After more than three years, the U.S. has officially ended the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE).

President Joe Biden signed a bill Monday night ending the COVID-19 PHE that was first declared by then-Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar on January 31, 2020.

Within two months of that announcement, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic and the U.S., like many other countries, went into a period of lockdowns in an attempt to stop the spread of the virus.  

The subsequent introduction of several safe and effective vaccines, along with antivirals and monoclonal antibody therapies, saved countless lives and returned some amount of normalcy to American life. 

Though repeatedly extended by both the Trump and Biden administrations, the PHE was set to expire on May 11. However, a bill largely supported by Republicans on Capitol Hill passed the House in February and was supported in the Senate by a vote of 68-23.

Biden, who previously declared the “pandemic is over” in an interview with 60 Minutes last fall, signed the bill behind closed doors.

Following Biden signing the bill to end the PHE, HHS’ Office for Civil Rights announced that the Notifications of Enforcement Discretion issued under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) would expire at midnight on May 11.

COVID-19 is now considered endemic, but its damage has been done.

As of Tuesday morning, more than 1.1 million Americans have died of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Though deaths and hospitalizations have declined steadily over the past few months, only 16.7% of Americans have received an updated COVID-19 booster dose. 

Moving forward, the healthcare industry, like the nation at large, will have to navigate a complicated post-pandemic landscape.

To that end, PR agencies and medical marketers are advising clients on how to tweak their messaging and content for not only their target audiences but their employees as well.

“We always recommend to our clients that they develop a really robust plan that looks at all the many different dimensions of employee life that are going to be changed by something like this, and take extra care when communicating that message,” Megan McGrath, MD, managing partner at healthcare-focused consultancy MacDougalltold PRWeek US in February.

At the federal level, the government will no longer buy COVID-19 vaccines, treatments or tests and the already dry well of aid funding will not be replenished. 

As Georges Benjamin, MD, executive director of the American Public Health Association, noted to MM+M last month, this will mark the transition from a “fully government-funded, managed operation to the normalization of COVID-19 into our regular systems of delivering care.”

Still, the Biden administration is taking steps to bolster the U.S. public health infrastructure to ensure it’s more well-equipped to handle the challenges of an evolving COVID-19 virus in the future.

As part of its 2024 budget proposal, the White House is prioritizing public health preparedness to handle future crises and pandemics. This includes $20 billion in mandatory funding for the Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration. Additionally, it sets aside $1 billion for the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority.