Friends are seen hugging.Share on Pinterest
Luis Alvarez/Getty Images
  • Over three years into the pandemic, public health organizations are finally saying that the emergency phase is over.
  • The COVID public health emergency declared by U.S. officials is ending on May 11, 2023.
  • The WHO also announced that it’s ending the emergency phase of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Over three years since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, public health officials in the U.S. and globally are declaring the pandemic emergency over.

The COVID public health emergency declared by U.S. officials is ending on May 11, 2023.

And the World Health Organization (WHO) announced Friday that it’s ending the emergency phase of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The WHO held a meeting on May 5th during which health officials discussed the decline in COVID-related hospitalizations, intensive care unit (ICU) admissions, and deaths.

The spread of COVID-19, though ongoing, no longer constitutes a public health emergency of international concern, the WHO said.

The WHO then revealed a five-step plan to manage the long-term spread of COVID-19.

The plan focuses on surveillance, community protection, safe and scalable care, access to countermeasures, and emergency coordination efforts.

While acknowledging the remaining uncertainties posted by potential evolution of SARS-CoV-2, they advised that it “is time to transition to long-term management of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the WHO Emergency Committee on the COVID-19 Pandemic wrote in a statement.

In the U.S. the COVID-19 public health emergency ends on May 11, 2023. Starting May 12th government officials will reduce the frequency and detail in which it tracks COVID, and while vaccines, treatments, and tests will continue to be available, some of these tools may become pricier.

The increase in population immunity, from both vaccination and infections, has lowered the risk of hospitalization and death from COVID.

According to the WHO, 13.3 billion doses of the vaccine have been administered around the world.

And although SARS-CoV-2 continues to evolve, recent variants don’t appear to cause more severe illness.

“Immunity has played a large role in this decision as the vaccine and booster continues to protect against severe illness from COVID-19 and its variants,” says Bernadette Boden-Albala, the director and founding dean of University of California, Irvine’s Program in Public Health.

“We are fortunate to be out of an acute crisis situation and our society is fatigued from the high stress period when COVID-19 transmission was at its peak,” Boden-Albala added.

Data collection and national disease surveillance at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will change in “frequency, source, or availability.” However, the CDC will still have a pulse on COVID at the community level.

Surveillance will now focus on deaths, rather than cases, test positivity rates, and post-vaccination health check-ins.

Additionally the government will stop covering the costs for COVID-19 vaccines. Instead the vaccines will either be covered by people’s medical insurance or they may have to pay out of pocket.

COVID-19 at-home tests may no longer be covered by insurance after the end of the emergency declaration.

Declaring COVID-19 a public health emergency of international concern is essentially a communications tool the WHO utilizes to inform member states that it is time to activate their emergency response and preparedness strategies.

These declarations also typically include a set of recommendations, such as travel restrictions and increased surveillance, to prevent the spread of the pathogen.

Dr. Jan Carney, Associate Dean for Public Health and Health Policy and Professor of Medicine at the Larner College of Medicine at the University of Vermont, says health officials have known for months that the end of the WHO emergency declaration was coming.

“Federal agencies and states have been preparing to transition and integrate public health and medical response to COVID-19 into existing public health and health care systems,” Carney said.

Although the emergency designation has ended, COVID-19 is still circulating and the WHO’s new recommendations aim to help member states enact long-term strategies to prevent, control, and manage the spread of COVID-19.

Moving forward, the WHO recommends that each region focuses on disease surveillance, preparedness for future outbreaks, access to vaccines, care, countermeasures, ongoing risk assessments, and research.

Vaccines, testing, and treatments will continue to be available, but may come at a higher cost for many individuals, particularly those without health insurance.

As the WHO stated, each week, millions of people continue to be infected or re-infected and thousands of people are dying from COVID.

This is merely a transition to how we respond to managing COVID, not the end to COVID-19 infection, says Carney.

Meanwhile, the COVID-19 public health emergency in the U.S. ends on May 11, 2023.
There continue to be gaps and inequities in our ability to prepare and respond to new outbreaks and provide care to people.

The WHO’s goal is to address these inequities and reinforce our public health foundation for future epidemics and outbreaks.

“COVID-19 has not gone away. In my view, we must take this opportunity to remain vigilant and strengthen our public health and health care systems,” Carney said.

National and global public health entities have declared the emergency phase of the COVID-19 outbreak over.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is ending the emergency phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 continues to spread, but recent declines in COVID-related hospitalizations and deaths due to high levels of population immunity have allowed the WHO to shift from working on emergency response plans to enacting long-term strategies to control COVID.