Kaila Lafferty, Public Health — Seattle & King County
When the COVID-19 pandemic first began here in the US, the federal government put in place special emergency declarations that allowed them to rapidly respond to the spread of COVID-19 as well as addressing financial barriers to COVID-19-related care. On May 11, 2023, the Federal Public Health Emergency Declaration ends, which means there will be changes to how some people receive COVID-19-related care, like testing, treatment, and vaccines.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 is not over
The expiration of the emergency declaration does not mean that the pandemic is over as COVID-19 continues to circulate in our communities and severe disease occurs especially among those with risk factors. But it will end the flexibility the government has for some COVID-19 efforts.
“While we are now in a very different place in the COVID-19 pandemic with the availability of effective COVID-19 vaccines and other treatments, ensuring access to these interventions is critical. We’re continuing our work with Federal and State policy makers to emphasize the importance of supporting low-barrier access to these live-saving interventions, particularly for people who don’t have insurance coverage,” SAID DR. ERIC CHOW, CHIEF OF COMMUNICABLE DISEASE EPIDEMIOLOGY.
The virus that causes COVID-19 is still spreading in our communities and continues to mutate and evolve over time. Although community immunity has increased over time from both vaccinations and natural infection, everyday people in King County still get sick with COVID-19. People are still regularly being hospitalized and even dying because of COVID-19, especially among those who are older and have underlying conditions. It is still important to take measures to protect yourself and your family from COVID-19, including staying up to date with the recommended vaccinations, staying home when sick, wearing a well-fitting, high-quality mask when in crowded spaces, and testing when you have symptoms.
How to get the COVID-19 vaccine after the emergency declaration ends
The federal government purchased a large supply of COVID-19 vaccines that is predicted to last through the summer of 2023. COVID-19 vaccines will remain free to all people, even if they don’t have insurance, while the national vaccine supply lasts.
After the federal vaccine supply runs out later this year, COVID-19 vaccines will shift to the private market.
After the vaccines shift to the private market, we anticipate that the process for getting a COVID-19 vaccine will be like getting flu shots and other routine vaccinations:
- Many healthcare providers and pharmacies will continue to offer COVID-19 vaccinations
- COVID-19 vaccinations will continue to be free for children in Washington
- COVID-19 vaccinations for adults will be covered by most private insurance, Medicare (“Apple Health”), and Medicaid/CHIP
- People who are uninsured will be able to get free COVID-19 vaccinations at certain local pharmacies and community health centers
Most forms of private health insurance, including all Affordable Care Act-compliant plans, must continue to pay for COVID-19 vaccines given by a health care provider in their network, without charging the patient. People with private health insurance may need to pay part of the cost if an out-of-network provider vaccinates them.
How to get access to COVID-19 treatment
Antiviral medication, such as Paxlovid, can reduce the chances of hospitalization and death if taken soon after becoming infected with the virus that causes COVID-19. They are especially important for adults 65 years and older and people of any age who are at high-risk.
Antiviral medications purchased by the federal government will remain free regardless of insurance coverage until supplies run out. Washington State Department of Health provides telehealth appointments for COVID-19 treatment.
When federal supplies of antiviral medications run out later this year, depending on the type of insurance someone has, people will likely have to pay for part or all of the cost of COVID-19 treatment. This would be like the costs people have for other drugs through traditional coverage.
Community clinics throughout King County provide COVID-19 treatment. Many have adjusted fees according to household size and income. Most clinics accept Apple Health (Medicaid) or Medicare and people without insurance. Contact the clinic closest to you for more information.
How to access testing for COVID-19
Most free COVID-19 PCR test sites have closed with the end of federal funding.
A lot of people now are using COVID-19 home tests, which are a good alternative to visiting a test site. Here are some ways you can access free home COVID-19 home tests:
- You can order four free tests from the federal government to be mailed to your house. To order, visit: www.covid.gov/tests
- Until May 11, you can also order free tests to be mailed to you at your home from the State of Washington. However, they are only delivering to people in certain zip codes, so visit the website to see if you’re eligible. Visit https://sayyescovidhometest.org/ or call 1-800-525-0127 to order the tests.
- Public Health has been working with many local libraries, community centers, and community organizations to give out free COVID-19 home tests.
- If you have insurance, including Apple Health or Medicare, you can get free COVID-19 home tests at any pharmacy until May 11. Just go in, show them your insurance card, and ask if it will cover free home COVID-19 tests.
- If you are enrolled in a government Medicaid program, like Apple Health, you may continue receiving free home COVID-19 tests from the pharmacy until September 2024.
Community clinics throughout King County provide COVID-19 testing. Many have reduced fees adjusted according to household size and income. Most clinics accept Apple Health (Medicaid) and Medicare and people without insurance. Please call the clinic closest to you for more information.
Originally posted 5/8/2023