July 23, 2020
The Trump administration has renewed the public health emergency for the coronavirus, ensuring that critical resources to fight the pandemic can continue while much of the country battles rising caseloads.
The news will come as relief to health care groups who worried that President Donald Trump would let the emergency declaration lapse when it was set to expire July 25, despite previous assurances from top administration officials it would be renewed.
The background: HHS Secretary Alex Azar declared the coronavirus a public health emergency in late January, shortly after Covid-19 emerged in the U.S., and the declaration was previously extended in April. Azar on Thursday evening announced through Twitter that he signed a renewal.
The emergency powers have helped the administration usher in a massive scale-up of telehealth visits, emergency approval of new drugs and tests and new flexibility for government-run health insurance programs. They have also let cash-strapped state and local health departments deploy federally funded personnel to focus on the virus.
Governors and health groups, nervous that Trump would end the emergency as he pushed for faster reopenings, for weeks had been urging the administration to authorize an extension, warning the pandemic response would be hampered without it. Vice President Mike Pence and Azar earlier this month told governors the emergency would likely be extended but had stopped short of providing a firm commitment.
Azar spokesperson Michael Caputo previously tried to knock down concerns the administration would let the emergency expire. “Enough already. @HHSGov expects to renew the Public Health Emergency due to COVID-19 before it expires,” Caputo tweeted a month ago.
What’s next: Public health emergencies last for 90 days, so the latest renewal will expire in late October without another extension. Trump at that point may be eager to tout victory over the coronavirus, but the expiration will come at the start of a flu season that federal health experts believe could be especially dangerous with the coronavirus still circulating.