Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Several news sources have already announced that the national Public Health Emergency Declaration for COVID-19 will be renewed this Friday, July 15, 2022. The Emergency was first declared on Jan. 31, 2020, and has been extended nine times since. This Declaration constitutes just one layer of all the emergency COVID declarations that have been in place during the last two and a half years. However, it is the only COVID emergency provision that covers the United States at a national level.

Briefly, a Public Health Emergency Declaration provides that:

  1. The Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) can determine that a public health emergency exists.
  2. It permits the Secretary to access emergency funds to investigate, coordinate, and remediate the threat to public health.
  3. It can waive or modify requirements for Medicare, Medicaid, and other health services.
  4. It specifies other powers to deal with the crisis.
  5. It lasts 90 days and may be extended. States will have 60 days notice of termination.

Public Health Emergency Declarations are not unusual. Many of them are natural disasters such as floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, and wildfires. States can declare an emergency on their own, but some catastrophes require additional help on a national level. These probably sound familiar:

  • Hurricane Sandy in New York, New Jersey, and New England (October 2012)
  • Hurricane Katrina (August 2005) had a total of twelve emergency declarations
  • Earthquakes in Alaska (2018) and Puerto Rico (2020)
  • The Winter Storm that hit Texas in February 2021

Then there are the diseases and threats to public health:

  • The April 2009 H1N1 influenza outbreak had 4 renewals
  • The Zika virus outbreak had 3 renewals in 2016-2017
  • The Opioid epidemic, declared on Oct. 27, 2017, has been renewed 19 times.

High level emergency declarations enable coordination among national and international institutions to enable a faster, more equitable, and more effective response to crises that spread across political and geographical boundaries. As a worldwide and fast-spreading virus, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 has crossed every boundary. Hence the term “pandemic.”

On the global level, the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee of the World Health Organization, held its twelfth meeting last Friday, July 8, 2022. This committee looks at global factors, such as identification, evolution, and spread of variants; incidence of transmission by animals; vaccinations and mitigation measures, especially in low-income countries that need assistance with health services; and impact on travel.

On a more local level, all 50 states issued emergency declarations when the pandemic began. The state of emergency enabled them to gather emergency medical supplies as well as enact mandates affecting schools, nursing homes, hospitals, businesses, and institutions. Today 29 states have allowed these orders to expire and 21 continue to have active emergency declarations. This makes sense. The states vary widely in population, health care resources, and priorities.

Green states have active emergency orders. (Ballotpedia.org)

However, there is still a need for a national public health response to COVID as the states ease off. We are a small part of a much bigger world, a world with over 7 billion people, of whom about 5 % live in North America. That’s not new. What is new is that COVID is everywhere, mutating along different pathways in a world where international travel is increasing.

The Emergency Declaration gives us the flexibility to react to new variants and to our own current pockets of infection. The virus is global and mutating into increasingly infectious forms even as travel increases, making it easy for people to be caught in a chain of infection that started in some other part of of the country or some other part of the world. All a variant needs to spread is increased infectivity and the ability to overcome prior immunity. It may not be a new Omicron. It may not be milder.

In the meantime, we are continuing to deal with repercussions from the surges that have hit us since March, 2020. Repercussions in the economy, in mental health, in education, to name but a few. We need to keep our national resources focused.

Today’s Notable Headlines

“Biden administration set to extend COVID public health emergency: report,” Daily News, July 11, 2022. https://www.nydailynews.com/coronavirus/ny-covid-biden-hhs-extend-coronavirus-public-health-emergency-20220711-xkgtvfhjxvdclp2vpfzfscuqha-story.html

“What Happens When COVID-19 Emergency Declarations End? Implications for Coverage, Costs, and Access,” KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation), April 8, 2022. https://www.kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19/issue-brief/what-happens-when-covid-19-emergency-declarations-end-implications-for-coverage-costs-and-access/#coverage-costs-and-payment

“The Never-Ending Covid Emergency,” The Wall Street Journal, July 11, 2022. https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-never-ending-covid-emergency-white-house-biden-administration-fda-vaccines-11657577450?mod=latest_headlines

“Emergency departments pushed to the brink again,” MV Times, July 13, 2022. https://www.mvtimes.com/2022/07/13/emergency-departments-pushed-brink/

“New coronavirus mutant raises concerns in India and beyond,” AP News, July 10, 2022. https://apnews.com/article/covid-science-health-india-united-states-e461b0c0db39707aab884378c24292ae

“Shanghai identifies new COVID Omicron subvariant,” Reuters, July 10, 2022. https://www.reuters.com/world/china/chinas-shanghai-says-new-omicron-subvariant-found-2022-07-10/

Additional Sources

“Public Health Emergency Declaration,” Text. https://www.phe.gov/Preparedness/legal/Pages/phedeclaration.aspx

List of Public Health Emergency Declarations, https://www.phe.gov/emergency/news/healthactions/phe/Pages/default.aspx

“Statement on the twelfth meeting of the International Health Regulations (2005) Emergency Committee regarding the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic,” WHO, July 12, 2022. https://www.who.int/news/item/12-07-2022-statement-on-the-twelfth-meeting-of-the-international-health-regulations-(2005)-emergency-committee-regarding-the-coronavirus-disease-(covid-19)-pandemic

“State emergency health orders during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, 2021-2022,” Ballotpedia, updated July 11, 2022. https://ballotpedia.org/State_emergency_health_orders_during_the_coronavirus_(COVID-19)_pandemic,_2021-2022

What is the U.S. Opioid Epidemic?, https://www.hhs.gov/opioids/about-the-epidemic/index.html

United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division. https://population.un.org/wpp/Graphs/DemographicProfiles/Line/900

United Nations, Population, https://www.un.org/en/global-issues/population

Why am I doing this?

The coronavirus pandemic will be written on our memories just as the 1918 Flu Pandemic, the Great Depression, or the Cold War left their mark on past generations. Since March 11, 2020, this blog has examined the modern pandemic experience, drawing on my background as a medical technologist, a historian, and an ordinary person living through an extraordinary world crisis.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s