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What you need to know as the COVID Public Health Emergency ends

COVID tests may not be free for everyone after the emergency ends and millions are at risk of losing Medicaid coverage.

WASHINGTON — The COVID Public Health Emergency ends Thursday, meaning changes in test and Medicaid access.

Moving forward, the federal government will not be distributing free COVID tests, so some people may have to rely on their insurance to cover those at-home tests.

D.C. did close down all of the District-run walkup COVID centers that offer free tests and vaccines, but they're working with Safeway and GW Health to provide a place to receive both in Wards 4, 6, and 8.

The D.C. council held a roundtable about the public health emergency ending last Thursday, where leaders had a chance to discuss what needs to happen moving forward.

Interim Director of D.C. Health, Dr. Sharon Lewis, said the District needs to work with the federal government to set up infrastructure to support pandemic-era programs like expanded telemedicine and vaccine access moving forward.

“We want to assure residents that we continue to protect their health by enhancing access to COVID 19 vaccination opportunities...such as new grant funding to healthcare organizations to provide vaccine services to harder to reach populations," Dr. Lewis said.

Millions are also at risk of losing their Medicaid coverage.

A January report from D.C. shows that close to 300,000 residents were enrolled in Medicaid in 2022, which is up about 50,000 from pre-pandemic levels -- at least partially because of the federal expansion.

Another change is that labs won’t be required to report COVID data, which could make cases harder to track.

Moving forward, wastewater testing could become key in helping to track outbreaks.

CDC Principal Deputy Director Dr. Nirav D. Shah said there is a reason the Public Health Emergency is ending though.

"The nature of COVID 19 is different now than it was one, two or three years ago, because of the work of getting vaccinated, getting tests available, and getting therapies, it’s not the acute emergency that it was before. That’s a good thing, even though it remains a risk.”

The D.C. health director also said that they’re launching a new surveillance dashboard in the fall for respiratory illnesses, including COVID.

It won’t be as robust as the one set up during the pandemic, but they will continue to track its impact.

Those COVID exposure phone alerts will also be ending on Thursday.

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