The United States will maintain public health emergency status for the COVID-19 pandemic in place, allowing millions of Americans to continue to receive free tests, vaccines and treatment, two officials said Friday. the Biden administration.
The possibility of a winter surge in COVID-19 cases and the need for more time to move from a public health emergency to a private market were two factors that contributed to the decision not to end the state of emergency in January, one of the officials said.
The public health emergency was initially declared in January 2020, at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, and has been renewed quarterly since for 90 days. But the government began signaling in August that it planned to let it expire in January.
The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has promised to give states 60 days notice before letting the emergency expire, which would have been Friday had it not planned to renew it again. in January. The agency did not provide such notice, the second official said.
Health experts believe an increase in COVID-19 infections in the United States is likely this winter, an official said.
“We may be in the middle of one in January,” he said. “Now is not the time you want to suppress the public health emergency.”
Daily cases in the United States have fallen to an average of nearly 41,300 as of November 9, but an average of 335 people a day are still dying from COVID-19, according to the latest data from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. United.
Daily cases in the United States are expected to slowly increase to nearly 70,000 by February, due to students returning to school and indoor gatherings related to cold weather, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation said. from the University of Washington in an October 21 analysis. Deaths are expected to remain at current levels.
Officials said there was still a lot of work to do to get out of the public health emergency.
The government has paid for COVID-19 vaccines, some tests and treatments, and other care under the Public Health Emergency (PHE) declaration. When the emergency expires, the government will begin transferring COVID-19 health care to private insurance and government health plans.
Health officials held major meetings with insurers and drugmakers on shifting sales and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and treatments to the private sector in August and October, but none were publicly announced since.
“The biggest motivation from a policy perspective is to ensure a smooth transition to the commercial market and the challenge of unraveling the multiple protections that have been put in place,” said Dr. Jen Kates, Vice President head of the Kaiser Family Foundation. “The extension of the PHE gives more time to manage this.”
The biggest challenge is with the uninsured, she said. Most Americans have government-backed or private health insurance and shouldn’t pay anything for COVID-19 shots and boosters, though they likely incur out-of-pocket costs for testing and treatment.
Uninsured children will also continue to receive free vaccines, but it’s unclear how they and some 25 million uninsured adults will avoid paying the full cost of testing and treatment, and how those adults will get the shots.
Their number is expected to increase with the expiration of the emergency. HHS estimates that up to 15 million people will lose health coverage after a Congressional requirement that state Medicaid programs keep people enrolled permanently expires and states return to normal enrollment patterns. .