The federal COVID-19 emergency order expires Thursday. What will change in Kansas City?
The federal government’s emergency declaration for the COVID-19 pandemic expires Thursday as case numbers dip to record lows around the Kansas City area.
The end of the emergency order marks the end of federal government funding for COVID-19-related resources. That means it will make vaccination, testing and treatment more expensive for many Kansas Citians, and will change the way that data about the virus is collected and shared. It will also lead to thousands in the metro losing their Medicaid eligibility.
Medical experts reflected on the end of the emergency order in a news briefing Wednesday.
“We have better therapies, vaccination has helped a lot, there’s a lot of natural immunity out there — but it came at a really high cost,” said Dr. Steve Stites, chief medical officer at The University of Kansas Health System.
Here’s what we know about the end of the emergency declaration, and how it will impact Kansas City.
Does this mean the pandemic is ‘over’?
No. While deaths from COVID-19 are at record lows, around 1,000 Americans still die every week from the virus, according to Dr. Gregory Poland, the director of vaccine research at the Mayo Clinic.
He added that since the pandemic began, it has killed one out of every 282 Americans — and that new, potentially harmful variants of the virus can still emerge.
“When you declare an end to the public health emergency, that doesn’t mean an end for all time,” he said in Wednesday’s briefing. “We could very well, this fall for example, see a new variant that could be even more immune-evasive and would require going back to some level of mitigation procedures.”
Stites added that the healthcare community has struggled to impress the importance of these protective measures, which include vaccination, regular testing, mask-wearing and social distancing, onto the public.
“We have accepted the morbidity associated with COVID because the lifestyle changes we have to make to avoid it are too difficult, or people just don’t want to do them over a long period of time,” he said.
“I think it’s going to be a really hard battle to get public health measures like masking and distancing back in effect, unless the human toll is so great that people are scared to not do it.”
How bad is COVID-19 in Kansas City right now?
Case numbers are very low across the metro. As of Wednesday, 295 new cases had been reported in the past week — the lowest number since weekly data reporting began in April of 2022.
The graph below shows the decline in new weekly cases in the metro in recent months. Hover over any point to see the number of cases reported by the five counties and two cities that make up the metro area.
Neither Kansas nor Missouri report death tolls at the county level any more, but available data indicates that deaths from COVID-19 are very low as well. Kansas reported 18 deaths in the state since last week, while Missouri has not reported its weekly totals since April.
What will change for patients?
A major impact of the emergency order ending is that many patients could lose their Medicaid coverage. Under the order, states were barred from removing people from Medicaid if they no longer qualified. Now, thousands will have to either prove they are still eligible or lose their coverage.
Loretta Stoufer, the director of health system admitting at The University of Kansas Health System, said that around 500,000 patients in Missouri and upwards of 300,000 in Kansas may need to renew their eligibility.
“For three consecutive years, everyone was on continuous eligibility,” Stouffer said in Wednesday’s news briefing. “That is ending, and now that monthly renewal for their Medicaid benefits is beginning again.”
She recommended reaching out to the state agency that administers your Medicaid coverage to see whether you need to reapply. In Missouri, that’s MO Healthnet. In Kansas, that’s KanCare.
Will I still be able to get COVID vaccines?
Yes. The CDC states that the federal government will continue to distribute vaccinations for adults and children in order to protect communities from the virus. For now, vaccines will remain free and widely available — but new boosters may arrive more slowly, and cost more out of pocket when they do.
“The president has asked for 5 billion for the NextGen vaccine program, which is nowhere near enough to advance these products rapidly,” Poland said.
Vaccines are still available around the metro at the Kansas City and Wyandotte County health departments, many pharmacies and some other healthcare clinics and hospitals. Find vaccines near you by entering your ZIP code and the vaccines you’re searching for on the federal Vaccine Finder website.
Will COVID tests and treatments still be available?
Yes — but they might get more expensive. According to the CDC, private insurance companies may not cover at-home testing any more after the emergency order ends. The government has also ceased its free test program that mails tests to homes at no cost.
However, some pharmacies and other locations in the metro are still offering no-cost testing. Find testing sites near you by entering your ZIP code on the CDC’s testing locator website.
The CDC has also stated that treatments like Paxlovid will soon come at a price. Moving forward, the cost of antivirals will be determined by manufacturers and your health insurance company. This may make the medication inaccessible to some people.
How will COVID data reporting change?
The biggest change is that new case numbers and death totals from COVID-19 will no longer be emphasized. That’s because this data has gotten less reliable as more people test at home and some jurisdictions choose not to report test results to the government.
Instead, the percentage of deaths that are COVID-19 related and some data about hospitalizations will be the main indicators of the pandemic’s trajectory. Hospital admissions for COVID-19 will be reported weekly at the county level.
Do you have more questions about staying safe from COVID-19 in Kansas City? Ask the Service Journalism team at firstname.lastname@example.org.