RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Thursday marks the end of the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency, with the US Department of Health and Human Services pointing to improved metrics behind the decision.
According to the CDC, there were fewer than 78,000 new cases over the past week, the twelfth straight week of declines. During the same time period last year, there were more than 450,000 cases; in early 2022, there were back-to-back weeks of more than five million new cases.
"More and more now, rather than looking at a website to get information about where we are with COVID, I think you just have to look left and right - look at your neighbors, look at your family members, your co-workers. Are people getting sick? Are they testing positive for COVID-19? Right now, it's pretty much a lull," said Dr. David Wohl, an infectious disease specialist at UNC Health.
Year-to-date, the hospitalization rate has dropped by about 80%.
"Its impact for the majority of people is lessened because we're well-vaccinated or frankly we've come through COVID many times already each of us," added Dr. Cameron Wolfe, infectious disease specialist at Duke Health.
The expiration of emergency status follows a similar move from the World Health Organization.
"This is what many people have been warning about for a long time. Books have been written about it, articles, and it happened. So I think it's a warning shot over the bow that we have to prepare of this to happen again and hopefully do an even better job of trying to contain the next outbreak or pandemic," said Wohl.
While US DHHS said not to anticipate any immediate changes to access to COVID-19 vaccines or certain treatments, that could change in the future. According to a fact sheet released by the agency:
"Once the federal government is no longer purchasing or distributing COVID-19 vaccines and treatments, payment, coverage, and access may change. In order to prepare for that transition, partners across the U.S. Government (USG) are planning for and have been developing plans to ensure a smooth transition for the provision of COVID-19 vaccines and certain treatments as part of the traditional health care market, which will occur in the coming months.
When that transition to the traditional health care market occurs, to protect families, the Administration has facilitated access to COVID-19 vaccines with no out-of-pocket costs for nearly all individuals and will continue to ensure that effective COVID-19 treatments, such as Paxlovid, are widely accessible."
"The things we've come to take for granted, like free COVID tests, like free medications to prevent people who are at-risk from getting sicker, that won't be there anymore. So with the emergency being lifted, so will be the federal government footing the bill for a lot of things that we use to keep us safer. So that worries me a little bit, and we don't want to backtrack. We don't want people not to get diagnosed and come in sicker," said Wohl.
To learn about your specific coverage, you should contact your insurance and healthcare providers, though the fact sheet from US DHHS shares more details:
"For those with most types of private insurance, COVID-19 vaccines recommended by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) are a preventive health service and will be fully covered without a co-pay when provided by an in-network provider. Currently, COVID-19 vaccinations are covered under Medicare Part B without cost sharing, and this will continue. Medicare Advantage plans must also cover COVID-19 vaccinations in-network without cost sharing, and this will continue. Medicaid will continue to cover COVID-19 vaccinations without a co-pay or cost sharing through September 30, 2024 and will generally cover ACIP-recommended vaccines for most beneficiaries thereafter.
After the transition to the traditional health care market, out-of-pocket expenses for certain treatments, such as Paxlovid and Lagevrio, may change, depending on an individual's health care coverage, similar to costs that one may experience for other covered drugs. Medicaid programs will continue to cover COVID-19 treatments without cost sharing through September 30, 2024. After that, coverage and cost sharing may vary by state."
Moving forward, Wolfe expressed optimism in the event of an uptick in cases or different outbreak.
"We have a bunch of treatments that have proven to be effective, and they are actually effective for many viruses well beyond COVID. So many of the antivirals that we sort of routinely talk about like Paxlovid and Remdesevir are actually active against a bunch of viruses, so we're better prepared there too," Wolfe added.