The national public health emergency surrounding Covid-19 officially ends in the United States on Thursday, May 11, more than three years after it was first declared. This comes after the World Health Organization declared last week that Covid-19 no longer constitutes a global health emergency.
What does all of this mean about the risk to people from COVID-19? Is it right to end the worldwide and US state of emergency, or is it too soon? What are some key lessons learned over the past three years? What investments should be continued to prevent and treat this coronavirus? And what should people and their family members at high risk of severe COVID-19 do?
To help us with these questions, I turned to CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Lena Wayne. Wayne George is an emergency physician and professor of health policy and management at the Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health. She previously served as the health commissioner of Baltimore.
CNN: What does the end of the COVID-19 emergency mean for people?
Doctor. Lena Wayne: I think it is very important to clarify that declarations of ending the emergency around COVID-19 do not mean that COVID-19 is over. Rather, announcements have a more bureaucratic meaning. In the United States, for example, a state of national emergency allowed hospitals to operate with greater flexibility. Some of this flexibility will be lost. Others, such as those allowing more telemedicine services, will remain in some form even after the emergency declaration ends.
Just because the official announcement is ending doesn’t mean the virus has magically disappeared. It is not. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the over 77,000 new covid-19 cases Last week. Given that many people are testing for coronavirus at home or not at all, this is a significant underestimate.
CNN: Do you think it’s too early to end the state of emergency?
Wayne: no I will not. Another important measure is that the number of Americans hospitalized with covid-19 This is the lowest level since the beginning of the pandemic. This is because almost everyone has some degree of immunity to the coronavirus and because of the wide availability of treatment.
More than 96% of Americans have either had the coronavirus, been vaccinated, or both, according to CDC data, Prior exposure through recovery, vaccination, or both provides some protection against severe disease. In addition, treatments are available for those at high risk. For example, the antiviral drug Paxlovid reduces the risk of hospitalization or death. about 80% If it is taken within five days of symptom onset.
Every emergency has an end at some point. At this point, when there is widespread immunity and widely available vaccines and treatments, I think it is appropriate to conclude with an official announcement. This does not mean that COVID-19 is no longer a threat or that it will not happen in the future; Rather it needs to be understood like we do other serious diseases. We must still monitor for new variants and work to prevent and treat coronavirus with a focus on protecting the most vulnerable.
CNN: Looking back, what are some of the key lessons learned over the past three years?
Wayne: In my view, there have been three major lessons. First, as incredible as science has been to allow us to have safe and effective vaccines in record time, these advances can only work if people use them. Even as second bivalent boosters have become available to some, it is disappointing to see that not even half of people 65 and older have received their first bivalent booster. More work is needed to deploy vaccines and treatments for high-risk populations.
Second, we have seen how much public health depends on public trust. When that trust is gone, it’s hard to get back. I worry about what will happen if another infectious disease outbreak occurs, and I worry about the erosion of confidence in existing public health measures, as evidenced by the decline in routine childhood vaccinations for polio, measles and chickenpox. It shows.
Third, the pandemic revealed many problems with our health care system. The declared state of emergency allowed some temporary reforms, such as providing free care for patients with COVID-19 and expanding Medicaid coverage for low-income children and families. The end of the state of emergency means that some of these protections will end and millions of vulnerable people will be denied safety net coverage.
This is not a justification for extending the state of emergency forever, but rather a reminder that even after the official declaration expires, the urgency of reforming the health care system that existed before the pandemic remains.
CNN: What investments should continue to prevent and treat COVID-19?
Wayne: We need to develop better vaccines – vaccines that can not only reduce severe disease but also reduce infection and transmission, and vaccines that provide broad coverage against not only existing variants but also future ones. can develop into There is also a need for better treatment, which is important for the elderly and those with chronic medical conditions, which make them more vulnerable to severe illness from COVID-19. In addition, much more must be done to understand, prevent and treat Long COVID, and there must be continued investment in surveillance efforts to quickly detect and control emerging variants of concern.
CNN: What should people and their family members at high risk of severe COVID-19 do?
Wayne: People who are at high risk of severe COVID-19 and their loved ones should use available tools to protect themselves. At a minimum, stay up to date on vaccines, and talk with your health care provider about whether you are eligible for another bivalent booster. Know which treatments you are eligible for and plan to access them.
Vulnerable individuals must then decide what additional level of protection they want. Some people may still wish to wear a mask in indoor crowded places, in which case they should be sure to wear a high-quality, well-fitting mask in these places. Others may continue to test before indoor get-togethers or prefer to gather outside, especially as the weather warms. These are all reasonable precautions that should be taken for those at high risk for serious outcomes from COVID-19 and for those who continue to prioritize avoiding the coronavirus.