Biden extends public health emergency as omicron XBB.1.5 spreads

People wearing masks walk past a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) testing site in New York City, New York, US, December 12, 2022.

Eduardo Munoz | Reuters

The Biden administration has extended the Covid-19 public health emergency through April as the highly transmissible omicron variant raises concern that the United States could face another wave of hospitalizations for the disease this winter.

“The COVID-19 public health emergency remains in effect, and as HHS committed earlier, we will provide 60 days notice to states prior to any possible termination or expiration,” a DHS spokesperson said.

The United States has The Covid Public Health Emergency has renewed Every 90 days since the Trump administration first made the announcement in January 2020.

New Covid variant XBB.1.5 is the most transmissible sub-variant discovered so far, WHO says

The declaration of emergency has had a significant impact on the US health care system over the past three years. It has protected public health insurance coverage for millions, provided hospitals with greater flexibility to respond to surges in patients and expanded telehealth.

The White House Covid Task Force led by Dr. Ashish Jha has repeatedly sought to reassure the public that the United States is in a much stronger place today due to the widespread availability of Covid vaccines and treatments that prevent severe illness and death from the virus.

In August, HHS told state and local health officials to begin preparing to end the state of emergency in the near future. HHS has committed to giving state governments and health care providers 60 days’ notice before lifting the declaration.

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President Joe Biden He said the epidemic ended in September, a period when the number of infections, hospitalizations and deaths declined. But HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra told reporters during an October call that what the virus does this winter will determine whether or not the emergency needs to continue.

Once the US officials decide Ending the public health emergencyWhen there is an increase in admissions, hospitals will lose flexibility in how they deploy staff, add beds, and care for patients. The lifting of the state of emergency could also affect the greatly expanded role that pharmacies have played in administering vaccines during the pandemic, although it is not yet clear to what extent this effect will be.

Millions of Americans are expected to lose their Medicaid health insurance coverage in the coming months as well. Congress has prohibited states from removing people from the program for the duration of the public health emergency. As a result, Medicaid enrollments increased 30% to more than 83 million.

Last month, Congress eliminated Medicaid protections from a public health emergency and said states could begin taking people off Medicaid in April if they no longer meet eligibility requirements.

Omicron XBB.1.5 is spreading fast

The omicron XBB.1.5 variant has quickly become mainstream in the United States and scientists believe it has a growth advantage because it is better at binding to human cells and is adept at evading immunity. It has been described by the World Health Organization as the most transmissible sub-component to date, although there is no data yet to suggest it makes people sicker.

Since the arrival of Omicron in the US in late 2021, which triggered massive waves of infections in the US and around the world, Covid has split into an alphabetical soup of sub-variants that evolve to become increasingly adept at evading immunity from vaccination and infection.

scientists at Columbia University, In a study published in December, The BQ and XBB families of omicron sub-variants were found to pose the greatest threat to Covid vaccines and could cause a wave of superinfections. These sub-variants are also resistant to all approved antibody therapies used to protect people with weakened immune systems.

In a series of Twitter posts last week, Jha said he was concerned about the rapid rise of XBB.1.5 but did not think the alternative would be a major setback. He encouraged people to get an Omicron booster if they haven’t already received one and for those exposed to get antivirals if they have a breakthrough infection.

Only 38% of seniors age 65 and older have so far received an Omicron booster, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There is concern that as XBB.1.5 spreads, it could cause a sharp rise in hospitalizations and deaths among older Americans.

Currently, most people who are hospitalized and die from Covid are 70 or older who either weren’t aware of their vaccines or weren’t treated when they had a breakthrough infection, Jha said.

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