As Federal Emergency Declaration Expires, the Picture of the Pandemic Grows Fuzzier

by | Apr 26, 2023 | Health

Joel Wakefield isn’t just an armchair epidemiologist. His interest in tracking the spread of covid is personal.

The 58-year-old lawyer who lives in Phoenix has an immunodeficiency disease that increases his risk of severe outcomes from covid-19 and other infections. He has spent lots of time since 2020 checking state, federal, and private sector covid trackers for data to inform his daily decisions.

“I’m assessing ‘When am I going to see my grandkids? When am I going to let my own kids come into my house?’” he said.

Many Americans have moved on from the pandemic, but for the millions who are immunocompromised or otherwise more vulnerable to covid, reliable data remains important in assessing safety.

“I don’t have that luxury to completely shrug it off,” Wakefield said.

The federal government’s public health emergency that’s been in effect since January 2020 expires May 11. The emergency declaration allowed for sweeping changes in the U.S. health care system, like requiring state and local health departments, hospitals, and commercial labs to regularly share data with federal officials.

But some shared data requirements will come to an end and the federal government will lose access to key metrics as a skeptical Congress seems unlikely to grant agencies additional powers. And private projects, like those from The New York Times and Johns Hopkins University, which made covid data understandable and useful for everyday people, stopped collecting data in March.

Public health legal scholars, data experts, former and current federal officials, and patients at high risk of severe covid outcomes worry the scaling back of data access could make it harder to control covid.

There have been improvements in recent years, such a …

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