MADISON — The COVID-19 Public Health Emergency will end on May 11 per the U.S. Department of Health.
Wisconsin’s case numbers, hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19, are significantly lower than they were during the surge in late 2021 and early 2022. Therefore, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) has been making plans to move away from an emergency response to the virus.
The federal public health emergency began in early 2020. This allowed federal and state governments flexibility. These agencies were able to waive or modify certain requirements in a variety of areas. Along with this, the associated legislation was provided for funding and additional flexibilities to help combat the virus.
“The declaration of a public health emergency helped support Wisconsin’s efforts to combat COVID-19 with resources that saved lives statewide,” said DHS Secretary-designee Kirsten Johnson. “As the federal public health emergency declaration nears its end, DHS will continue to shift our COVID-19 response operations. However, it is critical that Wisconsinites know this does not mean COVID-19 has gone away. The virus remains a threat to health, and we must continue to care for ourselves and each other.”
Despite the ending, DHS will continue to transition its emergency COVID-19 response programs and services. Per DHS some programs, including COVID-19 testing and vaccine services, will continue to undergo changes in the coming months.
“DHS will continue to work with public health partners, including local and tribal health departments, hospital systems, and community agencies and advocates as the state and the nation transition from an emergency response to this virus,” Johnson said.
Protect yourself against COVID-19
Despite the Public Health Emergency ending, contracting COVID-19 is still possible. DHS and CDC recommend the following steps to protect yourself and your community from the spread of COVID-19:
- Stay up to date on recommended COVID-19 vaccinations for the best protection.
- People age 65 and older and those who are immunocompromised now have the option to receive an additional updated or bivalent COVID-19 vaccine dose(s), following recent approvals from the FDA and CDC.
- Know the level of COVID-19 in your community and follow appropriate guidance, including masking in public places, when levels are high.
- Know the symptoms, get tested, and stay home if you’re sick.
- Seek treatment as soon as you develop symptoms.
The DHS Division of Public Health Bureau of Communicable Disease (BCD) will continue to monitor COVID-19 in Wisconsin in addition to monitoring respiratory diseases like influenza, RSV, and rhinovirus, in addition to other diseases as part of the state’s ongoing public health efforts.
Due to the ending of the Public Health Emergency, many programs that are currently free may be reverting to insurance and/or personal payment for services.
It is important for those who are uninsured to access programs that are available in Wisconsin. DHS encourages starting with ForwardHealth.
ForwardHealth brings together many Department of Health Services healthcare and nutrition assistance benefit programs. This webpage has links to many programs, including BadgerCare Plus and the Wisconsin Well Woman Program.
Changes to occur
COVID-19 vaccines will still be available free of charge until the federally purchased supply is depleted.
The FDA’s emergency use authorization for the COVID-19 vaccines will not end with the public health emergency.
Once depleted, those with public or private insurance will continue to be able to access COVID-19 vaccines, according to their insurance requirements.
Others who do not fall into that category may be able to utilize the HHS Bridge Access Program for COVID-19 Vaccines and Treatments which will continue to maintain broad access to COVID-19 vaccines, providing them to people who are uninsured at no cost.
The latest recommendations regarding COVID-19 vaccines are on the CDC COVID-19 vaccines page.
Changes will occur for insurance coverage at-home tests and tests that are sent to the laboratory.
Per DHS, at-home tests will likely become more costly for people regardless of their insurance status, although some insurance plans may still cover them.
Those with Medicaid will be able to access free at-home tests through September 2024.
At-home tests will continue to be authorized for use and will likely remain available for purchase at retail outlets, such as pharmacies.
The Say Yes! COVID Test direct-to-household antigen test distribution program has seen sustained demand and will remain available through May, while supplies last. Wisconsinites are encouraged to order before supplies run out and the program ends.
According to the release, most people with insurance will still have some coverage for tests ordered or administered by a health professional.
Laboratory-based tests, such as PCR tests, will likely no longer be free for those without health insurance and may result in co-pay or out-of-pocket costs for those with health insurance. Also, access to laboratory-conducted (PCR) COVID-19 testing may be limited.
Some free resources may still be available for those without health insurance, such as through free clinics or federal testing programs, such as the CDC Increasing Community Access to Testing (ICATT) program.
The eligibility and testing criteria for free testing may change with these programs after the end of the public health emergency.
COVID-19 treatment purchased by the federal government will remain free until the supply is depleted.
Antiviral treatments like Paxlovid and Lagevrio can help prevent serious illness, hospitalization, and death in people with COVID-19.
The free COVID-19 treatment telehealth service has been extended to Dec. 31, 2023. DHS decided to extend the free service to continue its success in making COVID-19 antiviral treatment accessible throughout Wisconsin.
The release states approximately 4,000 people have consulted with providers through the program since its launch in November 2022, and almost half of those were over the age of 60.
DHS will also begin to consolidate COVID-19 information on the DHS website. These updates will help people find the COVID-19 information they need more easily.
DHS remains committed to providing the most up-to-date and accurate information about severe illness and death from COVID-19.
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