The federally declared public health emergency for COVID-19 will expire on Thursday at a time when case numbers, hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 are significantly lower than during surges of the virus. The Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) will continue to provide COVID-19 testing and vaccines for uninsured/underinsured at the local county health departments after the public health emergency ends.
For the past three years, the Alabama Department of Public Heath (ADPH) has had access to a large amount of COVID-19 data, some of which had been required to be submitted to the federal government. As these requirements transition, COVID-19 will continue to be reportable in Alabama, but some data will no longer be available. The current COVID-19 dashboards will be modified to use the available data and to better align with data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The current Alabama COVID-19 dashboards will update for a final time this week and be available for archive purposes for an unspecified amount of time.
“Although the COVID-19 pandemic is entering a new phase, the disease is still causing suffering and death in Alabama,” State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said. “ADPH is committed to monitoring the effects of this virus in Alabama and will continue to provide data that is accurate and actionable.”
Moving forward, ADPH will continue to publish hospital admission data and COVID-19 death data which will be updated, but its reporting frequency will change. Variant surveillance and demographic case data will be available at HYPERLINK "http://www.cdc.gov/" \t "_blank" http://www.cdc.gov.
Changes from emergency to routine public health practice regarding COVID-19 include the following:
· CDC community transmission levels will no longer be published.
· CDC community levels will no longer be published and will be replaced with COVID-19 hospital admission levels.
· Vaccine administration reporting will not be reported as ADPH will no longer receive data from vaccine providers.
· Treatment location information will direct patients to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ test-to-treat website, HYPERLINK "https://aspr.hhs.gov/TestToTreat/Pages/default.aspx" \t "_blank" https://aspr.hhs.gov/TestToTreat/Pages/default.aspx.
· Percent positivity will be removed because at-home tests which are unreported skew positivity data.
· Testing and vaccination sites will be linked to external sites.
· Case demographics will be removed.
· Case counts will be replaced with emergency department visits.
· Death counts will link to the ADPH website for Center for Health Statistics query.
Bivalent COVID-19 Vaccines Recommended
In the coming months, many programs that were free may revert to insurance or personal payment for services. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced that the federal Public Health Emergency declared under the Public Health Service Act for COVID-19 will end on May 11, 2023. Government-purchased COVID-19 therapeutics will remain available through existing channels until they become available on the commercial market.
The ADPH reminds the public that bivalent COVID-19 vaccinations which offer protection against the omicron variants and the original COVID-19 strain are still available.
The CDC has simplified COVID-19 vaccine recommendations. Among the recommendations are that adults ages 65 and older and immunocompromised adults are allowed to receive a second dose of the updated vaccine. CDC recommends children ages 6 and older and adults receive an updated bivalent mRNA COVID-19 vaccine, regardless of whether they previously completed their (monovalent) primary series. Alternatives to mRNA COVID-19 vaccines remain available for people who cannot or will not receive an mRNA vaccine. CDC’s recommendations for use of (monovalent) Novavax or Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen COVID-19 vaccines were not affected by the changes made.
The federal supply of COVID-19 vaccine will be available at no charge until the current supply is exhausted. After this supply of COVID-19 vaccine has been depleted, vaccine will be sold commercially. People with public or private insurance will continue to be able to access authorized COVID-19 vaccines. For the uninsured, the federal government has announced it will fund a program to keep COVID-19 vaccines free after the vaccines move to the private market. A new partnership will cover the administrative costs of giving doses of vaccines at pharmacy chains and county health departments to uninsured people.
The end of the public health emergency also means there will be changes in the availability of free COVID-19 tests. At-home tests will likely become more costly, although some insurance plans will still cover the tests with a copayment. People covered by Medicaid will be able to access free at-home tests through September 2024.
Most insured people will still have some coverage for COVID-19 tests ordered or administered by a health professional. Laboratory-based tests, such as PCR tests, may no longer be free for those without health insurance, but some free resources may still be available.
The ADPH will continue to monitor COVID-19 as it regularly monitors other respiratory diseases and will respond to any future surges or developments. Guidance about therapeutics for healthcare providers will be forthcoming as information is received from federal partners. Oral antivirals should be considered for patients with mild to moderate COVID-19 and who are at high risk for progression to severe disease.
Those having signs or symptoms of disease need to be tested and seek medical care when ill. COVID-19 testing remains available at county health department clinics. For COVID-19 clinic times and locations, go to HYPERLINK "https://www.alabamapublichealth.gov/about/locations.html" \t "_blank" https://www.alabamapublichealth.gov/about/locations.html. For COVID-19 data and surveillance, go to HYPERLINK "https://www.alabamapublichealth.gov/covid19/data.html" \t "_blank" https://www.alabamapublichealth.gov/covid19/data.html.
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