Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra speaks during a news conference at the HHS Humphrey Building, Oct. 18, 2022, in Washington. Credit: Jacquelyn Martin / AP

WASHINGTON — The U.S. government again extended the COVID-19 public health emergency, maintaining measures that have expanded access to health care for millions of Americans since the outbreak began in 2020.

The Department of Health and Human Services has repeatedly renewed the emergency designation in 90-day increments since it was originally declared by the Trump administration in January 2020. On Wednesday, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra extended the emergency through mid-April, a move some health experts anticipate could be the last renewal.

The Biden administration has said it will give states 60 days’ notice before ending the emergency to allow sufficient time to prepare for changes to certain programs and regulatory authorities. That means were it to unwind the designation, it would give notice in February.

A spokesperson for HHS reaffirmed the department’s commitment to provide 60 days’ notice to states prior to the declaration’s termination, but declined to comment on when termination might come. The White House declined to comment.

For more than a year, Republican lawmakers have called on the Biden administration to end the public health emergency, describing it as heavy-handed government intervention. Health policy experts suggest that the health department must ensure protections for vulnerable people before unwinding the emergency designation, especially during the winter, when the risk of COVID-19 transmission rises.

Some measures granted under the public health emergency would remain if the designation is unwound in April. Congress’s $1.7 trillion year-end spending plan includes a two-year extension of Medicare telehealth coverage, for example.

Story by Riley Griffin