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COVID-19: How the end of the public health emergency will affect you
Media Contact
Brian Katzowitz
Senior Director, Health Communications and Media Relations

More than three years after the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services first declared a public health emergency, the COVID-19 public health emergency officially winds to a close today, May 11. But there are still questions about what this means for the pandemic moving forward. What will the end of the public health emergency mean for hospitals and public health agencies? How will it impact ongoing research to understand the effects of long COVID? And, critically, will vaccines and testing still be available — especially for the tens of millions of people in the U.S. without health insurance? 

Jodie Guest, PhD, professor and senior vice chair of the department of epidemiology at Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health, teamed up with Carlos del Rio, MD, distinguished professor of medicine, epidemiology and global health, interim dean of Emory University School of Medicine and interim chief academic officer at Emory Healthcare, to answer questions about monitoring of new variants, insurance coverage for testing and treatment, and what lessons have been learned about pandemic preparedness over the past three years.

Q: Does access to vaccines change today with the end of the public health emergency?

A: As long as federally purchased vaccines last, COVID-19 vaccines will remain free to all people, regardless of insurance coverage. The availability, access, and costs of COVID-19 vaccines, including boosters, are determined by the supply of federally purchased vaccines, not the public health emergency.“Vaccines are free regardless of who your payor is for as long as the federal vaccine supply lasts,” says del Rio.“At the end of the day, vaccines won't change in a major way and will continue to be free after the vaccine supply runs out thanks to the Affordable Care Act and other federal programs.”

Q: Will access to tests change?

A: After May 11, 2023, people with traditional Medicare will no longer receive free, at-home tests. Those with private insurance will no longer will be guaranteed free at-home tests, but some insurers may continue to voluntarily cover them. People with Medicaid will continue to have at-home tests covered at no cost through September 2024.“The testing situation is a lot more confusing,” adds del Rio.“A laboratory test ordered by a healthcare provider can be particularly expensive and may not be covered for everyone.” 

Q: How will we keep track of COVID-19 cases?

A:“One of the things that does get impacted by the end of the public health emergency is surveillance,” says del Rio. The CDC’s authorizations to collect certain types of public health data will expire. We will continue to see COVID-19 hospital admissions reported through the end of April 2024. COVID-19 deaths will continue to be reported, though the source of the data will move from states to the National Vital Statistics System.

However, there are other ways in which CDC is tracking the virus, including wastewater surveillance which is “one of the most remarkable public health advances we've seen during the pandemic,” adds Guest.

Watch the full video to learn more about what the immediate and long-term impacts will be as the public health emergency officially expires.

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