The Biden administration on Thursday extended the COVID-19 public health emergency through Jan. 11 despite the president’s declaration last month that the pandemic was “over.”
The extension of the public health emergency, which was first declared in January 2020, comes with warnings from authorities about a possible increase in infections over the winter.
Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House’s COVID-19 response coordinator, urged Americans to mitigate the potential spike in infections by getting the updated COVID-19 vaccine, which targets dominant variants of the virus.
“If you are up to date with your vaccines and are being treated, if you have a breakthrough infection, your risk of dying from COVID is now close to zero,” he told reporters on Tuesday.
The public health emergency declaration allowed the government to get a quick shot and hand out free tests and treatment.
It also extended Medicaid coverage to millions of people and provided a legal basis for other executive branch claims, raising suspicions among some conservatives.
But President Biden said the pandemic was over in an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes” last month, when asked directly by journalist Scott Pelley, “Is the pandemic over?”
“The pandemic is over,” Mr. Biden replied. “We still have a problem with COVID. We are still working on it a lot. It is – but the pandemic is over.
The statement follows a shift in Washington toward treating the virus as a manageable threat rather than a crisis, as deaths and hospitalizations have steadily declined.
His response was at odds with Dr Jha’s statement at a White House press briefing less than a fortnight earlier.
“The pandemic is not over,” Dr. Jha said Sept. 6. “We will remain vigilant, and of course we continue to research and prepare for unforeseen twists.”
The remarks also sparked a backlash from Republicans over his demand that Congress disburse an additional $22 billion in emergency pandemic relief as part of an interim funding measure ahead of last month’s budget deadline. .
They have also been used against the White House in legal challenges over Mr. Biden’s use of the pandemic to justify his plan to write off billions in student loan debt and impose vaccine mandates on federal contractors.
The administration said Thursday it would provide 60 days notice before ending the public health emergency.