The federal COVID-19 public health emergency declaration ended on May 11. But COVID-19 is still with us and is still a threat, especially for those with disabilities or compromised immune systems. Learn what this means.
One thing will not change for a time. A new extension of a pandemic benefit will allow parents of children under age 18 and spouses to continue serving as personal care assistance (PCA) workers for their family members for another six months.
The federal government approved the extension until November 11, 2023, and the final human services budget bill approved by the Minnesota Legislature and signed by Gov. Tim Walz May 24 includes funding for the extension.
During the wind-down of the federal public health emergency, the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) asked to extend the personal care assistance benefit for family members, which has been in effect since early in the pandemic.
The benefit was set to expire with the public health emergency on May 11. But just days beforehand, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) allowed Minnesota to apply for an extension, which was granted.
“We wanted to do whatever we could to make sure services were not interrupted for people and their families,” said DHS Commissioner Jodi Harpstead. “We only learned that this option was possible in early May, and moved quickly to take advantage of it. We thank Governor Walz and the legislature for their cooperation, which was critical to making this possible.”
The change applies to parents, stepparents and legal guardians of minors, as well as to spouses.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) and other state and federal agencies are providing information on what is changing.
The dropping of emergency status signals a change in how COVID-19 affects everyone’s life. More than 96 percent of Americans have either had the coronavirus, been vaccinated or both, according to the CDC. Prior exposure through recovery, vaccination or both convey some protection against severe disease. In addition, there are treatments available for those at high risk.
But the end of the federal public health emergency doesn’t mean letting down one’s guard. People who are at high risk for severe Covid-19 and their loved ones should protect themselves, staying updated on vaccines and boosters. Know available treatments and have a plan for any illness.
People may still want to mask and do regular testing, and take other precautions to be taking for those at high risk for severe outcomes from Covid-19 and for those who continue to prioritize avoiding the coronavirus.
“The United States has mobilized and sustained a historic response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the CDC stated. “As a nation, we now find ourselves at a different point in the pandemic – with more tools and resources than ever before to better protect ourselves and our communities.”
The CDC is folding its emergency COVID-19 response activities into its existing structure and programs, as part of an ongoing transition to sustainable public health practices.
Vaccines, testing and treatment will still be available. The CDC indicates that the U.S. government will continue to provide free vaccinees for adults and children.
One change CDC officials note is that COVID-19 home tests may no longer be covered by insurance. Insurance providers will no longer be required to waive costs or provide free COVID-19 tests.
The CDC does offer a no-cost COVID-19 testing locator, at https://testinglocator.cdc.gov/ This service shows which community and pharmacy partners still offer such test.
After the public health emergency expired on May 11, it was announced that the CDC’s Increasing Community Access to Testing or ICATT program will likely continue with a smaller site network that supports testing and disease surveillance needs at non-emergency levels. ICATT will continue to provide no-cost COVID-19 testing for people without health insurance with symptoms related to COVID-19 or who were exposed to someone with COVID-19. A list of ICATT sites can be found at https://testinglocator.cdc.gov/
Medication to prevent severe COVID-19, such as Paxlovid, will remain available for free while supplies last. After that, the price will be determined by the medication manufacturer and personal health insurance coverage. People still need to work with their healthcare providers in the event COVID-19 treatment is needed. The antiviral medication Paxlovid reduces the risk of hospitalization or death by about 80 percent if it’s taken within five days of symptom onset.
The Minnesota Department of Health offers a very comprehensive website about COVID-19 resources. Learn more at https://www.health.state.mn.us/diseases/coronavirus/index.html