The Biden administration has informed Congress it plans to end national COVID-19 emergency declarations on May 11.
The move would shift the national response to COVID-19 away from the U.S. government and back to the normal authorities given to federal agencies, with the virus to be considered endemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic was declared a national emergency by then-President Donald Trump at the start of the outbreak on March 13, 2020. President Joe Biden has repeatedly extended the emergency declaration since.
The White House noted on Jan. 30 that the COVID-19 national emergency and the public health emergency (PHE) are currently set to expire on March 1 and April 11, respectively.
“At present, the Administration’s plan is to extend the emergency declarations to May 11, and then end both emergencies on that date,” an administration policy statement (pdf) by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) states.
“This wind-down would align with the Administration’s previous commitments to give at least 60 days’ notice prior to termination of the PHE.
“To be clear, continuation of these emergency declarations until May 11 does not impose any restriction at all on individual conduct with regard to COVID-19. They do not impose mask mandates or vaccine mandates. They do not restrict school or business operations. They do not require the use of any medicines or tests in response to cases of COVID-19.”
Under the PHE declaration, the federal government has been funding COVID-19 vaccines as well as some tests and treatments. When this ends, the costs will be transferred to private insurance and government health plans.
Costs of COVID-19 vaccines are expected to surge once the federal government stops buying them. Pfizer has said it will charge about $110 to $130 per dose.
Meanwhile, the $1.7 trillion omnibus bill passed by Congress and signed into law by Biden in 2022 contains a provision that will eliminate Medicaid coverage protection from PHE, meaning that states can start removing people who don’t meet Medicaid criteria beginning on April 1.
The OMB in a separate administration policy statement on Jan. 30 (pdf) said it opposed H.R. 497, a measure to eliminate COVID-19 vaccine mandates for health care providers under certain federal health care programs. It said that Biden would veto the bill if Congress were to pass it.
Calls to End Emergency Powers
The statement by the Biden administration comes amid increasing calls from congressional lawmakers and governors across the country to end the COVID-19 emergency powers.
The administration policy statement itself was to signal opposition to two Republican-backed measures, H.R. 382 and H.J. Res. 7, seeking to immediately end the emergencies.
Lawmakers in Congress have refused the Biden administration’s request for billions more dollars to continue funding COVID-19 vaccines and testing.
In December 2022, about two-dozen Republican governors called on the Biden administration to end (pdf) the COVID-19 emergency because it places undue financial strain on the taxpayer due to its expansion of Medicaid coverage.
In pushing against the Republican bill and joint resolution, the Biden administration argued on Jan. 30 that ending the emergency declarations suddenly “would have two highly significant impacts on our nation’s health system and government operations.” This includes disrupting the health care system and creating circumstances conducive to an influx of illegal immigrants into the country from the southern border, it said.
The end of the PHE will also end the Title 42 policy at the border. The Biden administration said that while it has tried to terminate the policy, it currently remains in place due to court orders. Ending the PHE would “lift Title 42 immediately, and result in a substantial additional inflow of migrants at the Southwest border,” the Biden administration said.
“The Administration supports an orderly, predictable wind-down of Title 42, with sufficient time to put alternative policies in place,” the OMB said, adding that if Title 42 restrictions end abruptly, it would be akin to allowing “thousands of migrants per day into the country immediately without the necessary policies in place.”