Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s COVID-19 disaster declaration to end May 11, more than three years after it was first issued – Chicago Tribune newstrendslive

Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s COVID-19 disaster declaration for Illinois will end May 11, falling in line with a decision by the White House to end a pair of federal emergency declarations more than three years after the start of the pandemic.

Illinois is among eight states — and the only one in the Midwest — with disaster declarations still in place. The Pritzker administration has said maintaining the declaration is necessary to continue accessing federal resources, such as expanded benefits for food stamp recipients.

Opponents have criticized the governor for continuing to renew the declaration every 30 days, even as Pritzker for the past year has been unwinding nearly all of the mandates and restrictions that once accompanied it, most notably the highly contentious statewide mask mandate that he rescinded at the end of last February.

Pritzker declared a statewide emergency on March 9, 2020, two days before the World Health Organization labeled the novel coronavirus a pandemic. At the time, there had been 11 confirmed cases and no deaths attributed to the virus in Illinois.

In announcing his decision to move on, Pritzker in a statement on Tuesday argued that the proclamation and executive orders that drew so much vitriol from critics “enabled us to use every resource at our disposal from building up testing capacity and expanding our health care workforce to supporting our vaccine rollout and mutual aid efforts.”

He also noted that the virus remains a serious health issue.

“Let me be clear: COVID-19 has not disappeared,” Pritzker said. “It is still a real and present danger to people with compromised immune systems — and I urge all Illinoisans to get vaccinated or get their booster shots if they have not done so already.”

On Monday, President Joe Biden told Congress he would end the twin national emergencies addressing the coronavirus pandemic on May 11, a decision that will dramatically restructure the federal coronavirus response to treat the virus as an endemic threat to public health that can be managed through agencies’ normal authorities.

The move will cause the cost of vaccines and treatments to sharply rise as the government stops buying them, possibly adding out-of-pocket costs for people with insurance. It will also end free at-home COVID-19 tests and extra payments hospitals receive for treating patients.

Only 15.5% of Americans have received the recommended updated booster vaccine, though a higher 20.4% of Chicagoans have gotten the shot, according to data from the Chicago Department of Public Health and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Republicans in Congress have called for an immediate end to the emergency declarations. Biden’s administration said doing that would cause “chaos and uncertainty throughout the health care system” while also dramatically increasing immigration by ending pandemic-related border restrictions.

The end of the federal and state emergency proclamations come as public health officials move away from daily reporting on the virus’s trends.

Chicago’s public health department, which has long shared data marking new COVID-19 cases, deaths, hospitalizations and vaccinations on a daily basis, will now put that information out weekly, the department announced last week.

“While COVID-19 is still very much with us, we are in a much different place than we were earlier in the pandemic,” the department said in a news release.

Cook County and Chicago’s coronavirus community risk dropped Friday to the “low” level for the first time since mid-November. The city’s public health department will continue to publicly share data on hospital capacity daily, and has added new data on bivalent booster vaccine uptake, virus levels detected in wastewater and genomic sequencing, department director Dr. Allison Arwady said Tuesday.

The department will continue to internally monitor the COVID-19 data every day and could switch back to daily public reporting in the future, she added.

“To be in line with the state, the nation and frankly where we are right now in COVID, that makes sense,” Arwady said. “This isn’t about pulling back on data, it’s about evolving to focus on the things that are most relevant now.”

The Illinois Department of Public Health shifted to weekly reports on new COVID-19 cases and deaths at the beginning of the year while continuing to report ICU bed availability and hospital admission data daily. The change followed the lead of the CDC, the department said.

Statewide, 20 of Illinois’ 102 counties, none in the Chicago area, were at CDC’s “medium” community level for COVID-19, with indoor masking recommended for people whose age or medical condition puts them at high risk for serious infection. No counties were at the “high” level, where universal masking is recommended.

As of Dec. 30, five counties were at the high level and another 49 were at medium.

Arwady said Tuesday she thinks Biden’s decision to end the emergency declarations in May makes sense based on the virus’s current spread. She also called on the federal government to add long-term COVID-19 policies, including a vaccination program for adults.

The virus has killed 1.1 million Americans, including at least 32 deaths so far this January in Chicago and 3,700 deaths nationwide last week.

As changes to government responses mount, COVID-19 has entered a “strange middle area” between the pre-pandemic world and the virus’s peak spread, said Dr. Emily Landon, University of Chicago’s executive medical director of infection prevention and control.

Landon said it’s appropriate for the city to scale back data reporting.

“I think it’s important that we start looking at the trends of COVID on a more realistic cadence,” said Landon, who stood with Pritzker at a news conference last February when he announced the end of the state’s mask mandate. “We should make our policies based on trends, not so much just what it is today compared to yesterday.”

Even as public attention wanes, public health departments need to continue to track the disease to detect dangerous new variants and better understand the way the virus spreads, Landon added.

She said she is concerned the end of the federal emergency declarations will squash access to still needed vaccines and treatment, even as she sees the virus shifting from a short term to a long term problem.

While “it’s sort of ridiculous to call it an emergency … it is the name of the program that is paying for these things,” Landon said.

“We can’t get rid of the short-term solutions until we have a long-term solution,” she said.

If federal policies to deal with COVID-19 in the long term aren’t set up, lifesaving treatments could cost people thousands of dollars and problems such as overcrowded hospitals and student absenteeism will persist, the epidemiologist said. The disease remains “omnipresent,” she said.

“We cannot just ignore COVID and pretend like it doesn’t exist. It will get the better of us in ways that we don’t understand yet,” Landon said.

The Associated Press contributed.

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