man covering his mouth while coughing

The official start of summer is more than a month away, but 16 national organizations, including the American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living, were thinking of fall and the flu Tuesday when they asked Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra to extend the public health emergency related to COVID-19.

“We need to be ready should a future variant elude the protection of our current vaccines and ensure that the healthcare system is prepared as we head into this fall’s flu season,” the groups said in a letter to Becerra, noting that the PHE allows for expedited emergency use authorizations for vaccines, tests and treatments.

Cases of COVID-19 are increasing across the country, the organizations said. Extending the public health emergency, they wrote, “will help prevent any future surges from threatening the health and safety of patients and the ability of health care professionals to care for them.”

The PHE, which is set to expire in mid-July, also has allowed for regulatory waivers and flexibilities. Once it expires, the groups said, many states will conduct redeterminations of eligibility for coverage.

AHCA/NCAL previously has requested that Becerra extend the PHE through the end of 2022. It is extended in 90-day increments.

The PHE has been extended nine times since it began Jan. 31, 2020. Previous HHS Secretary Alex Azar initiated it and then renewed it three times in 2020 — on April 21, July 23 and Oct. 2 — as well as on Jan. 7, 2021. Becerra renewed it three times in 2021 — on April 15, July 19, Oct. 15 — and then on Jan. 14 and April 16.

“Long-term care residents and staff have been uniquely impacted by this pandemic. Even after two years, we continue to battle COVID every day and grapple with historic workforce and economic challenges the pandemic has exacerbated,” AHCA/NCAL Senior Vice President of Government Relations Clif Porter said in a statement. “Our residents are the most vulnerable when it comes to this virus, and therefore, they deserve the greatest support and highest prioritization. We urge the federal government to prioritize long-term care residents and staff by extending the PHE so that providers can continue to offer the most efficient and effective care possible.”

The other groups signing the letter included AARP, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the American Clinical Laboratory Association, the American Diabetes Association, the American Heart Association, the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association, the American Pharmacists Association, the American Public Health Association, First Focus on the Children, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners and the National Rural Health Association.