The Biden administration has prolonged the Covid-19 public health emergency until April, as a highly transmissible omicron subvariant raises concerns that the United States may experience another wave of hospitalizations due to the disease this winter.
As per CNBC News, a representative for the Health and Human Services Department stated, “The COVID-19 Public Health Emergency remains in place, and as HHS previously agreed, we will issue a 60-day notice to states before any possible termination or expiration.”
Since the Trump administration announced the initial Covid public health emergency designation in January 2020, the United States has renewed the emergency every 90 days.
Over the past three years, the emergency declaration has had a significant impact on the U.S. health care system. It has maintained millions of people’s access to public health insurance, given hospitals additional flexibility to respond to patient surges, and boosted telemedicine.
The Covid task force at the White House, directed by Dr. Ashish Jha, has frequently sought to reassure the public that the United States is in a much stronger position now due to the widespread availability of Covid vaccines and therapies that prevent serious disease and death from the virus.
In August, HHS instructed local and state health officials to begin planning for the imminent end of the emergency. Before withdrawing the proclamation, HHS has pledged to providing state governments and health care providers with a sixty-day notice.
In September, President Joe Biden declared the end of the epidemic, a time when infections, hospitalizations, and fatalities were all dropping. In October, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra told reporters on a conference call that the winter behavior of the virus would determine whether or not the state of emergency must be maintained.
Once U.S. officials decide to stop the public health emergency, hospitals will lose the flexibility to deploy staff, create beds, and care for patients during admissions surges. Lifting the emergency could also have a significant influence on the enhanced role pharmacists have played in administering vaccines throughout the epidemic, although the degree of this effect is currently unknown.
In the coming months, millions of Americans are projected to lose health care coverage under Medicaid. Congress prohibited states from removing individuals from the program during the public health emergency. As a result, enrollment in Medicaid has increased by 30% to more over 83 million.
Congress detached Medicaid’s safeguards from the public health emergency last month and authorized states to begin removing individuals from Medicaid in April if they no longer met eligibility rules.
In the United States, the omicron XBB.1.5 subvariant is quickly gaining dominance. Scientists believe it has a growth advantage due to its superior ability to adhere to human cells and evade the immune system. The World Health Organization identifies it as the most transmissible subtype to date, despite the absence of evidence that it makes patients sicker.
Since the advent of omicron in the United States in late 2021, which produced enormous infection waves in the United States and around the world, Covid has fragmented into an alphabet soup of subvariants that are becoming increasingly proficient at escaping immunization and infection.
According to a study published in December by Columbia University researchers, the BQ and XBB families of omicron subvariants represent the greatest threat to Covid vaccinations and could create an outbreak of new infections. Additionally, these subvariants are resistant to all authorized antibody therapy used to protect individuals with compromised immune systems.
Jha stated in a series of tweets this week that he is concerned about the quick ascent of XBB.1.5, but that he does not expect it to be a major setback. If a person has not already had an omicron booster, he urged them to do so, and he urged those who are susceptible to undergo antiviral treatment if they develop a breakthrough infection.
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, just 38% of seniors aged 65 and older have had an omicron booster thus far. There is concern that when XBB.1.5 spreads, hospitalizations and fatalities among older Americans will increase.
Jha has stated that the majority of those hospitalized and dying from Covid are individuals aged 70 and older who are either not up to date on their vaccinations or are not receiving treatment when they experience a breakthrough infection.