The U.S. has renewed the covid-19 public health emergency, which extends Americans’ access in the U.S. to free testing, free vaccines and treatments for the virus.
Set to expire on April 16, the public health emergency was initially declared in January 2020 and has been renewed each quarter since. It was renewed for an additional 90 days by Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra on Tuesday, April 12.
“As a result of the continued consequences of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, on this date and after consultation with public health officials as necessary, I, Xavier Becerra, Secretary of Health and Human Services, pursuant to the authority vested in me under section 319 of the Public Health Service Act, do hereby renew, effective April 16, 2022,” Becerra wrote in a statement.
Policy experts told Reuters this could be the last extension of the public health emergency, which would signal an increasing return to a sense of normalcy as the virus shifts from pandemic to endemic.
Federal, state, and local data have shown that Black people have experienced a disproportionate burden of covid cases and deaths. Black people are about twice as likely to die from covid-19 as white, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
The White House has promised to give a minimum of 60 days’ notice before letting the public health emergency expire.
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“We’ve all had access to coverage and we’ve been able to tap into the availability of covid-19 testing, treatments, and vaccines, largely at no cost during the public health emergency, but not all of these items will continue to be free when the public health emergency ends,” said Dr. Juliette Cubanski, deputy director of the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Medicare policy program.
Once the public health emergency ends officially, the government will no longer pay for covid-19-related medical expenses and many people may lose their health insurance due to the expiration of a rule that prohibits states from dropping people from Medicaid, Yahoo News reported.
“The emergency has made it easier for 13 million to 16 million more Americans to access health insurance coverage under Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, expands access to telehealth services, makes it easier to sign up for health insurance, and allows agencies to fast-track authorization for COVID-19 treatments, tests and vaccines at the Food and Drug Administration, among other flexibilities,” Roll Call’s Ariel Cohen said.
Despite expected rising medical costs, some are looking forward to ending the emergency declaration. Republicans, in particular, have been pushing for it to end.
“Americans, especially children, are in crisis. Instead of keeping us in a permanent state of emergency, it is time for this administration put people first and stop clinging to powers you currently enjoy under the PHE,” said a letter signed by more than 70 House Republicans to President Joe Biden and Becerra in February asking them to let the public health emergency expire in April.
PHOTO: Nyasha Sarju sits as a Seattle Fire Department paramedic prepares takes a nasal swab sample to test for coronavirus at a testing site Monday, June 8, 2020, in Seattle, after Sarju came in to be checked following her protesting over the past two weeks in the city. The new citywide testing program expanded testing criteria to include individuals who participated in demonstrations throughout the past week, where people who have been protesting the death of George Floyd, a black man who was in police custody in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)