As COVID public health emergency ends, health officials say resources still available
As the national COVID-19 public health emergency came to an end on Thursday, Southern Nevada health officials reminded the public during a press conference that it does not mean the spread of COVID is over and that vaccines and antiviral treatments remain available in the state.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced earlier this month that based on COVID-19 trends, the public health emergency in place for the last three years would expire May 11.
“This does not mean the end of our commitment to provide services to protect this community from a COVID-19 infection,” said Dr. Fermin Leguen, district health officer at the Southern Nevada Health District (SNHD), during the press conference. “The virus is still circulating in our community. We still have cases that are being reported … We have a number of patients admitted to our hospitals.”
Leguen added that even though the mortality rate is less severe than a couple of years ago, people are still dying after contracting COVID.
SNHD officials also announced that the COVID-19 testing clinic hosted at the agency’s offices will stop operating after July 31. But free testing will still be available at the College of Southern Nevada Charleston and Cheyenne campuses until March 2024, and six free self-test vending machines around Clark County will operate until May 2024. According to SNHD, the vending machines have dispensed more than 20,000 at home tests since being installed last summer.
Because of the increased use of at-home COVID-19 tests, which are generally less accurate, health officials said reported case numbers and data likely underrepresent the number of cases and “may no longer provide a comprehensive understanding of COVID levels in the community.”
Dr. Cassius Lockett, SNHD’s director of disease surveillance and control, said the health district is moving toward relying more on hospitalizations and deaths to assess the severity of illness in the community, similar to measuring flu cases. Lockett added that wastewater will continue to be used to track new and emerging variants, although the frequency at which the district publishes data might vary.
Free COVID-19 vaccines are still available at SNHD clinics throughout the year, health officials said, but once the federal supply is exhausted, most people will likely continue to have access to free vaccines through public and private insurance.
As of now, SNHD’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Cortland Lohff said that people who have yet to receive a COVID-19 vaccine can get a dose of the bivalent vaccine, and people over 65 years old can get a booster dose.