Feb 1, 2023

Biden will end Covid emergency.

Biden will end Covid emergency.
Photo by Yohann LIBOT / Unsplash

What will the end of the emergency declaration mean?

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 12 minutes.

The White House says it will end the Covid-19 pandemic emergency declaration. We're covering what it means, and arguments for and against it. Plus, a question about interacting with police and a new addition to the newsletter.

Introducing, "The extras."

For the first time in more than a year, I'm adding a new section to the Tangle newsletter today: "The extras." This section could take a variety of forms: random stuff that got cut from the newsletter, a reminder of what we were writing about on this day a year or two ago, a note about the most clicked link from the prior day's newsletter, a daily poll, or whatever else I think would be fun to include. I'm very curious for reader feedback about this section, so feel free to write in and let me know (or just take the poll).

Quick hits.

  1. Nikki Haley, former ambassador to the UN, will announce her plans to run for president at an event on February 15 in South Carolina. (The news)
  2. The seven states that depend on the Colorado River for water missed a deadline for agreeing to a water-use reduction plan, raising the possibility of federal intervention. (The deadline)
  3. Rep. George Santos (R-NY) voluntarily stepped down from his House committee assignments. (The decision)
  4. The FBI reportedly searched the former office of President Biden at the Penn Biden Center in November, a previously undisclosed search (The disclosure). On Wednesday morning, the FBI searched Biden's residence in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. (The latest)
  5. Hundreds of thousands of British workers are expected to start a walkout today in a call for public sector pay raises and a nationwide protest against anti-strike legislation. (The strikes)

Today's topic.

The end of the Covid emergency. On Monday, the White House said it is planning to end its emergency declarations tied to the Covid-19 pandemic on May 11. Ending the emergency declaration will have some major, immediate impacts on government programs established during the pandemic.

Chief among those changes will be rules related to health care. Many Americans will no longer be able to get free Covid-19 tests, vaccines or treatments. Under the Covid-19 emergency declaration, the federal government also boosted funding for Medicaid and made it easier for people to sign up, which resulted in all-time low uninsured rates. The spending package passed by Congress was winding down those guidelines already, but the combination of that legislation and the end of the emergency declaration means that 5.3 million to 14.2 million people could lose their coverage within a year, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Title 42, the public health emergency that allows for the quick deportation of migrants at the southern border, would also end. The Supreme Court was already expected to hear arguments about Title 42 this month, but this update renders the challenge far less consequential.

Additionally, the Biden administration would no longer have legal rationale for pausing student loan repayment programs, meaning those with college debt would have to start paying down that debt again. The White House previously said the moratorium would expire on June 30. Biden's executive order to freeze student loans has been tangled up in legal challenges, the most important being a forthcoming Supreme Court case.

Of course, more than three years into the pandemic, the end of the emergency declarations will also carry weighty symbolism for an administration who wants to be able to say it helped end coronavirus. Former President Donald Trump declared the Covid-19 pandemic a public health emergency in January of 2020, and it has been renewed as such every 90 days since.

At the same time, an average of more than 500 people are still dying from or with Covid-19 every day in the United States, and an estimated 32,000 people in hospitals are testing positive for Covid-19 right now. The estimated daily average of confirmed cases is about 45,000, which is similar to July of 2020, but far below the roughly 815,000 cases we saw at the pandemic’s peak in January of 2022. In late December, Morning Consult found a slim majority of Americans in favor of keeping the public health emergency.

The White House has said it is giving more than three months notice to ensure an orderly transition.

“An abrupt end to the emergency declarations would create wide-ranging chaos and uncertainty throughout the health care system — for states, for hospitals and doctors’ offices, and, most importantly, for tens of millions of Americans,” the White House said in a statement.

Biden made the announcement just hours before a scheduled vote on a Republican-proposed bill in the House called the Pandemic Is Over Act, which would have immediately ended the emergency declaration.

“Rather than waiting until May 11, the Biden administration should join us now in immediately ending this declaration,” Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) said. “The days of the Biden administration being able to hide behind Covid to waste billions of taxpayer dollars on their unrelated, radical agenda are over.”

Today, we're going to take a look at some commentary from the left and right, then my take.

What the left is saying.

  • The left is divided on the issue, with some supporting an end to the emergency declaration and others worried about what it will mean.
  • Some argue the emergency is over, and therefore the expanded federal powers should be, too.
  • Others say it's clear Covid is still a huge issue, and removing pandemic-era measures will hurt a lot of ordinary and vulnerable Americans.

In December, Michael Bloomberg said it was time to end Covid emergency powers.

