US Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra officially renewed the declaration, extending it until October 13, 2022.
The emergency declaration has been in effect since January 2020, and the latest renewal comes as the Omicron BA.5 offshoot, the most infectious variant to date, continues to stake its claim in the US. Daily case rates, though significantly lower, are the highest in months, as are hospitalizations and deaths from Covid-19.
Data released this week by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that more than half the country’s population lives in a county with a “high community level of Covid-19”, where the health care system is at risk of becoming Congested and versatile indoor masking is recommended.
“The declaration of a public health emergency continues to provide us with the tools and authorities needed to respond to the highly transmissible sub-variants of COVID-19 that are currently circulating around the country,” a Biden administration official told CNN. “PHE provides essential options and flexibility for hospitals to better care for patients, particularly if we see a significant increase in hospitalizations in the coming weeks.”
Indeed, group projections from the CDC released this week predict that U.S. hospitalizations will rise over the next month. It is the first time in weeks that forecasts have predicted a rise in hospitalizations instead of a stable outlook.
“Without the existence of PHE, we will be limited in our ability to provide wide and fair access to life-saving treatments through our Test to Treat initiative, for example, which relies on flexibility for telehealth and surgeries,” the official said. “Not renewing PHE will leave us with fewer tools to respond and mean more Americans will get seriously ill and end up in the hospital.”
The public health emergency declaration allows many Americans to receive free Covid-19 testing, therapeutic treatment and vaccines. After it ends, people may face out-of-pocket costs depending on whether they are covered by Medicare, Medicaid, or private insurance. But vaccinations will generally continue to be free for those covered by Medicare and private insurance, while state Medicaid programs will determine whether to continue to cover vaccinations for their enrollees.
In addition, Medicare has relaxed the rules governing telehealth so that many more beneficiaries can access such services at the time of the claim. Telehealth services are no longer limited to those living in rural areas, and enrollees can make home visits instead of having to travel to a health facility and receive a wider range of services through telehealth. These flexibilities will end for most beneficiaries after the end of the state of emergency.
And states don’t involuntarily exclude residents from Medicaid at the time of the declaration, in exchange for receiving more generous federal funds. About 14 million people could lose Medicaid coverage after the emergency ends, according to separate estimates by Kaiser and the Urban Institute.
In addition, many low-income families are receiving increased food stamp benefits thanks to the declaration, even though some states have ended their own public health emergencies and suspended increased distributions.
A separate emergency declaration allows authorization for emergency use of tests, treatments and vaccines. Its end date will be determined by the Secretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services.
Its end date will be determined by HHS, and the agency is committed to providing at least 60 days’ notice before any change
CNN’s Caitlan Collins and Tammy Luby contributed to this report.