(Adds quote, background)
By Jeff Mason and Ahmed Aboulenein
Nov 11 – The United States will keep in place the public health emergency status of the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing millions of Americans to still get free tests, vaccines and treatments until at least April of next year, two Biden administration officials said on Friday.
The possibility of a winter surge in COVID cases and the need for more time to transition out of the public health emergency to a private market were two factors that contributed to the decision not to end the emergency status in January, one of the officials said.
The public health emergency was initially declared in January 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic began, and has been renewed each quarter since. But the government in August began signaling it planned to let it expire in January.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has promised to give states 60 days notice before letting the emergency expire, which would have been on Friday if it did not plan on renewing it again in January.
Health experts believe that the country will see a COVID-19 surge this winter, one official said.
“We may be in the middle of one in January,” he said. “That is not the moment you want to pull down the public health emergency.”
The official said there remained a lot of work to be done for the transition out of the public health emergency. That work was ongoing but not finished.
The government has been paying for COVID vaccines, some tests, and certain treatments, as well as other care under the public health emergency declaration. When the emergency expires, the government will begin to transfer COVID healthcare to private insurance and government health plans. (Reporting by Jeff Mason and Ahmed Aboulenein; editing by Caroline Humer and Bill Berkrot)