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COVID-19 is no longer a public health emergency

Where do we go from here?

Washington State Capitol building

On May 11, the Biden administration ended the public health emergency for the COVID-19 pandemic. This came over three years after the emergency declaration of the coronavirus as a public health emergency back in January 2020. 

Declaring a public health emergency allows the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services to take action in response to a significant outbreak of infectious diseases to prevent and mediate a public health crisis. It also allows the federal government the ability to modify rules in Medicare, Medicaid, and other private health insurance programs.

With the end of the public health emergency, there will likely be some changes to the way the nation deals with COVID-19. As of now, access to vaccines will remain available and for free to all adults and children within the United States, even without insurance. In addition, medication such as Paxlovid will be free while supplies last to prevent severe COVID-19. The cost of this medication will be determined through the manufacturer and health insurance coverage once the supplies run out. But, at-home tests may become costly as insurance providers are no longer required to waive the costs and provide free at-home rapid COVID-19 tests. Finally, some of the data and surveillance will change when monitoring the impact of COVID-19. Some measures will be kept, such as hospital admissions, deaths, test positivity, and vaccine administration. Other surveillance methods, such as tracking positive rates at a county-wide level, will no longer be reported.

In Washington state, WA Notify, the app informing people if they have been exposed to someone who has recently tested positive for COVID-19, also ended, coinciding with the end of the coronavirus public health emergency. This app used Bluetooth signals to track interactions, allowing people to be notified if they were in close proximity to someone who later tested positive for COVID-19.

At UW, changes in university policies and practices will go into effect June 12, after the end of spring quarter. Masks are optional outside of health care settings, but will be required in UW health care settings until at least June 30. In addition, UW will discontinue its requirement for employees and students to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, except for those in health care settings. 

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The Husky Coronavirus Testing study will be winding down, but UW will still offer free antigen tests in locations around campus. Finally, students and employees will no longer be required to report positive COVID-19 test results, therefore ending contact tracing and notifications.

“I want to thank you and each and every member of our community for the care and compassion you have shown toward yourselves and each other these past few years,” Geoffrey Gottlieb, chair of the Advisory Committee on Communicable Diseases, wrote. “It has been a time of loss but it has also been a time that brought out the best of our University community. And even as we adjust our policies, I hope that community-minded spirit and willingness to work together to overcome challenges remains.”

Reach reporter Allison Schaal at Twitter: @allison_schaal 

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