The World Health Organization downgraded its assessment of the coronavirus pandemic on Friday, saying it no longer qualifies as a global emergency and just before the U.S. government’s public health emergency declaration expires Thursday.
The emergency declaration, which has been in place since January 2020, allowed the federal government to expand eligibility for food assistance and continuous Medicaid coverage amid mass layoffs and economic uncertainty.
The declaration also enabled the government to waive rules so that Americans had access to free coronavirus tests, vaccines and certain treatments.
Ending of the COVID-19 national emergency and public health emergency that was declared by the Trump administration in 2020 has area public health departments reminding residents to stay up-to-date with vaccinations as COVID is still impacting the U.S.
COVID-19 was the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S. in 2022, according to the Centers for Disease Control, following behind heart disease, cancer, and unintentional injury.
“Our numbers of COVID illnesses and hospitalizations and deaths have all gone down. However, we’re still seeing about 50 deaths from COVID per week in Ohio,” said Dr. Becky Thomas, medical director for Public Health - Dayton and Montgomery County.
The Ohio Department of Health recorded 2,978 cases in the past week. It’s the third straight week the state reported fewer than 4,000 cases and at least the seventh consecutive week the state has set a new record low.
Thursday brought the Ohio’s three-week average to 3,157 cases. It’s the second time the three-week average is fewer than 4,000 in 2023.
Spread of COVID still leaves the potential for it to mutate to forms which can be more resistant to the vaccinations and cause more serious forms of illness, Thomas said.
“Because of that, it’s important for everyone to stay up-to-date with their vaccinations, which means that people should have had a dose of the updated bivalent booster that’s been available since September of last year,” Thomas said. “Unfortunately, we still only have about one in six residents in Montgomery County who have had that updated booster, so we’d encourage everyone to get up to date.”
In Greene County, the area has seen approximately 80 COVID cases per week since mid-February, and it’s continuing to decrease, said Laurie Fox, public information officer for Greene County Public Health.
To help prevent the spread of COVID-19, individuals should continue to use proper hygiene techniques, such as hand washing and covering your coughs and sneezes, to help protect against all sorts of transmissible viruses, including the common cold and flu, said Fox.
“COVID is still having an impact in Clark County, though certainly not as big of an impact as during surges,” said Nate Smith, communications coordinator for the Clark County Combined Health District. “Our case counts are down significantly compared to the first of the year. Last week, we had only 16 cases reported – compared to the first of the year when closer to 100 cases were being reported in a given week.”
For the COVID-19 numbers in Warren County, from January through April 2023, there have been 2,332 cases of COVID-19 in Warren County, which indicates a steady decline, said Allison Combs, public information officer of the Warren County Health District.
Vaccinations already purchased by the U.S. government will continue to be free. There will be no immediate impact on COVID-19 countermeasures currently distributed by the U.S. government, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, including COVID-19 vaccines, treatments, and tests.
“When the public health emergency ends, COVID vaccines will continue to be free for all, as long as the supply of federally purchased vaccines lasts,” Smith said. The Clark County Combined Health District is administering COVID vaccines on Thursdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Friday morning from 8 a.m. to noon.
For future vaccinations, the U.S Department of Health and Human Services will launch a program in the fall of 2023 that will work to maintain broad access to COVID-19 vaccines for uninsured.
“The program will create a public-private partnership to help maintain uninsured access to COVID-19 care at their local pharmacies, through existing public health infrastructure, and at their local health centers,” said Combs.
Other countermeasures, like testing and treatment, will vary by insurance type.
“However, free tests and treatment may be available at local free clinics or community health centers,” Fox said.
Regular operations for SNAP, Medicaid
Emergency food assistance allotments ended at the end of February in Ohio, returning to regular SNAP allotments. The emergency SNAP allotments allowed households to receive the maximum allotment for their household size. Beginning in March, recipients received only their one, normal monthly payment.
Continuous enrolled has also ended for Medicaid, which began in response to the COVID-19 public health emergency to ensure members did not lose “vital healthcare coverage during the pandemic,” Ohio Medicaid said.
More than 3.5 million Ohioans have some type of coverage through Medicaid with more than 3.2 million of them on a Medicaid managed care plan. Enrollments during pre-pandemic 2019 ranged between 2 million to 2.3 million, depending on the time of year, according to previous Medicaid reports.
Job and Family Services agencies have 14 months to make those redeterminations for those on Medicaid, said Reba Chenoweth, public information officer for Human Services at the Montgomery County Job Center.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Housing, utility assistance still available
Housing assistance varies, with some counties having already requests for emergency rental assistance, while others are still open to applications. The American Rescue Plan Act Home Relief Grant online platform will stop accepting new applications at 12 a.m. May 15, according to the Ohio Department of Development. All applications submitted prior to this date will be reviewed. For more information, visit the department’s website at development.ohio.gov or call 800-282-0880.
For those in the Dayton region seeking help on rental assistance, call United Way’s Helplink 211 or visit the Miami Valley Community Action Partnership’s website at miamivalleycap.org/covid-relief/ for information on their COVID relief emergency rental assistance program. The partnership’s application portal opens at noon on Monday each week, according to their website.
The partnership’s rental program assists renter households in Darke, Greene, Montgomery, and Preble counties who have experienced a hardship during or due to (directly or indirectly) the pandemic. This program will run through December 2024, unless funding is depleted in advance of this deadline.
The partnership also offers an utility assistance program, which assists homeowners in Darke, Greene, Montgomery, and Preble counties who cannot afford to pay housing costs as a result of the pandemic. MVCAP is accepting applications until Nov. 30, 2023, unless funding is depleted in advance of this deadline.
In Clark County, OIC of Clark County is accepting applications for relief through the American Rescue Plan Home Relief Grant, but processing applications can take approximately two or three weeks, according to their website. To apply, visit www.oicofclarkco.org, or for help, email email@example.com or call 937-325-8366. Assistance may be provided through September 2025 or until assistance funds are depleted.
In Butler County, regular utility assistance and emergency COVID-19 related assistance are available through SELF. Visit selfhelps.org/applications/ for instructions on how to apply for SELF’s emergency rent and/or utility assistance.
In Warren County, rent and utility assistance is available for landlords through the county’s portal at www.co.warren.oh.us/CovidUpdates/ERA/.
For mortgage assistance, the Save the Dream Ohio provides assistance to Ohio homeowners facing foreclosure and/or who cannot afford to pay their mortgage payments or other related housing costs as a result of economic hardship caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The program is administered by the Ohio Housing Finance Agency, and is expected to continue through Sept. 30, 2025 or until the available funding is depleted. For more information, visit savethedream.ohiohome.org/.