“The discontinuation of those declarations of emergency has to be thoughtfully planned and transitioned,” Coyle told The New York Times. “Otherwise, it leaves hospitals caught in the middle in this debate of whether the pandemic is over or not.”
Speaking to KQED Forum this month, UCSF infectious disease specialist Dr. Peter Chin-Hong struck a cautious note, saying that while he believed it is essentially “the right time” for California and the White House to end these emergency declarations, there were still “repercussions that we have to be prepared for.”
“In a fractured medical health care system, I’m worried that people are going to fall between the cracks,” said Chin-Hong, noting that Californians would still be “generally, decently protected as a people, compared to other areas” in the U.S. “The biggest worry that I have is that it will be confusing,” he said, pointing to the potential for contradictory signals around COVID testing, vaccination and treatment among people who don’t know whether they’ll face steep out-of-pocket costs for this care and might just give up trying to access it.
Chin-Hong also acknowledged the risks of how the states of emergency ending could falsely signal to the general public that COVID no longer posed them — or others — any threat. “The worst thing,” he said, would be “that people think that it means that it’s all over until next winter.”
And finally, just to make everything even more complex …
Several other COVID programs are ending in California — but that’s not (entirely) due to the state of emergency
There are a number of pandemic-related programs and support schemes that are winding down alongside the ending of California’s (and the nation’s) states of emergency, but they are not 100% related to those expirations — at least, not directly. Among them:
COVID testing sites are shutting down
Large-scale testing sites have been a crucial part of counties’ ability to slow the spread of COVID over the last few years — and these states of emergency have played a key role in funding these facilities. Now, a large portion of funding for free COVID testing (and vaccination) clinics will come to an end, meaning not only that costs for individuals for these services could rise, but also the sites themselves are starting to shutter. And the sites that remain open will have to look to the future of county-level funding after the state and federal supplies are gone.
But officials say the end of California’s state of emergency is not the sole reason many of these facilities are closing. San Francisco’s free drive-up testing site on Alemany Blvd., for example, is being closed due to a combination of reduced funding and “low demand,” according to San Francisco health officials. Find a COVID testing site near you.
The California Department of Public Health’s post-state of emergency “SMARTER Plan (PDF)” says that as far as schools are concerned, the agency has “completed the distribution of 8.4 million over-the-counter antigen tests for end of school year and summer testing, and an additional 10.6 million for the return from summer break testing.”
California is ending its vaccine mandate for schoolchildren
In 2021, Gov. Newsom announced the policy mandating COVID vaccination for schoolchildren — adding it as one of the (multiple) vaccinations families would need to prove for a child to attend school. There was uncertainty over whether this policy would be extended, and on Feb. 3 the California Department of Health finally announced that the state’s schoolkids would not now have to get a COVID vaccine, and that the department was “not currently exploring emergency rulemaking to add COVID-19 to the list of required school vaccinations,” adding, “but we continue to strongly recommend COVID-19 immunization for students and staff to keep everyone safer in the classroom.”
Because the policy itself originated from the state Department of Public Health, it wasn’t itself affected directly by California’s emergency declaration being lifted. But early this month, just before the change was announced, state public health officials told EdSource in an email that the end of California’s state of emergency was effectively going to end any plan to add COVID vaccinations to the required-vaccines list for schoolchildren.