HHS Secretary Alex Azar

The federal public health emergency due to COVID-19 has been extended until April, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced Thursday evening.

“Our work to combat the virus will continue, as will our work to ensure a peaceful and orderly transition,” he said in a tweet.

The extension is effective Jan. 21.

Late last month, American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living President and Chief Executive Officer Mark Parkinson said in a letter to Azar that the federal public health emergency should be extended until five criteria are met:

  1. The supply chain is able to continuously meet the increased demand for PPE needed to keep healthcare workers safe in treating people who have and do not have COVID-19 and able to meet the demand for laboratory testing supplies and COVID medications. 
  2. The number of laboratory tests administered per day in the United States exceeds 500,000 per day and the number of COVID-19-positive test results is equal to or fewer than 5,000 per day for at least 14 days. 
  3. The number of patients in intensive care unit beds in the United States is fewer than 5,000 per day for 14 days and no more than 10% of those patients are in any one city or region. 
  4. The number of deaths per day from COVID-19 in the United States is fewer than 500 for 14 days. 
  5. Vaccine administration has achieved or exceeded the 70% needed to establish herd immunity

The federal public health emergency first was declared in January 2020 and was renewed in April, July and October 2020.

Without it, Parkinson told Azar, the challenges faced by long-term care providers due to the pandemic — among them managing rapid bed capacity increases, quickly overhauling and implementing telehealth systems, and acquiring personal protective equipment — “would have been exponentially more difficult to overcome.”

The one in effect was set to expire Jan. 23.

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