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As federal emergency also ends, Medicaid recipients could lose benefits if they don’t re-enroll by March 31

Federal funds for free COVID testing and vaccines will also come to an end

By Miriam Raftery

February 7, 2023 (San Diego) – The County of San Diego will end the nearly 3-year-old COVID-19 emergency on February 28, the same date that the state of California’s emergency declaration ends. The federal government will halt the national public health emergency on May 11.

But outbreaks remain a threat locally and elsewhere. While vaccines and treatments have sharply reduced the death rate from the early days of the pandemic, 12 people died locally in the week ending February 2, when more than 1,800 cases were confirmed and 300 people were hospitalized from the coronavirus.

Over the past three years, more than 976,000 San Diegans have laboratory confirmed positive tests for COVID-19, more than 38,500 have been hospitalized and 5,728 died.

Local health officials urge residents to get the new booster vaccines for protection against recent variants. Nearly 2.7 million San Diegans have received the primary series of one of the approved COVID-19 vaccines and more than 560,000 have received a bivalent booster vaccine.

The County will continue to provide all the services needed to respond to the ongoing pandemic, including surveillance, testing, tracing, treatment, vaccinations and public engagement.

“While cases, hospitalizations and deaths are decreasing, these events are still occurring in San Diego County,” ​​County Public Health Officer Wilma J. Wooten said in a statement. “COVID-19 virus variants are still widespread in our county.”

San Diego declared a countywide health emergency on Feb. 19, 2020, the second county in California to do so. The emergency declaration enabled the County to utilize mutual aid for faster response to the pandemic, to seek financial reimbursement for handling COVID-19, and to assure that healthcare professionals and agencies had the tools to respond, including setting up equitable and accessible testing and vaccination programs.

An estimated 3,307 lives were saved locally through steps such as testing, vaccinations, providing personal protective equipment, surveilling wastewater for early detection of the virus and more, according to an analysis by the County’s Community Health Statistics Unit.

“What we accomplished collectively is regarded as one of the best responses in the nation, with recognition from the federal government, the governor and the state, and many other leaders.” County Health and Human Services Agency Director Nick Macchione said, “We set the bar for others to follow.”

Since the start of the pandemic, the County has invested more than $1 billion to fight coronavirus, not only through health actions, but also by providing food, housing and child-care assistance, as well as stimulus to help businesses and people hurt by COVID-19.

At the federal level, emergency declarations issued by President Donald Trump in 2020 helped cut through red tape to direct funds, personal and equipment to states and counties where it was most needed. The federal emergency,which was continued under the Biden administration,  also made COVID tests and vaccines available free to everyone.

In March 2020, Congress passed a law preventing states from removing people off Medicaid and enacted continuous enrollment. But that will end  March 31, even sooner than the federal emergency ceases.  That means that some people are at risk of losing Medicaid coverage if they don’t reenroll. (This does not apply to recipients of Medicare, which is age-based, not income-based.)

Ending the emergency declaration could also mean an end to free vaccines and testing, unless state or local governments opt to fund such measures that have proven effective at saving many lives.

Ending the federal emergency also impacts asylum seekers, who have been mostly barred from entering the U.S. under Title 42 due to the pandemic. The Biden administration had sought to lift the Title 42 block on admitting asylum seekers at U.S. borders, but the Supreme Court ruled that it must stay in place until the health emerency is officially ended. 

The U.S., state and local actions follow the global shift, with COVID-19 now deemed endemic , a disease that could not be eradicated but can be better managed and treated, rather than pandemic.



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