"The emergency declarations were necessary to give the federal government wide powers to fight Covid-19, and they proved indispensable in vaccinating two-thirds of the US population for free, maintaining health coverage for millions of Americans, and increasing food assistance for low-income families," Bloomberg wrote. "But nearly three years later, the expansive powers claimed by the executive branch are still in effect, inviting policy discretion that tests the limits of what’s legal — and holds the possibility for abuse. Meanwhile, businesses are open. Social distancing is gone. Mass gatherings are back. Mask wearing is optional and, increasingly, infrequent.

"This is not to say that we’re in the clear," he wrote. "Covid is still killing some 300 Americans every day, and the need to exercise caution has not gone away, especially for those with underlying health conditions. But vaccines and treatment are widely available, most people have some level of immunity, and hospital capacity, while strained in some places, often because of flu and RSV spikes, is holding up. In short: The pandemic is not over, but the public health emergency that turned our lives upside down is. And that means expanded executive authority should be rolled back."

In The Nation, Gregg Gonsalves said you have to pay attention to what the most powerful people are doing to understand where Covid really is.

"Under President Trump, sophisticated upgrades to the White House’s antiquated ventilation systems were put in place, including in-duct photohydroionization units in some settings. Over the past two years, these new HVAC upgrades have been ongoing at the presidential guest house (Blair House) and other residences nearby," he wrote. "Anyone who wants to get anywhere close to President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris or the inner circle has to take a rapid test just before the event… Just this week, the House GOP boycotted a reception for new lawmakers at the White House because it required testing 24 hours in advance and proof of vaccination or masking up and social distancing at the event. Meanwhile, it is just getting harder and harder for the rest of us to protect ourselves.

"If you’re a poor school district, Covid funding for ventilation isn’t nearly adequate to get the job done, even in a rich state like mine. [White House Covid response coordinator Ashish] Jha almost gleefully told us last August that vaccines, tests, and treatments for Covid are heading to the private sector," he wrote. "If the White House declares the public health emergency over later this year, that will strip protections from millions of Americans, depriving them of emergency health care coverage and lifting key restraints on private insurers’ ability to charge for vaccines, tests, and treatments for those lucky enough to have insurance. Jha, fond of saying 'We have the tools' to manage this virus, wants you to believe that ‘we’ will be fine, but it’s not ordinary Americans he is talking about."

In The Washington Post, Leana S. Wen said Biden is right to end the Covid emergency.

"Few would dispute that covid today is a very different disease than it was in early 2020. At that time, the virus had a much higher fatality rate, and young, previously healthy people were succumbing to a deadly pneumonia," Wen said. "There were no vaccines and very limited treatments. Declaring a state of emergency then was necessary for three reasons: First, it highlighted the critical urgency of the situation and helped Americans understand the substantial threat that covid posed. Second, it mobilized resources to develop and then deploy vaccines and therapeutics that have dramatically reduced the severity of the coronavirus. Third, it gave flexibility to health departments, hospitals and other entities to overcome bureaucratic hurdles and provide necessary care.

"These reasons either no longer apply or have changed so substantially that they no longer justify a state of emergency," she wrote. "Americans have largely moved on from thinking about the coronavirus as a daily threat — and rightfully so, given that [a] vast majority have some immunity because of vaccination, prior infection or both. Continuing to call covid a national emergency is out of step with public opinion, which has a major cost: When there is a true public health emergency in the future, many people might not believe health officials and could defy their guidance."

What the right is saying.

  • The right is supportive of ending the emergency, and argue that it is long overdue.
  • Some say Congress should end it now rather than wait another three months.
  • Others argue Biden is still trying to keep bureaucrats and the left happy despite the need to end emergency powers now.

In December, National Review's editors said it was "well past time" to end the Covid emergency.

"We no longer live in a pandemic," they wrote. "Americans know this. The signs are all around them. Businesses are open, crowds gather again, social distancing has vanished, and masks are becoming a rarer sight. Vaccines and treatments have dramatically lowered the rates of death and serious illness... This reality is so obvious that even the president has noticed it. 'The pandemic is over,' Joe Biden told 60 Minutes in September. 'If you notice, no one’s wearing masks. Everybody seems to be in pretty good shape.' That was nearly three months ago.

"The problem for Biden is that he needs the pandemic to be an ongoing national emergency in order for him to exercise 'emergency' authorities that otherwise would be universally recognized as extralegal powers," they said. "Even after the Supreme Court struck down his efforts to act as the national arbiter of vaccination and apartment leases, he claimed the power to spend hundreds of billions of dollars without congressional appropriations on forgiving student loans. Even as that remains in litigation, he continues to extend payment holidays. Few claims of presidential authority would have more alarmed the Framers of the Constitution, familiar as they were with the English reaction to Charles II trying to rule without revenue raised by Parliament, than an executive asserting the authority to spend vast sums without legislative consent."

In The New York Post, John Podhoretz wrote about why Biden won't end the Covid emergency for months.

