The Department of Health and Human Services is about to reauthorize a “Determination of a Public Health Emergency” in mid-October, extending the Covid-19 public health emergency for 90 more days. But according to Americans’ behavior, the load on our hospital system, and other Biden administration policies, there appears to be no more significant public health threat due to Covid-19. Even President Biden agrees that the pandemic, and thus the emergency, is over.

“The pandemic is over. We still have a problem with COVID. We’re still doing a lot of work on it.”
President Joe Biden

Mostly true. Minor mistakes or inaccuracies.

In early 2020, a public health emergency did exist. A novel coronavirus originating in Wuhan, China, was spreading quickly around the world, including in the United States. Little was known about the nature of the virus, how it spreads, and how severe it would be in what populations. We did not know how to mitigate the risk of the virus, what behaviors most effectively slowed the spread, or how to treat those experiencing infection. 

But Americans—and indeed all of humanity—did amazing things to learn about, study, and fight back. While we can (and will, and should!) have debates about what restrictions and behaviors were reasonable and helpful and for how long, the reality now is that due to several important factors, Covid no longer poses a public health emergency. 

We know now how the virus spreads and how to reduce the chances of infection. We have vaccines and boosters that can reduce the severity of the disease. We have effective treatments. We also know that more recent mutations of the virus are less dangerous because they are less severe. 

Even the Biden Administration seems to acknowledge that the pandemic is over, at least when it comes to immigration. Title 42 is an immigration policy that empowers U.S. immigration officials to expel migrants who are crossing the U.S. border who pose a public health risk. Originally, the Biden administration defended Title 42 in court under the pretext of slowing the spread of Covid-19. But, in April 2022, the CDC announced an end to the Title 42 policy because COVID-19 cases have decreased and vaccines are widely available. It only remains in place now because a federal judge ruled that it has to continue. All of this sends mixed signals about the Biden administration’s position on the public health risk posed by Covid. 

And yet the Biden administration is looking to reauthorize the Covid-19 public health emergency. It’s worth noting that the HHS renewal of the Covid-19 public health emergency is not without consequence. It has an effect on health policy in several major areas, but perhaps most importantly, it prohibits states from removing individuals from the Medicaid program. As many as 15 million people may currently be enrolled in Medicaid who aren’t actually eligible, but the public health emergency ties the hands of states to do anything about this. 

No one would ever dream that a public health emergency could actually be politicized… (sarcasm alert!) but renewing the determination would avoid the bad political optics of millions of people being disenrolled in Medicaid right before a major election. If the Biden administration wants to grow enrollment in the Medicaid program, they should do it the old-fashioned way (by bribing states with federal money)—not through the continued farce of a false “emergency.”