NEWS

U.S. Renews COVID-19 Public Health Emergency Declaration

U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the COVID-19 response and vaccination program as Vice President Kamala Harris listens in the Rose Garden of the White House

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Key Takeaways

  • The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on Monday renewed a public health emergency declaration for COVID-19 for the sixth time.
  • The declaration states that COVID-19 presents a national emergency and enables the HHS secretary to take steps to combat the pandemic.
  • Experts say the renewal doesn't call for extra concern, but people should prepare for a return of restrictions if conditions do not improve.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on Monday renewed its Public Health Emergency Declaration due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The declaration enables the HSS to fund, investigate, and support certain emergency efforts.

Emergency declarations last for 90 days, after which they can be renewed by the HHS Secretary, if deemed necessary. The COVID-19 emergency declaration has been renewed six times since it was first signed on January 31, 2020.

Since the initial declaration, nearly 34 million Americans have contracted the coronavirus and more than 606,000 lives have been lost to the pandemic nationwide, according to the COVID data tracker from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Jonathan Baktari, MD, CEO of e7health.com, sees the renewal as a result of two things: U.S. vaccination rates being lower than President Joe Biden’s initial goal and the rise of the Delta variant.

“The renewal of this authorization is [HHS’s] way of saying: ‘If the Delta variant and the lower vaccination rates were to continue, we want to keep all our options open in terms of mandating things such as indoor mask wearing and social distancing,’” Baktari tells Verywell.

He adds that the pressure also comes from uncertainties around vaccine efficacy against future variants. Israel's government suggested that the Pfizer vaccine offered 64% protection against infections caused by the Delta variant, a drop from 95.3%.

Baktari says that it is only "a matter of time" before a stronger variant threatens the current vaccines in the United States.

President Biden had set his target of vaccinating 70% of U.S. adults with at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine by July 4. Currently, 68.3% U.S. adults have been vaccinated with at least one shot, according to CDC's data tracker.

William Lang, MD, MHA, chief medical officer at WorldClinic and former White House physician, says the renewal does not imply the U.S. is in a worse position. It simply states that the threat of COVID-19 remains, which many health experts and organizations have already reiterated.

"The fact that Secretary Becerra has extended this is simply a matter of housekeeping for ongoing actions that need to continue," Lang tells Verywell in an email.

What This Means For You

The public health emergency order will last for 90 days and can be renewed if deemed necessary. In the meantime, health experts say to protect yourself through vaccinations and to be prepared for a return of some restrictions like indoor mask requirements, depending on where you live.

The Delta variant now accounts for more than 80% of cases in the U.S, according to Reuters. In response, some states have reinstated mask mandate and social distancing requirements.

However, the emergency declaration would likely have been renewed without the presence of the Delta variant, as it allows the secretary to fund essential programs like COVID-19 prevention and treatment research, Lang explains.

A national public health emergency declaration is also in place for the opioid crisis, which has been renewed periodically since 2005.

Public Health Emergency Declaration

Under a public health emergency declaration, the HHS Secretary can take actions such as:

  • Accessing the “Public Health Emergency Fund” for things like personal protective equipment (PPE), grants, investigations, medical countermeasures, biosurveillance, laboratory capacity, and emergency operations.
  • Adjust Medicare reimbursements for certain drugs affected by the emergency to make them more affordable.
  • Waive or modify certain insurance acts and requirements to make services more available to individuals. (This one requires a Presidential declaration of an emergency or disaster, which former President Donald Trump made on March 13, 2020.)
  • Modify use of telemedicine.
  • Enable the Department of Labor to issue dislocated worker program grants for certain disaster relief employment. (This one requires a chief official of an authorized Federal agency to recognize the emergency is of national significance and could result in a large loss of employment.)

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Public Health Emergency. Renewal of Determination That A Public Health Emergency Exists. Updated July 19, 2021.

  2. Public Health Emergency. Public Health Emergency Declarations. Updated July 19, 2021.

  3. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Public Health Emergency Declaration. Updated November 26, 2019.

  4. FEMA. COVID-19 Disaster Declarations. Updated July 6, 2021.