The COVID-19 public health emergency, first declared in January of 2020, will continue through October 13, 2022, following renewal by US Department of Health and Human Services Secretary (HHS) Xavier Becerra.
The decision comes in the shadow of another Omicron offshoot. BA.5 is considered the most contagious variant to date. While routinely undercounted, daily case rates have been the highest in months combined with hospitalizations and deaths.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published alarming data surrounding BA.5. More than 50 percent of the US population reside in counties where a “high Covid-19 Community Level” exists, with the potential of health care systems being overwhelmed and the possibility of a return to universal indoor masking.
The renewal also provides necessary resources to respond to the subvariants continuing to spread nationwide. A Public Health Emergency facilitates specific capabilities and much-needed and more flexible options to provide better patient care in preparation for likely hospitalization surges. Those increases represent the first time in weeks that the number will increase.
Lacking a PHE would place limits on staffing and fewer tools to best handle the response. The pronouncement will also result in the following:
- Continuing COVID-19 testing, therapeutic treatments, and vaccines at no cost
- Medicare relaxing the telehealth rules, providing access to telehealth services for beneficiaries, including those in rural areas of the United States
- Ongoing Medicaid benefits for nearly 14 million people, courtesy of federal matching funds
- Enhanced food stamp benefits for low-income families for some, but not all states
Should the HHS decide to continue or end the declaration, the Secretary will provide a 60-day notice.