Two children playing doctor with a cat with the text COVID-19 Updates

COVID-19 Updates

School is out. Summer is here. People are enjoying time at the pool or finding places to stay cool. Day programs are open, vacations are being taken, and summer camps are in full effect. People are ready for COVID-19 to be over, but we must remind ourselves that COVID-19 is not over. People are still getting COVID-19. People are still being hospitalized due to COVID-19, and people are still dying from COVID-19 or complications of it. We also know many are now living with “long COVID-19”. This is something that we will be living with for some time to come.

While we move forward with creating our new normal, we need to be aware that the status of being in a public health emergency will end, eventually. And then what?

Understanding a Public Health Emergency

The Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) can declare a public health emergency (PHE) if a disease presents a public health emergency, there is a significant infectious disease outbreak, or bioterrorist attack. Special programs or policies may be created or allowed during a public health emergency.

A public health emergency goes into effect for 90 days, and it must be reassessed and extended in 90- day intervals. When a public health emergency is set to end (expire), there will be notice given 60 days before the end date. Once there is a date for the public health emergency to end, there is an additional grace period that could keep the programs running for a final six months.

The current public health emergency is set to expire on July 15, 2022. Because notice hasn’t gone out about it ending, we anticipate the public health emergency being renewed for another 90 days. We have been waiting on Congress to approve and extend the budget to learn if the public health emergency will be officially renewed. While we wait, it is important for families to know how they are impacted by supports put in place because of the public health emergency.

We want to be mindful and remember that the programs started under a public health emergency will go away unless they are permanently kept and funded. One program that has benefited many individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families is called Appendix K. Appendix K is the emergency preparedness and response guidance specific to home and community-based service waivers (such as ICWP/NOW/COMP). Each state was given a guide to follow and was allowed to insert programs, resources, and funding that would help meet the needs of their specific community. In Georgia, for Medicaid recipients, Appendix K has allowed for

  • Family hires,
  • Telehealth medical appointments,
  • Telehealth therapy appointments,
  • Increased pay rates, and
  • Retainer payments (payment to hold a spot or staff resuming in-person services).

If you or your family has benefited from any portion of Appendix K, begin to think about what you or your family needs to know and how to prepare if part or all of it goes away when the public health emergency ends. Questions to begin asking yourself include

  • How will I or my family be impacted if I no longer have needed services provided under Appendix K?
  • Are there other resources or supports available that meet the same or similar needs from Appendix K?
  • Who can help me know what are the next steps?
  • Where do I get reliable information?
  • What do I or my family need to have in place to maintain a positive quality of life?

These questions give you and your family time to think of and create a new plan. It’s better to be proactive and see what it will take to have things in place if these programs go away. In fact, the Department of Human Services encourages Georgia Medicaid recipients to act now by

  • Accessing your Gateway account and
  • Making sure your information is up-to-date (phone number, address, income, and number of people in the household).

Important Update

On June 18, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) vaccine advisors voted unanimously to recommend use of both Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines in children as young as 6 months old. There are fewer vaccination sites open today than there were six months ago. It’s best to contact your child’s pediatrician or your local health department to find a vaccination.

  • COVID-19 vaccines are now approved for 17+ million children under 5 in the U.S.
  • Georgia has started vaccinations for children under 5 at vaccine sites across the state
  • Boosters are available and recommended for eligible children ages 5+

Let’s Continue

Let’s continue to help keep others safe. We know there are people who may be unable to get vaccinated.

Let’s continue to

  • Wash our hands with soap and water
  • Use hand sanitizer
  • Wear a mask when indoors or around people outside of your
  • household
  • Physical distance or create space between you and others when you go to the store or public venues

Resources

Here are resources and websites that can help keep you informed and get trusted information:

1) U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Public Health Emergency

2) Georgia Department of Community Health

3) Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities

4) The Georgia Advocacy Office

5) Department of Human Services