The Biden administration is expected to renew the Covid-19 public health emergency and ensure federal measures expanding access to health care, vaccines and treatments remain in place after the midterm elections, three people told informed to POLITICO.
The planned extension follows extensive deliberations among Biden officials about the future of the emergency declaration, including some who questioned whether it was time to drop the designation.
Under the proposed extension, the Department of Health and Human Services would continue the statement beyond the November elections and possibly early 2023, marking the US entering its fourth calendar year under a public health emergency from Covid.
“Covid is not over yet. The pandemic is not over yet,” a senior Biden official said. “It makes no sense to cancel this [declaration] considering what we see on the ground in terms of cases. ”
An HHS spokesperson declined to comment, and those with knowledge of the matter warned that the situation could change before the August 15 TBEN to decide whether the statement will go through.
The Biden administration has increasingly pointed to the availability of Covid vaccines and treatments as evidence that Americans who have been vaccinated and boosted can live relatively safely with the virus. But even with that new stance, many government health officials remain wary of the message that ending the public health emergency would be sent at a time when the number of cases exceeds 100,000 a day.
“It will end when the emergency ends,” said a senior government official, summarizing internal stance on the statement.
The emergency designation has also given authorities the power to allow the administration to expand access to Medicaid, speed up the green light for vaccines and offer free tests and therapies. If the emergency were to end, those flexibilities would have to unwind — a complex process that hospital and public health groups have warned could interfere with their ability to treat Covid patients.
The federal government has been continuously updating the statement since the first Covid cases hit the US in January 2020. And while HHS has pledged to give states 60 days notice before it expires, the government has declined to set specific criteria for the phasing out are emergency services.
However, the debate over continuing the statement has become more controversial. With vaccines and treatments rife and there’s no residual expectation that the government can eradicate Covid, health officials have increasingly discussed in recent months when that phase-out should take place and what it should look like.
In the most recent round of deliberations, some officials have pushed for the statement to expire in October, subject to the government successfully rolling out the next round of vaccines and preventing a drop in cases, two people familiar with the virus said. matter. An end to the emergency declaration this year could also be a pre-election demonstration that the country has indeed entered a new phase of the pandemic struggle.
But such a move would likely spark a health industry backlash and draw criticism from public health groups on the front lines of efforts to fight the virus and vaccinate more Americans.
Some health officials also feared that formally ending the public health emergency would dampen the remaining sense of urgency in Congress to allocate additional funds to the Covid response. The government’s request for billions of dollars more to replenish its stockpiles of vaccines, tests and treatments has stalled in the Senate for months, even as officials warn that the funding gap could hamper their ability to continue the pandemic fight.
With reporting by Erin Banco.