"To recap: The president declared the crisis moment had passed Sept. 18, 2022, when he appeared on '60 Minutes' and said 'the pandemic is over.' On Jan. 30, 2023, the White House announced the official 'COVID emergency' would come to an end in May 2023. That’s eight months after Biden’s '60 Minutes' claim. Why May?" he asked. "Well, according to The New York Times, the Biden White House wants 'an orderly transition out of the public health emergency.' Welcome to Orwell-ville. An 'orderly transition' out of an emergency is to end all emergency measures the second the emergency is over. A state of emergency is — by definition — a condition of existential disorder. People are forced to live and act and work in a manner other than what would be normal.

"So what gives here? What’s with the three months?" he asked. "Said the White House: 'An abrupt end to the emergency declarations would create wide-ranging chaos and uncertainty throughout the health care system — for states, for hospitals and doctors’ offices, and, most importantly, for tens of millions of Americans.' ... Here’s the thing: People don’t need COVID tests and treatments in the way they did before. Know why? Because there’s way less COVID, and what does persist is vastly less dangerous. This is all disingenuous hogwash anyway. What the Biden people are doing here is trying to provide a soft landing for their government-worker constituents, so many of them toiling from home, who have been the true beneficiaries of the changes in workplace rules since 2020 — not the people for whom they work, namely us."

In Fox News, Dr. Pierre Kory called on Biden's former Coronavirus Response Coordinator and new chief of staff Jeff Zients to acknowledge five mistakes.

"First, admit promises about experimental mRNA vaccines fell short... Second, acknowledge that re-purposed generic drugs should play a role in the ongoing fight against COVID... Third, scrap plans for annual COVID-19 vaccinations... Fourth, immediately remove all pandemic mandates... Health care workers who were fired for exercising medical freedom should be re-hired, and military service members who lost recruitment bonuses and salary should be made whole," he wrote. "Finally, concede that vaccine injuries are real, and call off the merchants of doubt. It’s bad enough the administration has foregone regulatory safeguards to push an experimental vaccine on hundreds of millions of Americans.

"Now its allies are mocking those suffering from debilitating side effects with a coordinated smear campaign, despite the fact that the CDC’s own V-safe database found that eight percent of patients were injured badly enough to require medical care," Kory said. "Despite this, some of these despicable attacks even come with a derisive ‘#thankspfizer.’ I care for many people battling vaccine injuries... No one should be forced to endure the suffering [so many others] have gone through, only to become targets of media derision. It is unlikely that Jeff Zients will pay attention to these offerings. But there’s also a new sheriff in town... If the executive branch is unwilling to admit past mistakes, Congress should force its hand."

My take.

Reminder: "My take" is a section where I give myself space to share my own personal opinion. If you have feedback, criticism, or compliments, don't unsubscribe. You can reply to this email and write in. If you're a subscriber, you can also leave a comment.

  • It is time.
  • My position hasn't changed since September, when Biden first said the pandemic was over.
  • I do think giving a few months of runway is sensible.

I think it's time.

In September, when Biden said the "pandemic is over," I wrote this:

What I do think we know is that Biden's comment is both an accurate representation of the American psyche and creates a whole host of potential problems for his administration... Given how many people have had Covid-19, the effectiveness of one-way masking, the treatments available, and the numerous vaccines on the market, I think it is rational for us to start thinking about ourselves as "post-pandemic." I don't think this means we have to pretend we don't care or that people aren’t still dying. Cancer isn't a pandemic. The opioid epidemic isn't a pandemic. The flu isn't a pandemic. We still fund research, take vaccines, institute public measures and spend a lot of money and time and thought fighting these things. As we should.

None of that has changed now. If anything, after living through a winter where we didn't see a major spike in cases or deaths (remember all the "twindemic" warnings?), I think we can be more confident about the new phase that we are entering. It's a crappy one, a reality where this virus is a persistent threat to immunocompromised and elderly people, and another health issue we have to take precautions against (like the flu or cancer or addiction). But it's not an "emergency" in any traditional or governmental sense of the word, and it is clearly not the kind of emergency it was when we had no treatments, vaccines, or understanding of the virus.

In my ideal world, Biden would have done what he's doing now in September when he made the statement that the pandemic was over. He would have announced a date in the future when the emergency powers would expire. So I think the approach he is taking is right. This isn't a band-aid you rip off. While halting vastly different restrictions, China just showed us what happens when you flip these things on and off like a light switch. Whether I like it or not, government entities, health care providers and ordinary Americans need time to prepare for the changes coming to their care. Allowing a three or four month runway is a sensible way to handle that.

