WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden told Congress on Monday that he will end twin national emergencies to deal with COVID-19 on May 11, as much of the world has returned to normal nearly three years after they were first declared.
The move to end national emergency and public health emergency declarations would formally change the federal coronavirus response to treat the virus as a public health threat that can be managed by the agencies’ formal authorities.
It comes as lawmakers preemptively ended emergency provisions that kept millions of Americans covered during the pandemic. Combined with cuts to much of the federal COVID-19 aid funding, it moves the development of vaccines and treatments away from the direct management of the federal government.
Biden’s announcement came on the heels of a resolution this week by House Republicans opposing an immediate end to the emergency declaration. House Republicans are also preparing to launch investigations into the federal government’s response to Covid-19.
Then-President Donald Trump first declared the COVID-19 pandemic a national emergency on March 13, 2020. The states of emergency have been repeatedly extended by Biden since taking office in January 2021 and will expire in the coming months. The White House said Biden plans to end both briefly on May 11.
“The sudden end of the emergency would cause widespread disruption and uncertainty in the health care system — for states, hospitals and doctors’ offices, and most importantly for tens of millions of Americans,” the Office of Management and Budget wrote in an executive policy statement.
Amid growing political calls to end the bill, Congress declared it a public health emergency that directly affects Americans. Lawmakers have refused for months to meet the Biden administration’s request for billions of additional dollars to extend free Covid vaccinations and testing. And the $1.7 trillion spending package passed last year and signed by Biden ended a law barring governments from opting out of Medicaid, a move that would see millions of people lose coverage after April 1.
The cost of the Covid-19 vaccine is also expected to skyrocket if the government stops buying it, with Pfizer saying it could cost up to $130 per dose. Only 15% of Americans have received the recommended revised stimulus package since last fall.
Once the emergency is over, people with private insurance will have out-of-pocket costs for vaccinations, tests and treatment, while those without insurance will have to pay those costs in full.
Lawmakers have extended telehealth reforms that were introduced as soon as Covid-19 hit, leading health care systems to routinely deliver services via smartphone or computer.
The Biden administration had previously considered ending the state of emergency last year, but said it feared a “winter surge” in cases and would give providers, insurers and patients enough time to prepare for the end.
According to a senior administration official, the three months that expire will mark a transition period in which the administration will “begin the process of smoothing away the dynamics enabled by the Covid-19 emergency declarations.” The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the announcement before its release.
More than 1.1 million people have died from COVID-19 in the U.S. since 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including about 3,700 in the past week.
After a slight lull over the winter holidays, case counts are trending downwards, and are well below levels seen over the past two winters — although the number of tests for the virus and reported to public health authorities has fallen sharply.
Moments before the White House announcement, Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., accused the president of needlessly extending a public health emergency to act on issues such as forgiving some federal student loan debt.
“The country is mostly back to normal,” Cole said Monday as he introduced a Republican-backed bill to end the health emergency. “Every day, Americans return to work and school with no restrictions on their mobility. It is time for the government to accept this fact: the epidemic is over.