Connecticut’s public health emergency will end Thursday after more than three years, bringing changes in the way data on COVID are collected and reported, in coverage for testing and treatments and in vaccination programs.
The conclusion of the state’s public health emergency coincides with the expiration of the federal public health emergency declaration.
“Ending the COVID-19 public health emergency declaration does not mean that the virus has been eradicated,” Gov. Ned Lamont said. “This declaration provided us with the tools needed to develop an immediate, urgent and frontline response to the initial outbreak, and put in place the structure necessary to ensure the people of our state have the protections needed to respond to it.
“We have made much progress from where we were three years ago, and the workers in Connecticut’s public health community have gone above and beyond.”
State health officials said despite the end of the declaration, residents should remain up to date on their vaccinations, use at-home tests, and stay home when feeling ill.
“I will remind everyone that COVID is still with us,” said Deidre Gifford, senior adviser to the governor on health and human services and executive director of the state Office of Health Strategy, during an event on the Yale New Haven Hospital campus Wednesday. “Now we have the tools to treat the disease, but … if by chance you haven’t been vaccinated or boosted, please take advantage of that. At-home tests are still widely available. And if you’re feeling sick, please make sure to test for COVID and stay home if you’re sick.”
A number of changes are imminent. The last four state-supported testing sites, now running in community health centers throughout Connecticut, will cease operations on June 30.
The cost of PCR tests will transition to traditional health coverage, and may be covered fully or partially by a person’s private insurance or by public plans such as Medicaid or Medicare. At-home testing kits will also no longer be paid for with federal funding. It will now be up to individual insurers whether to cover them.
Anthem, one of the largest insurers in Connecticut, said it will discontinue coverage of at-home COVID tests, but will cover PCR testing if a doctor prescribes it.
“Since the beginning of the pandemic, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield has worked to ensure access to COVID-19 testing and treatment. As the emergency designation for the pandemic ends, our coverage of over-the-counter, at-home COVID-19 test kits will also conclude on May 12,” said Stephanie DuBois, a spokeswoman for the company. “While the public health emergency is ending, we continue to cover prescribed COVID-19 testing and testing-related services as we do other diagnostic lab tests according to each member’s plan.”
ConnectiCare, which offers health plans on and off Connecticut’s Affordable Care Act exchange, does not cover at-home tests under most policies, according to its website, although it was unclear whether coverage recently stopped or if that policy had been in place already.
“Over-the-counter, at-home COVID-19 tests are not covered by most ConnectiCare plans,” the insurer noted on its website. “You will pay the full cost of your test. You may be able to use your FSA/HSA funds to pay these costs.”
PCR and rapid lab tests are covered when an in-network health provider orders it, the company said.
COVID vaccines and boosters also will transition away from federal funding to private and public health plans. “It is anticipated that most private and public insurance plans will continue covering all costs of COVID-19 vaccinations and boosters without a co-pay or cost-share for consumers,” health officials said in a statement.
The federal government plans to distribute all remaining COVID vaccines in its inventory to health care providers and pharmacies until the inventory is depleted or expires, state officials said. Those shots will still be provided to people at no cost.
Connecticut’s Department of Public Health will end its mobile vaccination clinics on June 30. Any organization that wants to host a clinic before then must submit a request by June 19 at ct.gov/coronavirus.
The health department will also conclude its COVID vaccination program for homebound residents on June 30.
Additionally, coverage of treatments such as Paxlovid and Lagevrio will move to public and private health plans.
The state will “continue to support long-term care facilities in helping to identify any COVID outbreaks,” officials said, though it was not clear how tracking would be done. “The department is committed to offering education and training for outbreak control to protect the state’s most vulnerable individuals.”
Connecticut’s nursing homes were hit hard during the pandemic. Just months after the state’s first recorded case, deaths among nursing home residents represented nearly 60% of the state’s COVID-19 fatalities.
And the way the state tracks and reports COVID cases, hospitalizations, and deaths will change.
Daily reporting on the rolling positivity rate and hospitalizations will end on June 1. After that, the state will issue information about case rates, hospitalizations and deaths only from October to late May or early June. The next reporting period is scheduled to begin on Oct. 5. At that point, COVID data will be reported on a weekly basis, rather than daily, a spokesman for the health department said.
“This new COVID-19 data report will include data that are relevant to current COVID-19 disease activity and trends and integrate COVID-19 with viral respiratory surveillance reporting, including influenza,” health officials said in a statement.
Public Health Commissioner Manisha Juthani said Wednesday that she considers the virus to be in the endemic stage.
“We are in a place where COVID is part of our society and is part of what we are living with. That does not mean there aren’t going to be times when we have resurgence, and we have to deal with that,” she said. “But we do recognize that three years into this, the virus is not going away, the virus will need to be managed, and my hope is that it’s going to be managed on a seasonal basis.”