Both the World Health Organization and the Biden administration say COVID-19 remains a public health emergency, even as deaths from the virus around the world have reached the lowest levels since March 2020.
WHO and the US Department of Health and Human Services first declared COVID-19 a public health emergency in January 2020. More than two years later, the pandemic situation has improved, but global health experts believe the virus remains a major health threat. .
Much remains to be done before the WHO can lift the designation, the organization’s director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said at a press conference on Wednesday.
“Some countries are still seeing severe spikes in cases, which is putting pressure on hospitals. And our ability to monitor trends is compromised as testing has dropped dramatically,” he said.
Under a public health emergency declaration issued by the WHO, a committee has been formed and dedicated to the fight against the virus. They were given the power to issue formal health recommendations to prevent the spread of disease.
This COVID-19 emergency committee will decide when to lift the emergency declaration. It is unclear when this may happen, but the group will consider the level of international effort to contain the virus as well as data on infection rates to decide when to end the global health emergency.
Worldwide, 22,336 deaths from COVID-19 were recorded last week, according to WHO data. This is the lowest number since the week of March 30, 2020.
Tedros said this decision by the WHO’s COVID-19 emergency committee stems from the still high infection rate in some areas. from Europe and China.
He said COVID was still evolving into new strains that remained of concern.
“This virus has become more transmissible over time and it remains deadly, especially for unprotected and unvaccinated people who don’t have access to health care and antivirals,” he said.
The US Department of Health and Human Services on Tuesday announced the extension of the country’s separate public health emergency declaration for COVID-19 for 90 days.
This allows federal funding to be used for tests, vaccines and some treatments for people covered by the Medicare and Medicaid health insurance programs. Private insurers have also been required to cover all costs associated with COVID testing and vaccines through public health emergency funding. This would change once the health declaration is lifted in the United States
The Biden administration also announced on Wednesday the extension of the national face mask requirement for public transportation for an additional 15 days from its expiration date. Travelers will still have to wear masks in airports, planes, buses, trains and in transit centers until at least May 3.
The decision was made in response to the growing spread of the omicron subvariant in the United States. The country has seen a slight increase in the 7-day rolling average of cases.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will keep this mandate in place “to assess the potential impact of increased cases on serious illness, including hospitalizations and deaths, and health system capacity,” according to an agency spokesperson.
The United States is averaging about 29,000 new reported COVID cases and 452 new deaths per day, according to the CDC.