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Mid-Michigan health department grapple with end of federal COVID-19 emergency

Photo of a COVID-19 molecule

The three-year-long federal declaration of the COVID-19 public health emergency is now over.

While that means some pandemic-era precautions are phasing out, local health departments are working to make sure residents can still find diagnostic care and treatment

The emergency designation directed government agencies and health insurers to cover the cost of resources during the pandemic. That included COVID tests, vaccines, and therapeutic medicines like Paxlovid to treat the virus.

With the declaration over, some purchases, like at-home tests, will no longer be covered by insurance.

But Michigan officials say vaccines and treatments will remain free while the state retains a federal stockpile of resources.

Ingham County Medical Health Officer Nike Shoyinka says the emergency declaration was largely a bureaucratic status used to streamline the process of sharing financial and medical resources with the community.

She adds widespread vaccination and prior infections have reduced the urgency for these resources and made it possible to end that emergency.

Still, Shoyinka says that doesn’t mean people shouldn’t assume the pandemic is over.

“The virus is still here with us," Shoyinka said. "The only difference here is that now we are not the same place that we were nationally or worldwide when the pandemic began."

Many policies that guided residents during the most intense periods of the pandemic will remain in place beyond the emergency. Hospitals and county health departments will continue to monitor and report COVID-19 case numbers to the public, though with fewer hospitalizations, the data that state officials release will be more limited.

Emily Smale is a communication specialist at the Barry-Eaton District Health Department. She says some community members see the end of the emergency as a positive sign, while others are concerned that they may have to start paying to access testing and vaccines.

“The state and our health department are doing everything in our power to make sure that those services are still available, either free or no-cost," Smale said.

Smale says residents should continue to be cautious if they experience symptoms or have been around someone diagnosed with COVID-19. She adds free testing is still being offered at the department's two offices.

Arjun Thakkar is WKAR's politics and civics reporter.
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