What the end of the federal COVID-19 public health emergency means for Alaskans

What the end of the federal COVID-19 public health emergency means for Alaskans
Published: May. 12, 2023 at 8:51 AM AKDT
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PALMER, Alaska (KTUU) - It’s been over three years since the federal Public Health Emergency for COVID-19 was initially declared.

On Thursday, the Biden Admiration allowed it to expire — meaning the virus will be treated like other infectious diseases.

Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer Anne Zink broke down the current COVID-19 trends and what it means for residents now that the federal emergency no longer applies.

“The public health emergency is really an administrative change to allow hospitals and health care systems to get back to their normal work,” Zink said. “But the risk of COVID-19 to the individual still is there. It’s very different than it was in the beginning because most of us have some degree of protection.”

The change doesn’t necessarily mean that Alaskans should lower their guard or change their habits, but Zink said many may choose to do so.

“While COVID is still with us, it’s not the emergency it once was,” she said.

Zink says that while changes are occurring, broad access to vaccines and testing remains — even though some insurers may have changed what they will and won’t pay for, especially at-home tests.

Zink also emphasized the importance of staying up to date on vaccines, especially for older or immunocompromised Alaskans, adding that vulnerable groups should get tested if they suspect they are ill with the virus and get treated early.

The COVID-19 public health emergency officially ended Thursday after more than three years, so what does that mean for Alaskans?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the national reporting of COVID-19 data will be different, and structured to emphasize what is happening in real-time.

There are still some concerns, however, as the public health emergency ends.

“There’s a lot to be said about Medicaid redetermination, I really want to make sure Alaskans know how to get re-determined for their Medicaid ... so I want to make sure Alaskans have access to coverage,” Zink said.

Recipients of Medicaid were not required to reapply during the public health emergency, but will now have to do so in order to maintain their status. The at-home testing market saw a change as demand for them decreased.

Over the past three years, the medical community has put tremendous effort into treating and preventing COVID-19, but Zink says in that process, some basic health needs have been left behind.

“That’s your physical health, that’s your mental health — physical exercise, good diet, staying connected to friends and family are critical,” Zink said. “Making sure you’re staying up to date on your regular health screenings. We’re seeing increasing rates of breast cancer and colon cancer in Alaska, so making sure you’re getting those regular screenings. Regular childhood immunizations are key.”

Looking back on the last three years and the countless lives the virus has affected, Zink says she’s glad to have been in Alaska during this period of time.

“I’m just so fortunate to have been in Alaska, to partner with Alaskans, to be able to be strong and resilient and I hope that’s what we take with us,” she said. “The strength and resilience Alaskans have shown over the last couple of years.”