By Katharine C. Weber, Jenifer M. Bologna, Patricia Anderson Pryor, Tania J. Mistretta, Joseph J. Lynett, Richard I. Greenberg & Tasos C. Paindiris with Jackson Lewis P.C.
The U.S. COVID-19 Public Health Emergency will end on May 11, 2023, one week after the World Health Organization determined that COVID-19 is no longer a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. On that same day, the Biden-Harris Administration has announced it will end COVID-19 vaccination requirements for federal employees, federal contractors, and international air travelers. The Administration also announced that the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Homeland Security will start the process to end their vaccination requirements for Head Start educators, healthcare facilities certified by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), and certain noncitizens at the land border.
COVID-19 still exists but like all emergencies, the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency was never intended to last forever. Thankfully. We will undoubtedly continue to see occasional upticks of COVID-19 infections. But for now, the CDC’s COVID-19 Community Levels map shows low levels across almost the entire U.S. except for scattered small, pockets of medium and high levels. And with more people having some level of immunity either due to past exposure, vaccination, or a hybrid mix of both, and with the increased availability of therapeutics, COVID-19 presents a lower risk of severe illness across the United States. As explained recently by the CDC:
The United States has mobilized and sustained a historic response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a nation, we now find ourselves at a different point in the pandemic – with more tools and resources than ever before to better protect ourselves and our communities.
The end of the U.S. Public Health Emergency does not mean the end of all COVID-19 regulation. Some state and local requirements remain in place. But it is a good time for employers who might still have COVID-19 protocols in place to assess whether those protocols still make sense for their workplace in light of our current COVID-19 circumstances. Policies like testing and vaccination, and some accommodations, should be reviewed for legal compliance given the changes. The end of the Public Health Emergency provides employers a good opportunity to communicate with employees regarding what to expect in the workplace on a going forward basis and hopefully start to put the COVID chapter behind us.
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