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COVID's emergency status ends in May. Here's how it will impact funding and policies


About three years ago, the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S. in full force. And now the Biden administration has set an end date for the country's COVID emergency declarations. Yesterday, the White House announced that the national emergency and public health emergency will expire this spring, on May 11, and that will have implications for funding and other pandemic-related policies. To explain what all of this means, we're joined now by Jen Kates, a senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation. Welcome.


CHANG: Hi. OK. So to be clear, COVID-19, it's not as deadly as it once was, but it's still very much with us, right? Like, hundreds of people are still dying every day. Lots of people are still getting sick from these new variants. Why end these declarations in May?

KATES: Yeah, good question. It's true. There are about 500 people dying of COVID every day and that - if that's the new normal, then it's a big change from where we were. And we are still living with COVID. But stepping back, I think the - you know, most of us watching this situation pretty much felt the administration was going to announce an end to these declarations very soon. And what happened is they kind of got their hand forced with the Republicans in the House pushing some bills to end this. And that's why they made the announcement last night. But it does raise questions. How do you decide what's the right time? And, you know, I think it's going to be a transition that we're going to have to manage carefully.

CHANG: Right. OK. So what does that transition look like? Like, practically speaking, what will ending these declarations mean in the lives of people day to day?

KATES: Yeah. So I think there's a lot that has to be carefully managed. But in the most immediate way, most people will not feel an earth-shattering change. And that's the good news. I think where, you know, the average person might notice it the most - you know how we can get these eight free COVID home tests every month and our insurance company will cover them, that's going away. So if people are accustomed to that - and I know some people get them religiously every month - that's not going to be there for you anymore. And the other thing that people will notice is there'll start to be some cost sharing for testing that you might get from a doctor or treatments - maybe not right away, but that's going to come into play as well.

CHANG: What about the bigger picture? Like, are there concerns that this will somehow limit the ability of hospitals and public health entities to deal with COVID?

KATES: There is a concern, and I think this is why we have to think about this as hopefully being managed as a smooth transition where some of this is done - you know, hospitals have to be involved, payers have to be involved, the private sector to manage it and so it's not a cliff so this doesn't happen, you know, one day when May 10 things are one way and May 11, they completely change because that will disrupt the health system.

CHANG: Totally.

KATES: So I think that's the - that's really the way to think about it. And we just don't know how smooth that's going to be.

CHANG: Well, back in September, President Biden did say that "the pandemic is over." That's a quote. What do you think the symbolic weight is of letting these emergency declarations end?

KATES: You know, on the one hand, a lot of people in America feel like COVID's over, even though, like we said, 500 people a day are dying. On the other, this kind of declaration ending does carry symbolic weight. And so there are going to be people that say, great, I don't have to worry anymore. And I think that's going to be a little difficult to manage, and it'll be up to public health officials and those of us working in this to still convey that this isn't completely over. And there's a lot that we have to, you know, pay attention to and be careful about in the future.

CHANG: Absolutely. Jen Kates, a senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation, thank you so much for joining us.

KATES: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.
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