On May 11, President Biden ended the COVID-19 public health emergency in the United States.
Though many were thrilled to see what they viewed as an official end to the pandemic, others reacted to the news with trepidation. Many of those who were fearful about the lifting of pandemic restrictions were people with disabilities, who are more likely to be immunocompromised and at risk for serious illness.
Meanwhile, disability activists were quick to point out that while COVID-19 cases are down, the pandemic is far from over.
In a statement released May 11, the American Association for People with Disabilities sought to remind members of the public that “more than 1,000 Americans continue to die per week, and a disproportionate number of those deaths are disabled, immunocompromised, and other high-risk people. The end of the Public Health Emergency continues to signal that the nation and our broader society have moved on and ignores millions who have been disabled by long COVID, millions more who could be impacted, and further pushes marginalized communities into greater crisis.”
So, what can people with disabilities do to protect themselves now that the public health emergency has ended?
1. Continue to wear a mask when out in public
Wearing a mask may garner stares or even comments from ignorant individuals, but protecting yourself is nobody else’s business. When it comes to choosing a mask, N-95s and KN-95s worn properly are the most effective in protecting against the virus. You should also feel comfortable about asking others, such as medical professionals, to wear a mask when in your presence.
2. Get your boosters
According to the CDC, COVID-19 vaccines will be free until further notice. However, you may not hear as much in the media about getting boosters, so keep track of your own vaccine schedule to make sure you are up to date on vaccines that fight the newest COVID variants.
3. Test when you are ill
Protect others by testing for COVID when you’re under the weather or if you have been exposed to someone else with the virus. You should also feel free to ask others to test before they visit your home or participate in small, indoor get-togethers. If they care for you, it’s a small sacrifice to make. Note that insurance companies will no longer be required to cover COVID-19 test kits. Therefore, you may need to pay a co-pay. If you are uninsured, you can obtain free test kits by visiting testinglocater.cdc.gov.
4. Beware of how changes may affect Medicaid coverage and what to do about it.
Shortly after the pandemic began, Medicaid eligibility and enrollment were temporarily modified to ensure that people had continuous coverage to sustain them in case of illness. Now that the public health emergency has ended, people may need to reapply for Medicaid. Check out this information from the Administration for Community Living for more details.
5. Continue to make use of telehealth services
Many of us have enjoyed the availability of telehealth during the pandemic. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, most telehealth services will remain in place for Medicare and Medicaid recipients.
6. Reach out to your doctor
If you do contract COVID-19, consult with your physician. Just because the public health emergency has been lifted, there’s no reason to downplay the significance of the virus. If you are elderly, immunocompromised or more susceptible to COVID complications, you may qualify for an anti-viral medication such as Paxlovid. Don’t hesitate to use it to minimize the virus’ effects.
7. Take precautions when traveling
Now that international travelers do not have to show proof of vaccination, travel may be less safe for people at high risk for complications of COVID. If you’re planning to travel anytime soon, consider asking your doctor if they recommend packing Paxlovid just in case you become ill while away. And wear a mask in the airport and before and after take-off.