system with ongoing omicron infections, and thus far, hospitals haven’t been utterly overwhelmed. “Given this,” writes Jetelina, “I agree that we are not in an emergency phase in the U.S.”
But the nation is not yet in an endemic, predictable phase either, she adds. “This will likely take years.”