PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — While life has already gone back to normal for most people, the end of the Federal COVID-19 Public Health Emergency on May 11 means the end of certain government benefits and surveillance data collection.
That’s exactly 1,155 days since the federal emergency was declared on March 13, 2020.
“While the declaration is ending, it doesn’t change the virus overnight. It didn’t make it less severe or less transmissible, it just our information, our science, and our ways to handle it has changed,” said Monica Hendrickson, public health administrator at Peoria City/County Health Dept.
Hendrickson said data on reported cases will no longer be collected and will not be available to view at CDC and IDPH websites.
You also won’t be able to get free COVID-19 tests or free treatments from the government, although it will likely still be covered by insurance. Basically, it’s back to business as usual with the privatization of vaccines and medications.
Hendrickson said COVID-19 will be treated like seasonal influenza.
“There will still be testing, much like you do for flu. But whether or not its reportable and followed by local health departments is going to be really dependent on the population at risk… We’re going to monitor much more on hospitalizations, again very similar to what we’ve done for influenza, a very similar respiratory illness,” she said.
Sara Sparkman, communications manager at Tazewell County Health Department, said the pandemic shined a much-needed light on public health.
“We’re kind of the silent workers. A lot of people don’t know what public health actually does and I think through COVID it became more apparent,” she said.
“A reflection is a lot of people recognize public health, which had not been recognized in a really long time and understood the value of why we have a public health system,” added Hendrickson.
Although the federal emergency is ending, Hendrickson cautioned that COVID-19 isn’t gone for good.
“It hasn’t gone away, its still there. But things such as seasonality will play a role. When you start seeing that peak respiratory illness, similar to influenza, the hospital systems, health care systems request voluntary visitor restrictions,” she said.
After more than 30 years of service in public health, Sparkman and her Peoria County counterpart Diana Scott are retiring on May 11.
“I knew I was going to be retiring, and when [the announcement] came out, I just thought that’s a perfect day for me to end my career. I made it through COVID, we all survived… I felt it was a perfect ending to my career and COVID,” said Sparkman.
Hendrickson said both women played a big role in the fight against COVID-19 and will be missed. She said rebuilding the public health workforce is an ongoing concern: one-third of public health professionals left during the pandemic, one-third are leaving now, so just one-third remain.