Jun 17, 2021 - Health

What happens now that emergency orders are lifting

Status of COVID state emergency orders
Data: National Academy for State Health Policy and various governor declarations; Chart: Sara Wise/Axios

Soon, more than half the states will have ended their formal emergency declarations for the pandemic — which could have ripple effects across the economy.

Why it matters: Lifting those orders will allow businesses to serve more customers, but will also end certain safety nets, including expanded food and housing assistance, as well as eviction protections.

"The impacts of the crisis are really lingering," Wesley Tharpe, the deputy director of state policy research at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, told Axios. "The country is still down more than 8 million fewer jobs before COVID-19 arrived ... there’s still that need to help people find a job and get back on their feet."

  • In Kansas, Gov. Laura Kelly said Friday about 63,000 households are at risk of food insecurity after the state legislature voted to end its emergency declaration. Under the declaration, families received an extra $232 a month.
  • Several states have already ended COVID unemployment expansions, even though the American Rescue Plan extended state unemployment benefits through Labor Day.

What we're watching: Hospital industry officials in several states said they were still waiting to hear from their respective health departments what may change with the lifting of formal emergencies.

  • In Michigan, hospital association officials said the end of statewide emergency and disaster declarations could result in the end of licensing flexibilities.
  • In Massachusetts, hospitals are pushing the legislature to expand telehealth coverage that is on track to expire.
  • In Maryland, telehealth coverage is also a concern. Specifically, there's a question of whether coverage allowed under the state emergency will continue for ERISA plans, said Gene Ransom, CEO of MedChi, the Maryland State Medical Society.

What we're watching: If variants or other factors begin to overwhelm communities and hospitals with cases in the fall, reinstating emergency orders and restrictions could erode public trust in politicians and public health capabilities, Georges Benjamin, a medical doctor and executive director of the American Public Health Association, tells Axios.

  • "At all levels of government and even in the private sector, we need to be thinking thoughtfully of how to make this transition and not just do it," he said. "We transition in an organized manner back to the society that we had two years ago than simply deciding we’re going to end these rules."
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