Covid-19 Public-Health Emergency Status to Stay in Place

The Biden administration gave no signal to state officials on Friday of plans to end the Covid-19 pandemic’s status as a public-health emergency, in turn leaving the designation in place past January.

The Department of Health and Human Services previously told states they would get 60 days’ notice before the public-health emergency is lifted. The designation was renewed in October through Jan. 11. The lack of notice to states means the public-health emergency may extend until the spring.

“The Covid-19 public-health emergency remains in effect and as HHS committed to earlier, we will provide a 60-day notice to states before any possible termination or expiration,” said Sarah Lovenheim, assistant secretary for public affairs at HHS.

The public-health emergency was first declared in January 2020, under the Trump administration, and has been renewed by 90 days every time it was due to expire. Some Republicans say the designation is no longer necessary and should be lifted. The GOP’s push to end the public-health emergency intensified in September when President Biden asserted that the pandemic was over.

The public-health-emergency designation enables certain Covid-19 measures, such as the suspension of eligibility renewals for people on Medicaid and the prescription of controlled substances via telehealth, which will remain in place for now. States are bracing for a massive effort to redetermine individuals’ Medicaid eligibility once the designation is lifted, and public-health leaders say millions of beneficiaries could lose coverage.

Physicians are reporting high numbers of respiratory illnesses like RSV and the flu earlier than the typical winter peak. WSJ’s Brianna Abbott explains what the early surge means for the coming winter months. Photo illustration: Kaitlyn Wang

The designation has also enabled states to receive enhanced federal payments for Medicaid and for pharmacists to give Covid-19 shots.

The administration has continued to press Congress for more funding, saying about $22.4 billion is needed to develop more durable vaccines, purchase tests and carry out other pandemic preparations. But Republicans have balked, saying there are untapped Covid-19 relief funds that should be used first.

Still, with funds running out, the administration is starting the process of shifting Covid-19 vaccines, tests and treatments to the private sector and commercial insurance. The federal government procured more than 170 million doses of an updated vaccine for the fall booster campaign.

A number of states, including Delaware, have extended their own pandemic public-health emergencies.

The U.S. saw a weekly average of 289,000 new Covid-19 cases as of Nov. 9, up from a weekly average of about 265,000 for the week ending Oct. 12, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Average weekly deaths from Covid-19 were at about 2,300 as of Nov. 9.

Write to Stephanie Armour at

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