Experts Say It’s Too Soon to End the COVID State of Emergency

Betty Q. Hixson

Key Takeaways

  • The U.S. Senate recently voted in favor of ending the emergency declaration due to COVID-19, and the White House has pledged to veto it.
  • Ending the emergency declaration now would be premature, experts said.
  • Lifting the emergency declaration will have a major impact on the healthcare system and the temporary policies set in place, which would affect many Americans.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Senate voted in favor of ending the COVID-19 national state of emergency, which was declared back in March 2020. Almost immediately, the White House has pledged to veto the bill should it reach President Joe Biden’s desk.

“Actions by Congress to end these authorities abruptly and prematurely would be a reckless and costly mistake,” the White House statement said.

Experts said it is too soon to terminate the national emergency declaration. However, when that declaration is one day lifted, it could affect plenty of COVID-19-specific policies and protections.

Is Now the Right Time to End the State of Emergency? 

The U.S. government declared a national emergency about two years ago because the COVID-19 pandemic posed a significant public health and safety risk to Americans.

“A state of emergency allows the leader of a state, namely the governor, and the leader of a country, namely the president, to allocate resources during a crisis,” Perry N. Halkitis, PhD, dean of the Rutgers School of Public Health, told Verywell. “In the case of COVID-19, a state of emergency was created both for the United States and for many of the states throughout the country, indicating that resources that might not normally be allocated could be allocated to certain areas that were extremely hard-hit.”

In some states, COVID-19 restrictions have now been eased due to the seemingly downward trend of cases after the peak of the Omicron variant. Just last month, California Governor Gavin Newsom formally announced that the state will be shifting to an endemic approach, which focuses on preventing COVID-19 outbreaks and responding quickly in case they occur.

“It is completely reasonable that certain states would remove their state of emergency given [declining] rates of infection and hospitalizations and deaths,” Halkitis said. “However, at the federal level, a state of emergency seems to continue to make sense.”

The virus continues to pose a risk. It’s possible future COVID-19 variants may appear, which could affect current COVID-19 trends.

“From a public health standpoint, it is clearly premature to lift the emergency, since new variants are a real threat, and there are new Omicron surges underway in several countries,” Chris Beyrer, MD, MPH, Desmond M. Tutu professor in public health and human rights at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told Verywell. “There are security concerns as well that mean the emergency is real and ongoing. So, it is clearly too soon.”

How Would It Affect COVID-19 Interventions?

When the national emergency was first declared, no COVID-19 vaccines or treatments had been developed yet.

Now, there are two vaccines approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines. Because they are officially approved by the FDA, ending the declaration of a national emergency would not affect their authorization for use.

“The secretary of Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has the authority to allow the FDA to continue emergency use authorization if there is the threat of an emergency,” Beyrer said. “Since a new COVID-19 variant may emerge, we are still under that threat, so this should not change the EUA status for vaccines or treatments now being used under EUA.”

However, if the emergency declaration is withdrawn, there will be multiple impacts on health services, including the appointments of key personnel, Beyrer added. Should there be another COVID-19 surge, the nation’s ability to respond to the crisis would be affected, and healthcare systems be overwhelmed.

What This Means For You

Should the emergency declaration end, federal assistance and temporary measures for Americans may end, such as disaster relief, telehealth policies, and suspension on student loan payments. But that likely isn’t likely to occur just yet.

What Else Does the State of Emergency Impact?

Lifting the emergency declaration would have an impact not only on healthcare services, but also the employment, housing, and financial security of many Americans. Temporary measures such as eviction moratoriums, disaster relief, suspension on student loan payments, telehealth policies, and more would be affected.

“A number of the measures put in place under an emergency could be affected, including the moratorium on evictions—already expired in many states—and others,” Beyrer said.

Emergency declarations help federal, state, and local governments to do what is necessary to respond to a crisis, allocating funds and other resources to ensure the protection and safety of public health.

“By removing the state of emergency, jurisdictions do not have to allocate additional resources to most hard-hit areas,” Halkitis said. “This would create an unfortunate situation in the United States, in parts of the country where COVID-19 continues to be prevalent, where COVID-19 restrictions have resulted in the proliferation of disease, and where those most in need, often poor, marginalized, and people of color, would be subjected to the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

COVID-19 continues to result in about 1,500 deaths per day, so it’s not really endemic in the U.S. yet, he added. We also don’t know what will happen in the next few months, especially during the next fall and winter seasons when respiratory infections are most active and most easily transmitted.

“It is a little premature to think that our battle against COVID-19 has ended, and as public health leaders, we need to continue to keep it at the forefront and to continue to actually attend to those who are affected by the pandemic, those who are not vaccinated, and those who continue to get extremely sick,” Halkitis said.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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