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Biden administration renews Covid-19 public health emergency

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - DECEMBER 09: A COVID-19 testing site stands on a sidewalk in Midtown Manhattan on December 09, 2022 in New York City. While COVID-19 numbers have dropped significantly in both New York City and the nation over the last year, New York has witnessed a recent surge in cases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Thursday that cases and hospitalizations have once again reached levels high enough to warrant indoor masking in many parts of the country. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

(CNN) — The Biden administration on Wednesday again renewed the Covid-19 public health emergency, a provision that gives the administration authorities to respond to the pandemic as cases are again on the rise.

US Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra renewed the declaration on its expiration date — an expected step because officials have said they will provide 60 days’ notice if they do not plan to renew the emergency, and had not done so.

The public health emergency gives the federal government wide-ranging authorities over a number of Covid-19-related areas, including data tracking and allowing pharmacists, rather than physicians, to administer the Covid-19 vaccine, among other provisions.

Wednesday’s renewal comes amid the emergence of the Omicron XBB.1.5 subvariant. The latest data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that the seven-day average of weekly new Covid-19 cases is up 16.2% compared with the previous week.

Becerra said in the declaration that he was renewing the emergency “as a result of the continued consequences of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, on this date and after consultation with public health officials as necessary.”

The public health emergency was first issued by Trump administration HHS Secretary Alex Azar in January 2020 and was subsequently renewed 11 times.

While conversations about when to end the public health emergency are ongoing and an announcement of a 60-day wind-down could come at any time — it does not need to be the end of the 90-day extension and could come before that — an end date has not yet been set.

The Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services is in close contact with states and other key stakeholders about how to protect Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries once that decision is made.

“The COVID-19 Public Health Emergency remains in effect, and as HHS committed to earlier, we will provide a 60-day notice to states before any possible termination or expiration. Additional information about public health emergency declarations, including frequently asked questions, can be found on our website,” an HHS spokesperson said in a statement to CNN.

And reports of a set April end date are “untrue,” according to an administration official, as decision-making continues at HHS.

“The decision to terminate the Covid (public health emergency) will be made by the HHS secretary based on the best available data and science. Any suggestion that a specific end date has been established is untrue,” the official said.