Is COVID Over? What to Know as Pandemic Emergencies End – NBC Chicago

Thursday marks the end of a national public health emergency declaration for the coronavirus pandemic, but does that mean COVID is over?

Chicago’s top doctor said the pandemic is not over, but the move will mark a new phase.

“We are in a different phase,” Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said. “We really have moved out of the emergency phase. That declaration on Thursday marks a date, but it really does mark a point where the scientists are feeling confident that we have the tools.”

The national emergency allowed the government to take sweeping steps to respond to the virus and support the country’s economic, health and welfare systems. Some of the emergency measures have already been successfully wound-down, while others are still being phased out.

More than 1.13 million people in the U.S. have died from COVID-19 over the last three years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Then-President Donald Trump’s Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar first declared a public health emergency on Jan. 31, 2020, and Trump declared the COVID-19 pandemic a national emergency that March. The emergencies have been repeatedly extended by Biden since he took office in January 2021, and he broadened the use of emergency powers after entering the White House.

Last week, the World Health Organization downgraded its assessment of the coronavirus pandemic, saying it no longer qualifies as a global emergency.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the pandemic has been “on a downward trend for more than a year, with population immunity increasing from vaccination and infection.” That, he said, has allowed most countries “to return to life as we knew it before COVID-19,” meaning that the worst part of the pandemic is over.

But Arwady said that comes with “a slight caveat.”

“There is always the possibility that COVID itself could change and could lead to another significant surge,” she said. “With every single day, month that passes, I feel more and more confident that that we are sort of in a waning stage but the big question here is does it all stay omicron? As long as it all stays omicron and all of the subvariants of omicron that we’re seeing, we have the immunity at this point as a species, we have the tools, we have the treatments. But if we see COVID mutate again, we see another new variant of concern, that could be the setting in which we saw another potential big surge. I don’t think that is likely but I also cannot rule it out.”

Dr. Sameer Vohra, the Director of the Illinois Department of Public Health also cautioned that the virus has not disappeared.

“If you’re in a vulnerable group, it’s still important to be and use those protective measures as much as possible, to protect yourself, protect your loved ones. But I think it’s a good moment for us to say that you know, we’re a new normal and we’re writing new chapters in the story of public health,” Vohra told Breaking News Of World last week.

Dr. Ngozi Ezike, the CEO of Sinai Chicago and former Director of the IDPH, echoed a similar sentiment, calling the declaration a confirmation of a transition past the pandemic.

“We’ve been feeling that change, you know, probably for [several] months up to a year. And so really being able to understand that doesn’t mean that the virus has gone into a cave to never be seen again. But that you know, we have to think of it as other infectious diseases that we have to deal with and live with and, you know, live accordingly,” Ezike said.

So what will this mean for the Chicago area?

Changes in Data Reporting

Illinois health officials announced that community level data for each county in the state will no longer be reported after the end of the federal emergency on May 11. Additionally, hospitals will no longer be required to report the number of patients who are in the ICU or on ventilators with COVID-19.

State health officials will continue to report COVID-19 hospital admissions, cases, deaths and weekly vaccination data after the end of the federal emergency, with wastewater surveillance continuing to monitor COVID-19 and influenza.

Changes for COVID Testing and Vaccines

The expiration of the emergencies particularly spell upcoming changes for costs related to COVID-19 treatment, vaccines and testing, as private insurance companies will no longer be required to cover care and testing free of charge.

Chicago health officials said COVID-19 vaccines will remain available for all Chicagoans ages 6 months and up at pharmacies, doctors’ offices, hospitals, community health centers, city-operated clinics and the mobile CareVan.

For as long as the city’s supply of federally purchased COVID-19 vaccines remain available, all vaccines will be free to Chicagoans, regardless of insurance coverage.

While at-home antigen tests and lab-based PCR tests will continue to be available around Chicago, they will no longer be at no cost to everyone.

While Medicare and Medicaid will continue to cover the costs of PCR tests, private insurance companies may require co-pays for them.

Select pharmacies and health clinics will continue to offer free PCR tests through funding from CDC for those without insurance. 

Coverage for COVID-19-related care will likely be largely dependent on an individual’s health insurance coverage, and those who are insured are encouraged to contact their health insurance provider to learn about changes in their coverage.

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