Baltimore health department shares COVID-19 plans for when national emergency declaration ends

BALTIMORE — In about two months, the National Public Health emergency declaration for COVID-19 will end.

With it so close, the Baltimore City Health Department revealed some of its plans for the next phase of the pandemic. 

It includes a continuation of services many have gotten used to, like free testing and vaccinations.

When the Biden Administration announced back in January the declaration would end when it expires on May 11, many worried what the next steps would look like.

“Honestly, I was concerned. I was just like, what does this mean for us,” said Kayla Punnett. “For me personally, [I’m] just waiting for the results of what’s going to happen. What would that shift be like.”

The worry has been centered on how testing, vaccinations and other resources would be handled. 

The Biden Administration assured the public that federally bought supplies would continue to be free.

Then, on Monday, the Baltimore City Health Department echoed that sentiment.

In a statement, BCHD commissioner Dr. Letitia Dzirasa said the department “will continue to provide free vaccinations and tests across the city so we can protect ourselves and loved ones as long as remains necessary.”

That news is a relief for Jasmain Johnson, she’s been concerned about having to pay for vaccines.

“A lot of people don’t have the money, or the funds to pay for something like that,” Johnson said.

In a memo, the BCHD said there are still millions of FEMA and ARPA funds solely for COVID-19 efforts that will last through the end of 2024.

Some of the plans for the remaining funds include neighborhood clinics for free on-site vaccinations, testing, and free take home tests.

Also, there are plans to continue to allow Medicaid programs to cover COVID-19 treatments like Paxlovid.

This all was music to Johnson’s ears.

“Some people can’t really get up and go down to certain spots, so if you can come around to certain areas…I think that’d be like perfect,” Johnson said. “A lot of people will get vaccinated because they’re in an area they can actually get to.”

Baltimore currently as an 85.9 percent vaccination rate, according to the city’s latest data. As of March 2, there are 98 people hospitalized with the virus.