On April 10, 2023, more than three years after the start of the pandemic, President Biden signed a bill ending the national emergency. While there are still people getting COVID, transmission rates have dropped and fewer people are experiencing severe symptoms. The health care landscape is adjusting to a newly endemic stage of COVID.
Updated Safety Guidelines
Following state guidance, Inspira recently ended temperature screenings for patients and visitors and reduced masking requirements for certain facilities. Masks are required when interacting with patients who are experiencing respiratory symptoms, those who have tested positive for COVID or are suspected to have COVID and those who have had close contact with a COVID-positive person in the past 10 days. Inspira also strongly encourages wearing a mask around immunocompromised patients.
“Some patients and employees may be more comfortable wearing a mask, and we do allow for voluntary mask-wearing,” said Evelyn Balogun, M.D., chief medical officer of Ambulatory Services at Inspira. “In addition, if there is an outbreak or a large number of cases in a unit, we may choose to implement mandatory PPE for that area to mitigate the spread of the virus.”
“As we engage with patients, it’s important to help them maintain the healthy behaviors we’ve developed over the past few years,” said Dr. Balogun. Patients should continue washing their hands frequently, staying home when they’re sick and wearing masks in crowded environments if they’re immunocompromised.
Providers should also keep an eye out for updated guidance on COVID boosters from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Most recently, the CDC recommended an additional bivalent booster for adults ages 65 and older, as well as patients with weakened immune systems,” said Dr. Balogun. “They also added the recommendation that people ages 6 and older should get the bivalent vaccine regardless of whether they previously completed their primary monovalent series.”
In addition, providers are still identifying cases of long COVID or post-COVID syndrome. “We should understand the symptoms of this condition and focus on rehabilitating patients to their baseline level of functionality,” said Dr. Balogun.
Looking to the Future
As we approach the end of the public health emergency, Dr. Balogun suggests that we have systems in place to help patients catch up on delayed care. “As providers, we need to understand that our patient volume may increase, and we can’t forget to be mindful of our own health. The public health emergency may have an end date, but the process of moving forward from the pandemic is going to roll far beyond that date.”
The end of the public health emergency will also result in a rollback of a long list of waivers and flexibilities. “Take a look at guidance from places like the American Medical Association (AMA), so you have a reasonable catalog of what changes will happen in May. Be situationally aware of how it might affect your practice and your patients,” said Dr. Balogun.
On a brighter note, Dr. Balogun believes that we’ll be able to fast-track recognition and response to similar infectious diseases in the future. “We now have a framework to inform how we monitor, track, define cases, handle community outreach and treat diseases like COVID,” said Dr. Balogun. “That system is impactful and I imagine it will allow us to improve our response to infectious diseases going forward.”