“Covid isn’t over. The pandemic isn’t over,” a senior Biden official said. “It doesn’t make sense to lift this [declaration] given what we are seeing on the ground in terms of cases.
An HHS spokesperson declined to comment, and people familiar with the matter warned that the situation could still change before the Aug. 15 deadline for deciding whether to let the statement continue.
The Biden administration has increasingly pointed to the availability of Covid vaccines and treatments as proof that Americans who are vaccinated and boosted can live with the virus in relative safety. But even with this new posture, many administration health officials remain wary of the message that ending the public health emergency declaration would send at a time when the number of cases exceeds 100,000 a day.
“It will end whenever the emergency ends,” a senior administration official said, summarizing the internal attitude toward the statement.
The emergency designation also provided authorities that enabled the administration to expand access to Medicaid, greenlight vaccines more quickly, and offer free testing and therapy. If the emergency were to end, those flexibilities would have to be lifted – a complex process that hospitals and public health groups say could disrupt their ability to treat Covid patients.
The federal government has continually renewed the statement since the first cases of Covid hit the United States in January 2020. And while HHS has pledged to give states 60 days notice before allowing it to expire , the administration declined to establish specific criteria for phasing out. his emergency authorities.
The debate around the continuation of the declaration, however, has become more contentious. With vaccines and treatments widely distributed and no expectation left that the administration can eradicate Covid, health officials over the past few months have increasingly discussed when and what that elimination should happen. should look like.
In the latest round of deliberations, some officials offered to allow the declaration to expire in October, contingent on the administration successfully rolling out its next round of vaccines and avoiding a drop in cases, two people familiar with said folder. The end of the emergency declaration this year could also provide a pre-election demonstration that the country has indeed entered a new phase in the fight against the pandemic.
But such a move would likely trigger a fierce backlash from the health industry 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 officially ending the public health emergency would dampen any remaining sense of urgency in Congress to allocate additional funds to the Covid response. The administration’s request for billions more dollars to bolster its stockpiles of vaccines, tests and treatments has been stalled for months in the Senate, even as officials warn that the lack of funding risks hampering their ability to pursue the fight against the pandemic.
With reporting by Erin Banco.