That's not to say there won't be any pain points. The list of changes for Americans is real, the most difficult of which is going to be far fewer free tests and treatments. Work requirements for food assistance programs will also resume in about two dozen Republican states, and the end of Title 42 is going to put increased pressure on the border. But Biden needs to figure out how to navigate those challenges without the extreme expansion of executive powers. It won't be easy, but the last few years the executive branch has been bowling with bumpers. It's long past time we got back to regular operations.

Your questions, answered.

Q: Up front I agree with prosecuting [the Memphis] officers who crossed the line, period. My question is, why do we not recognize that each of these occurrences seem to start with disobeying the police and or resisting arrest? And no, I'm not racist. I have had discussions with my white son to the effect of, if you ever get stopped, don't resist or argue. Any resistance will be met with force and you won't win. We will sort it all out afterwards. Just don't run, resist, argue, or fight with the police.

— Anonymous from Denver, Colorado

Tangle: I want to be clear again that my view here is just my view. I've said before that my perspective on policing and prisons is one of my most extreme and partisan views — very Libertarian, small government, and in line with many leftist perspectives (which is an interesting cohort).

First, let me just say I think your advice to your son is smart. I don't think there is anything racist about noticing that many of these encounters include people resisting arrest. Your lesson matches what I would teach my kids. I think it matches what most Americans, especially Black Americans, teach their kids. Everyone knows that when a cop turns his lights on behind you, you pull over. Most of us know that if a police officer tells you to stop, you stop. The vast majority of us are taught these things our whole life.

But my simple answer is that complying doesn't always work.

Again, the video of Tyre Nichols, to me, is evidence of this. I also think the posture of some officers makes complying impossible, or close to it. When officers engage with force — guns drawn, twisting arms, threatening loudly to blow your head off — it isn't easy to make your body limp, drop your defenses, and resist your fight or flight instincts. This is part of my issue with some of these encounters.

Sometimes — not all the time! — but sometimes, the way police approach these situations triggers fear or a “fight or flight” response, an emotional reaction that creates some kind of "resistance" that ultimately becomes justification for the use of more force. A lot of the time this response is involuntarily, as people living with chronic stress tend to have heightened biological responses to stressful situations. The training police get on how to engage civilians increases the likelihood of these reactions, and is part of the inherent problem in policing today.

Of course, there is also the way these kinds of encounters compound the problem. When any American watches a video like the Tyre Nichols one, it reinforces the idea that police can be violent or unethical, which creates more fear of police, which makes those encountering police more likely to have their fight or flight response triggered, which continues a vicious cycle of negative reactions that just makes situations worse. That's why "bad" cops are such a pervasive problem, and part of why I think we are still struggling to reduce the number of violent interactions like this one.

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Blindspot report.

Once a week, we present the Blindspot Report from our partners at Ground News, an app that tells you the bias of news coverage and what stories people on each side are missing.

The left missed a story about a University of Georgia poll showing that 0% of 364 Black voters surveyed in Georgia said they had a poor experience voting.

The right missed a story about Elon Musk caving to pressure from India to remove a BBC documentary critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Under the radar.

The United States has accused Russia of violating a key nuclear treaty. The State Department informed Congress that Russia is no longer meeting obligations set by the only nuclear arms treaty the two powers still share. The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, also known as New START, allows on-site inspections, data exchanges and other monitoring measures. The treaty’s aim is to limit the number of deployed nuclear warheads. Both sides agreed to suspend on-site inspections during the pandemic, but Russia has continued to shut off access after the U.S. tried to resume the practice in the summer of 2022. ABC News has the story.


  • 51%. The share of adults who say the Public Health Emergency should still be in effect, according to a late December poll from Morning Consult.
  • 10%. The share of adults who said they had no opinion or didn't know, according to a late December poll from Morning Consult.
  • 39%. The share of adults who say the Public Health Emergency should not still be in effect, according to a late December poll from Morning Consult.
  • 72%. The share of Democrats who said the Public Health Emergency should still be in effect, according to a late December poll from Morning Consult.
  • 34%. The share of Republicans who said the Public Health Emergency should still be in effect, according to a late December poll from Morning Consult.
  • 31,955. The estimated number of people currently hospitalized with or from Covid-19.

The extras.

Have a nice day.

A missing radioactive capsule has been found in rural Australia after a nearly weeklong search. Australian officials said the capsule, which was about a quarter of an inch long, fell off the back of a truck and landed on the side of the road. The capsule was part of a gauge used to measure the density of iron ore in a mine, and emits radiation the equivalent of 10 X-rays per hour. People were told to stay at least 16.5 feet from the capsule if they spotted it. Officials were combing the outback for more than six days before they found it. "When you consider the scope of the research area, locating this object was a monumental challenge, the search groups have quite literally found the needle in the haystack," Emergency Services Minister Stephen Dawson said. Reuters has the story.

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Isaac Saul
I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Bucks County, PA — one of the most politically divided counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.