The COVID-19 national and public health emergencies officially ended May 11, 2023, with the expiration of two emergency declarations: the Public Health Emergency (PHE) declared in January 2020 by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and the national emergency declaration issued in March 2020. The World Health Organization (WHO) also announced on May 5 that it is transitioning to long-term management of COVID-19 as an ongoing health concern rather than as an international public health emergency. While more guidance should be forthcoming from federal and state agencies as they roll back pandemic-era COVID-19 requirements and transition to sustainable long-term processes, here are the key changes you should be aware of.
Impact of the PHE Declarations and Expirations
Pursuant to the PHE, the federal government had wide-ranging authority over several COVID-19-related areas, including providing Americans with tests, treatments, and vaccines at no charge. According to media reports, updates from the Centers of Disease Control (CDC), and the COVID-19 PHE Transition Roadmap from the HHS, the biggest impact of the end of PHE is that now many Americans will have to start paying for COVID-19 testing and treatments.
Vaccination requirements will also end for federal workers, and pandemic-era vaccination requirements for international travelers are also being revoked.
What is Changing?
According to CDC guidance updated on May 5, the CDC has been working to roll COVID-19 emergency response activities into its existing structure and programs in order to transition from a health emergency to a sustainable health practice. While most of the COVID-19 tools like vaccines and treatments will remain available, some COVID-19 related products and services will no longer be provided free of charge or be covered by insurance.
Several other measures put in place in reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic will cease, including:
At the state level, the end of the PHE will also trigger changes. Some states, like Colorado, have required employers to provide an additional amount of paid sick leave during the COVID-19 public health emergency in an amount based on the number of hours the employee works. Those requirements will soon come to an end.
In other states such as California, the expiration of the PHE will not make much difference. California has a new non-emergency COVID-19 regulation that took effect on February 3 and will be in effect for two years.
What Will Remain?
Updates from HHS.gov note that the Administration’s continued response to COVID-19 is not fully dependent on the expiration of the PHE. There will still be pathways for emergency use authorizations (EUAs) for COVID-19 products (tests, vaccines, and treatments) through the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and major telehealth flexibilities will continue to exist for those participating in Medicare or Medicaid.
The FDA can still continue to issue new EUAs when criteria for issuance are met. Major telehealth flexibilities will continue for those participating in Medicare and Medicaid. COVID-19 vaccines will still be free for those with insurance even when the PHE ends because of various federal laws, including the Affordable Care Act, that are independent of the PHE expiration. The CDC also confirmed that wastewater surveillance and genomic surveillance will remain in place.
Workplace Safety Standards Not Yet Addressed
There have been no COVID-19 recent guidance updates from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) related to the expiration of the COVID-19 PHE. In January 2021, the agency issued guidance designed to help employers protect unvaccinated and other “at risk” workers. OSHA’s guidance had not been updated since August 13, 2021.
Similarly, OSHA has not updated its Interim Enforcement Response Plan for Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) or its summary of COVID-19 regulations since July 2021. This means that COVID-19 can still be a recordable illness on OSHA 300 logs mandated by 29 CFR Part 1904 if a worker is infected as a result of performing their work-related duties, and other recording criteria are met. See OSHA’s Injury and Illness Recordkeeping and Reporting Requirements for a summary of recording criteria.
Though OSHA has been silent on any plans to update its COVID-19-related requirements and guidance, it has signaled on its COVID-19 resource website that updates are coming soon to guidance for mitigating the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace.
What Should You Do?
We will continue to monitor these developments and provide updates as appropriate. This information is not intend to be, and should not be construed as, legal advice for any particular fact situation. Please contact one of our attorneys at Schwartz Rollins, or our legal assistant, Vicki Perry at 404.844.4130.