The Biden administration on Thursday extended the nation’s COVID-19 public health emergency for the next 90 days as officials brace for a potential surge of infections over the winter.
The declaration comes as daily deaths and case rates have been falling, though the U.S. continues to see more than 300 people dying due to COVID-19 each day.
White House health officials have been urging people to get the updated variant-specific COVID-19 vaccine, and have said the extent of any surge depends on the precautions people take and the vaccination rates.
“If you are up to date with your vaccines and if you get treated, if you have a breakthrough infection, your risk of dying from COVID is now close to zero,” White House COVID-19 response coordinator Ashish Jha said Tuesday.
“We know there’s more work to do with real challenges ahead of us as we head into the fall and winter and the holidays. We’re doing everything we can as an administration to stay ahead of this virus. But if we all do our part — not just us in the administration, but Congress and the American people — I remain incredibly confident we can manage this virus for this fall and winter with less suffering and we can have a safe and healthy holiday season ahead,” Jha said.
The public health emergency was first declared in January 2020, and has been renewed every 90 days since.
The declaration helped get treatments and vaccines approved at breakneck speed and enabled the administration to ensure Americans did not have to pay for them. The extension also ensures that policies like expanded Medicaid benefits, telehealth coverage, and extra payments to hospitals and doctors will continue.
At the same time, Republicans in Congress have been pressing the administration to end the public health emergency, arguing there is no more justification for it to continue, especially in the wake of Biden’s remark in September that the pandemic is “over.”
Biden has urged Congress to provide billions more in aid to pay for COVID-19 vaccines and testing, though lawmakers have been reluctant to provide any additional funding. The federal government stopped sending free COVID-19 tests in the mail last month, saying it had run out of money.