Yesterday, May 11, 2023, marked a critical milestone in the US. It marked the end of the COVID-19 Federal Public Health Emergency (FPHE). Many may feel a sense of relief or reassurance, while others worry about an uncertain future. We are fortunate to have access to powerful COVID-19 vaccines and boosters as well as effective treatment. Yet, we know that our response has suffered from disparities in the burden of disease, in access to prevention and treatment, in facing an infodemic of misinformation and disinformation, and in the erosion of public trust. Many may not have fully recovered from the economic and social consequences of this pandemic.
The end of the public health emergency does not mean the end of COVID-19. In the US, COVID-19 today causes about 100 deaths/day. About 1 in 5 adults who had COVID-19 are struggling with physical and mental health consequences from Long COVID, and many may face long-term disabilities as a result. New variants will undoubtedly evolve, some potentially able to resist our prevention and treatment tools. Older adults, immunocompromised people, and those with other chronic conditions remain at increased risk of severe COVID-19 illness. Communities of color, service workers, and people experiencing housing instability remain vulnerable to the uncertain future trajectory of this virus.
At the same time, the end of the public health emergency will mean that access to specific COVID-19 resources, such as testing, vaccine, and treatment will get more complicated for some, particularly most vulnerable individuals. Information with regard to the burden of COVID-19 will become more limited, now largely focusing on data from wastewater surveillance, COVID-19 hospitalizations, and deaths. Guidance on what to expect has been provided by the federal government, state, and local health departments as well as other organizations, and a panel convened by the New York City (NYC) Pandemic Response Institute (PRI) offered such information on May 4th: The End of the Federal Public Health Emergency for COVID-19 – What Does it Mean?
This is a bittersweet moment. For many who lost loved ones during the pandemic, the end of the emergency offers no end to their grief, and communities with limited reserves have no chance of full recovery from economic and social devastation. For those engaged in public health, the fear looms that the lessons from COVID-19 will be forgotten. However, this is no time for complacency. Now is the time to apply the lessons learned from the past three years, to vigorously seek how to be best prepared for the inevitable public health emergencies to come, and how to address the harms still caused by COVID-19. At PRI we are committed to working in partnership to achieve our mission of promoting public health preparedness, advancing equity, and building resiliency throughout NYC and beyond.