WASHINGTON, Nov 12 – The United States will keep in place the public health emergency status of the Covid-19 pandemic, allowing millions of Americans to still receive free tests, vaccines and treatments until at least April of next year, two Biden administration officials said yesterday.

The possibility of a winter surge in Covid cases and the need for more time to transition out of the public health emergency to a private market were two factors that contributed to the decision not to end the emergency status in January, one of the officials said.

The public health emergency was initially declared in January 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic began, and has been renewed each quarter since. But the government in August began signalling it planned to let it expire in January.

The US Department of Health and Human Services has promised to give states 60 days’ notice before letting the emergency expire, which would have been yesterday if it did not plan on renewing it again in January. The agency did not provide such notice, the second official said.

Health experts believe a surge in Covid-19 infections in the United States is likely this winter, one official said.

“We may be in the middle of one in January,” he said. “That is not the moment you want to pull down the public health emergency.”

Daily cases are down to an average of over 41,284 as of November 9 but an average of 335 people a day die from it, according to the latest US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data.

Daily US cases are projected to rise slowly to nearly 70,000 by February, driven by students returning to schools and cold weather-related indoor gatherings, the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) said in an October 21 analysis. Deaths are forecast at about the same level.

The officials said a lot of work remained to be done for the transition out of the public health emergency. That work was ongoing.

The government has been paying for Covid vaccines, some tests, and certain treatments, as well as other care under the public health emergency declaration. When the emergency expires, the government will begin to transfer COovid healthcare to private insurance and government health plans.

Health officials held a large meeting with insurers and drugmakers about moving sales and distribution of Covid vaccines and treatments to the private sector in August, but only one other large meeting, which took place in October, has been publicly announced since. – Reuters