Pandemic’s End? Biden Administration Plans to End COVID Public Health Emergency in May, But WHO Says ‘No’

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The Biden administration on Monday announced that the COVID-19 public health emergency, which has been in place since January 2020, is set to end on May 11.

“The COVID-19 national emergency and public health emergency (PHE) were declared by the Trump Administration in 2020.  They are currently set to expire on March 1 and April 11, respectively.  At present, the Administration’s plan is to extend the emergency declarations to May 11, and then end both emergencies on that date,” the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) said in a statement.

Since it was first declared on Jan. 31, 2020, by former Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar, the national PHE has been renewed 12 times under two different administrations. The most recent renewal was declared on Jan. 11.

The Biden administration has repeatedly said it would provide a notice of at least 60 days if it decided to end the PHE so that health care providers and stakeholders could have time to prepare. Monday’s announcement provided 101 days until the emergency officially ends.

“To be clear, continuation of these emergency declarations until May 11 does not impose any restriction at all on individual conduct with regard to COVID-19,” the OMB said in its statement. “They do not impose mask mandates or vaccine mandates.  They do not restrict school or business operations.  They do not require the use of any medicines or tests in response to cases of COVID-19.”

As the OMB noted, an abrupt end to the PHE would cause “wide-ranging chaos and uncertainty throughout the health care system.” Since the declaration, programs such as Medicaid have operated under special rules, allowing beneficiaries to retain their coverage during the pandemic.

Under the flexibilities that were enacted under the PHE, traditional Medicare and Medicare Advantage beneficiaries were able to receive free at-home COVID-19 testing and treatments and pay no cost-sharing.

Private insurance providers were also required to cover coronavirus testing and services with no cost-sharing and without prior authorization.

Last year, Medicaid released guidance on a 12-month period of “unwinding” after the PHE ended in which operations would return to pre-pandemic norms. The guidance dictated that state Medicaid and CHIP agencies will be allowed to begin their “unwinding” period either one month before the PHE ends, the same month that it ends or the month after it ends.

The end of the PHE will also mean the end of Title 42 border policy, which allows border officials to expel foreign nationals and ignore asylum claims for the sake of public health protections.

“The number of migrants crossing the border has been cut in half, approximately, since the Administration put in place a plan in early January to deter irregular migration from Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Haiti. The Administration supports an orderly, predictable wind-down of Title 42, with sufficient time to put alternative policies in place,” the OMB stated.

GOP lawmakers have already unveiled legislation to end the PHE, including the “Pandemic is Over Act.” That bill, introduced by Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.) earlier this month, would end the PHE the same day it is enacted. With a Democratic majority in the Senate and a veto by President Biden almost certain to occur if it were to be passed by Congress, this bill appeared to mostly symbolic in nature, designed to put on the record Republican lawmakers’ discontent with the ongoing PHE.

The Biden administration criticized the methods by which the legislation aimed to end the emergency, saying it would impose “highly significant impacts” on the U.S. health care system and government operations as well as allow “thousands of migrants per day into the country immediately without the necessary policies in place.”

Senate Republicans said the move is overdue.

“It makes sense. Everybody’s either got immunity through taking the vaccine, had [COVID-19] or probably both. It’s time to move on,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said shortly after the White House’s announcement.

“That’ll have some impacts. … Most people would argue it’s long overdue. I think we’ve said goodbye — not entirely, but for all intents and purposes — to the pandemic a long time ago and I think it’s probably high time our policies reflect that,” Sen. John Thun said.

WHO keeps COVID alert status but sees ‘transition point’

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The World Health Organization (WHO) has determined that the COVID-19 pandemic remains a “public health emergency of international concern” while acknowledging the outbreak has reached a “transition point.”

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Monday relayed the findings from a recent report made by the International Health Regulations (IHR) Emergency Committee.

  • “The WHO Director-General concurs with the advice offered by the Committee regarding the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and determines that the event continues to constitute a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC),” a statement from WHO read.
  • “The Director-General acknowledges the Committee’s views that the COVID-19 pandemic is probably at a transition point and appreciates the advice of the Committee to navigate this transition carefully and mitigate the potential negative consequences.”

Three years on: As was noted in the WHO statement, this assessment was made in the week marking the third anniversary since the COVID-19 pandemic was first declared a public health emergency by the organization.

Under IHR standards first adopted in 2005, a PHEIC is declared by the WHO when two out of four set criteria are met: if the emergency has a serious impact on public health, if it is unusual or unexpected, if there is a risk of significant international spread and if there is a risk of restrictions being placed on international trade and travel.



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