Washington– President Joe Biden’s administration announced Thursday that the COVID-19 public health emergency will continue until January 11, 2023, at a time when cases are expected to rise over the winter.
The decision was made known in a month in which the pandemic has already disappeared from the minds of many. Daily deaths and infections are falling and people – many of them without masks – are returning to schools, work and shops as they used to.
The public health emergency, which was initially declared in January 2020 and renewed every 90 days, has dramatically changed the way health services are provided.
The announcement allowed free of charge emergency authorization of vaccines, diagnostic tests and treatments against COVID-19. The Medicaid program expanded to millions of people, many of whom could be lost after the emergency ended. It temporarily opened access to telemedicine for Medicare beneficiaries, allowed doctors to charge the same fee for those visits, and encouraged health networks to adopt telemedicine technology.
Since the beginning of this year, Republicans have been pressing the government to end the public health emergency. For his part, Biden has called on Congress to provide billions of additional dollars to help pay for vaccines and diagnostic tests for the coronavirus. The federal government last month stopped sending free tests by mail, saying it lacked funding for it.
Public health officials are encouraging people age 5 and older to receive a booster dose of the vaccine, with flu, this fall, before COVID-19 cases are predicted to rise. And it’s a heavy flu season. As of last weekend, nearly 13 million people had received the updated booster, which counters the Omicron version, said Dr Ashish Jha, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator.
The federal government says it will issue 60 days’ notice before ending the public health emergency.