COVID no longer declared emergency – but what does that mean?

Submitted by San Juan County.

On May 11, 2023, the public health emergency declaration will end. What does that mean for folks in San Juan County? Let’s take a look.

Is COVID-19 gone? No. The virus is still present in Washington state and remains a threat to folks, especially unvaccinated and immunocompromised people. COVID-19 is still a leading cause of death in the United States, with about 250 daily deaths on average. It’s never too late to vaccinate! If you have not yet been vaccinated or have not yet scheduled your booster, head to San Juan County’s website or go to to schedule an appointment today. To view case rates in Washington State, you may go to the Washington State Department of Health’s data dashboard.

How does the end of the public health emergency (PHE) affect me? When the PHE ends, COVID-19 vaccines will continue to be free for all. COVID-19 vaccines have been purchased by the U.S. government and will continue to be provided at no cost until commercialization occurs. There is not a finalized date for COVID-19 vaccine commercialization, but the Washington State Department of Health has said they expect this to occur in Fall 2023. We are awaiting more information from the Department of Health and will share more information as we learn more about the evolving situation.

Tell me more about vaccines. The availability, access, and cost of COVID-19 vaccines, including boosters, will not be impacted by the end of the public health emergency, as vaccine access, cost, and distribution are determined by the supply of federally purchased vaccines, not the public health emergency. As long as the federal government’s supply of vaccines lasts, COVID-19 vaccines will remain free to all people, regardless of insurance coverage.

Once the federal supply of vaccines is depleted, vaccines will continue to be available and free for most people with private and public insurance. San Juan County Health & Community Services (HCS) is a part of the Vaccines for Children (VFC) and Adult Vaccine programs, which offers free vaccines to all children and un- and underinsured adults. If you have questions about either of these programs, please contact our office and ask to speak with a public health nurse.

How do I know if I have to pay for tests or treatments for COVID-19? Coverage for COVID-19 testing and treatment will vary by insurance type. For people with Medicaid coverage, COVID-19 testing and treatment will remain covered at no cost through September 2024.

People with traditional Medicare coverage will no longer receive free at-home tests, but free PCR and rapid antigen tests administered by a provider will still be available. However, there may be a copay for the associated doctor’s visit. Please note, HCS does not provide PCR tests. Contact your health care provider to schedule a PCR test.

People with private insurance and private Medicare plans (such as Medicare Advantage) will no longer be guaranteed free at-home tests. However, some insurers may continue to choose to cover them at their discretion. Contact your insurance provider to find out if tests are covered.

For those without insurance, COVID-19 testing will no longer be covered by federal or Washington state programs, so the cost will be determined by individual providers. As far as treatments go, uninsured people will pay out of pocket for COVID-19 treatments, except for federally-funded treatments like Paxlovid, which are free for everyone.

If you need an at-home COVID test or do not know where to begin looking for COVID-19 treatment, please reach out to HCS at 360-378-4474 and ask to speak with a public health nurse so we can help you navigate all your options.