A microscopic entity brought the world to a standstill.
Never before had our modern systems faced such an all-consuming health crisis—one that tested the capacity, adaptability, and resilience of every single community on Earth.
From the smallest rural clinics to the largest metropolitan hospitals, the COVID-19 pandemic pushed the limits of our healthcare infrastructures, revealing tragic vulnerabilities but also spotlighting the herculean efforts of frontline workers.
Three Years Later: The End of an Era
Nearly three and a half years ago, on January 31, 2020, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) declared a nationwide Public Health Emergency. This determination set into motion a myriad of policies, programs, and initiatives aimed at combating the novel coronavirus.
The HHS, in partnership with state, local, and tribal agencies, industry stakeholders, and advocates, orchestrated an unprecedented response.
Thanks to the relentless dedication of scientists, medical professionals, and public health experts, we learned to navigate this pandemic, constantly evolving our approach as we all continue to gain new insights into the virus.
We adapted to working from home, attending school online, wearing masks, social distancing, and embracing vaccinations as our primary tool in this global battle.
And finally, the moment we’ve all been waiting for has come.
A few days ago, on May 11, 2023, we crossed a significant threshold in our journey through this COVID-19 pandemic: the HHS has officially declared an end to the nationwide Public Health Emergency (PHE).
Transitioning Out of the Emergency Phase
The decision to lift the COVID-19 PHE represents a significant shift in our national response to the pandemic. It indicates a confident step forward, based on the substantial progress we’ve made in managing the virus.
The Biden-Harris Administration has effectively implemented the largest adult vaccination program in US history. Over 270 million people have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine shot, over 15 million life-saving treatments have been administered, and more than 750 million free COVID-19 tests have been distributed.
These massive efforts, coupled with robust investments in vaccines, tests, and treatments, have led to a 95% decline in deaths since January 2021 and a 91% decrease in hospitalizations. The once disruptive COVID-19 is now significantly less impactful, thanks to these milestones.
However, the end of the PHE doesn’t mean the end of efforts to protect Americans from COVID-19. The focus will continue on protecting vulnerable groups, maintaining access to COVID-19 vaccines, treatments, and tests, and investing in next-generation treatments through Project NextGen.
What Changes and What Stays the Same
While the end of the PHE brings about some changes, many critical measures will continue.
Access to vaccinations and certain treatments like Paxlovid and Lagevrio will not be affected.
When government distribution ceases, plans are underway to ensure a smooth transition to the traditional healthcare market. The HHS Bridge Access Program will maintain access to vaccines and treatments for uninsured Americans.
FDA’s Emergency Use Authorizations (EUAs) and telehealth flexibilities will also remain in place.
However, certain COVID-19 PHE policies will expire. Some Medicare and Medicaid waivers will end, but states may choose to continue some flexibilities.
Coverage for COVID-19 testing will also change. Traditional Medicare will continue to cover COVID-19 PCR and antigen tests with no cost-sharing when ordered by a healthcare provider, but cost-sharing for Medicare Advantage plan members may change.
The requirement for private insurance companies to cost-sharing, when not ordered by a healthcare provider, will end, potentially impacting test accessibility for some.
Building a More Resilient Health Infrastructure
The end of the PHE does not signal an end to the pandemic. Instead, it marks the start of a new phase of recovery and resilience building.
This period will be characterized by a robust strategy to address COVID-19’s long-term impacts, fortify our health infrastructure, and prepare for potential health emergencies in the future.
As we transition out of the public health emergency phase, we’ll need to remember the lessons we’ve learned from this global health crisis. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the value of public health preparedness, the power of scientific innovation, and the strength of global collaboration.
As we navigate this new phase, we can take comfort in the knowledge that our collective actions have brought us to this point and will continue to guide us forward.
The future of COVID-19 may not be entirely predictable, but we can be confident that we have the tools, knowledge, and resilience to tackle whatever comes our way. With continued vigilance, we can ensure that the end of the PHE is truly a new dawn for public health.