Biden administration plans to extend Covid emergency declaration

“Covid is not over yet. A senior Biden official said the epidemic is not over yet.” “It makes no sense to lift this [declaration] Looking at what we see on the ground in terms of cases.”

A HHS spokesperson declined to comment, and people familiar with the matter cautioned that the situation could change before the August 15 deadline for a decision on whether to allow the ad to continue.

The Biden administration has increasingly pointed to the availability of Covid vaccines and treatments as evidence that vaccinated and boosted Americans can live with the virus in relative safety. But even with this new situation, many department health officials remain wary of the message that ending the public health emergency declaration will send at a time when the number of cases is over 100,000 per day.

“It will be over when the emergency is over,” said a senior administration official, summarizing the internal attitude toward the declaration.

The emergency designation also provided authorities allowing the administration to expand access to Medicaid and Greenlight vaccines faster and to provide tests and treatments for free. Should the emergency end, this flexibility would have to be scrapped – a complex process that public health groups and hospitals have warned could disrupt their ability to treat Covid patients.

The federal government has constantly renewed the declaration since the first cases of Covid appeared in the United States in January 2020. And while HHS has pledged to give states 60 days’ notice before allowing it to expire, the administration has refused to set specific criteria for phasing out emergency powers.

However, the controversy over the continuation of the advertisement has become more controversial. With vaccines and treatments widely distributed and no expectations left for management to eradicate Covid, health officials over the past several months have increasingly debated when this phase-out should happen, and what it should look like.

In the latest round of deliberations, some officials have floated letting the declaration expire in October, provided the administration succeeds in rolling out its next round of vaccines and avoids a further fall in cases, two people familiar with the matter said. Ending the emergency declaration this year could also provide evidence before the elections that the country has indeed entered a new phase in the fight against the pandemic.

But such a move would likely trigger a fierce setback from the health sector and draw criticism from public health groups on the front lines of efforts to combat the virus and vaccinate more Americans.

Some health officials also feared that formally ending the public health emergency would dilute any remaining sense of urgency in Congress for additional funds for the Covid response. The administration’s request for billions of additional dollars to boost its stockpile of vaccines, tests and treatments has stalled for months in the Senate, even as officials warn that funding shortfalls could hamper their ability to continue fighting the pandemic.

With Erin Banquo reporting.

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