It has been four months since the U.S. federal government lifted its COVID-19 Public Health Emergency (PHE) declaration. Accordingly, communities have shifted from pandemic to endemic mode to deal with the lingering virus.
The main differences post-PHE are that at-home tests may not be covered by insurance and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has modified its COVID-19 data reporting. Positive case and vaccine numbers are now voluntarily disclosed by labs and regional areas, respectively.
Because of these changes, current information on COVID-19 statistics is not as easily accessible as it used to be. Angela Santis, pharmacy team lead at Slippery Rock’s Giant Eagle, spoke on changes in reporting.
“All they’re really reporting now is focusing on hospitalizations, deaths and then vaccinations,” Santis said of the Pennsylvania Department of Health. “They’re not reporting cases, which I think would be most important.”
Weekly case reporting ended on June 28.
Federal government funds for COVID-19 relief also vanished post-PHE.
The financial responsibility for COVID-19 related expenses now falls on insurance companies and the general public. With this being the first fall season and semester post-PHE, consumers within the Slippery Rock community, including SRU, notice changes.
Funding pools have drained since the May announcement, and the Student Health Center at SRU must charge for COVID-19 tests.
“Unfortunately, there’s no more COVID money, so all those funding streams have dried up, so we do have to charge for the COVID tests,” Kristina Benkeser, director of student health services, said.
COVID-19 tests are available locally at the Student Health Center, Giant Eagle and Rite Aid. The latter two entities also administer the updated COVID-19 vaccines.
SRU is partnering with Giant Eagle Pharmacy in October to host two vaccine clinics where university faculty, staff and students can get vaccinated against COVID-19 and influenza. The first clinic is on Oct. 4 at the Russel Wright Alumni House, and the second is on Oct. 17 at the Aebersold Recreation Center (ARC).
COVID-19 vaccines are covered by commercial insurance companies. A program offering free vaccines to uninsured or underinsured individuals will launch soon. Applicants fill out an online form or call 1-800-635-8611.
Student health services at SRU have been keeping track of the university’s COVID-19 cases all throughout the pandemic. Benkeser does not see an end to the record keeping. She anticipates that SRU will continue to track COVID-19 as it does the flu.
SRU’s current semester has seen 78 reported cases as of last Thursday. Last week had 16 new cases reported. To compare, the fall 2022 semester had 161 cases at the five-week mark.
Though, COVID-19 numbers are down, “it’s still here,” Benkeser said. “It’s still a thing…We’re keeping an eye on it.”
Tracking the virus proves difficult, though, with at-home tests meaning positive cases are self-reported. SRU and community-reported case totals are likely much lower than reality because individuals must take the extra step of disclosing their results.
Benkeser hopes community members choose to vaccinate and, if connected with SRU, upload their vaccination status to their health portal for accurate records.
Santis shared similar thoughts.
“[COVID-19] is unfortunately increasing in numbers. We were hopeful that we weren’t going to have the three respiratory viruses rearing their ugly heads at the same time, but it looks like flu, RSV and COVID are going to be increasing at the same time of the year.”
All three viruses now have vaccinations against them. The CDC recommends getting a flu shot by Halloween this year. The RSV vaccine is available for adults over 60.