California is poised to record its 100,000th COVID-19 death. But at the end of this month, the Golden State — the first in the nation to lock down because of the virus — will end its pandemic state of emergency.
A few months later, on May 11, the federal government will halt its COVID public health emergency.
In many ways, it’s a symbolic victory over a virus whose threat has eased after more than two years of successive waves of infections, hospitalizations and 1.1 million U.S. deaths.
But the declaration also has implications for detection and treatment of a disease that continues to kill more than 400 Americans a day and to mutate in ways that could potentially lead to more virulent outbreaks. Here’s what we know about the ending of the states of emergency.
Q: Why is California’s COVID-19 State of Emergency ending Feb. 28?
A: Gov. Gavin Newsom, criticized for extending the state of emergency he declared March 4, 2020, even after lifting mask and social distancing requirements last year, announced in October that the declaration would be lifted this month. He said the extra time would allow for “flexibility to handle any potential surge” in cases over the winter and give local governments and health care providers time to plan for the coming changes.
Q: What did California’s state of emergency do?
A: Since first declaring the state of emergency, Newsom has issued 74 executive orders with 596 operative provisions. Of those, just 27 provisions remain in effect until Feb. 28. The provisions loosen state rules to streamline health care delivery and response, like allowing pharmacists and pharmacist technicians to conduct COVID-19 tests.
Q: Might we still need some of those rules?
A: Newsom has asked lawmakers for two statutory changes that would continue some provisions. One would continue to allow nurses to dispense COVID-19 treatments, and another would maintain the ability of laboratory workers to solely process COVID-19 tests.
Q: What does the federal Public Health Emergency do and what will change when it ends May 11?
A: Much like California’s state of emergency, the declaration in effect since January 2020 waived regulations to allow more flexibility in the health care system. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, many of those provisions have since been made permanent or extended, while others are no longer needed with reported cases down 92% and hospitalizations and deaths down 80% since the peak of the omicron variant surge at the end of January 2022.
There will be some changes. The requirement for private insurance companies to cover COVID-19 tests without cost-sharing will end. State Medicaid programs won’t have to provide test coverage after Sept. 30, 2024. Medicare Part B enrollees will continue to get free laboratory-conducted COVID-19 tests when ordered by a provider, but will no longer get free over-the-counter tests.
But federally purchased vaccines and treatments like Paxlovid must be provided at no cost as long as those supplies last, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Q: How will ending both states of emergency affect access to COVID-19 vaccines, tests and treatments in the state?
A: The California Department of Public Health said health insurers here must provide enrollees free vaccines, testing and therapeutics from any licensed provider, including those outside the health plan network until Nov. 11. After that, enrollees may face cost-sharing or coinsurance payments for vaccines, testing or therapeutics from an out-of-network provider.
Q: What about the uninsured?
A: Dr. Ashish Jha, White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator, said in a recent Twitter thread that “for nearly all Americans, vaccines will remain free.” For the uninsured, he said that “we are committed to ensuring that vaccines and treatments are accessible and not prohibitively expensive for uninsured Americans.” How that will happen he left unclear, adding only: “more details to follow.”
Q: Will I still be able to get boosters or tests at the local mass vaccination and testing sites?
A: Those are being wound down. Local mass testing and vaccine sites are closing by the end of the month, but county health departments say they will continue to provide vaccination, testing and medical services to their patients.
Staff writer Elissa Miolene contributed to this report.