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Biden plans to end the COVID-19 national emergency on May 11

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

The Biden administration plans to end the national COVID-19 emergency declarations in May. The announcement comes as the Republican-controlled House is getting ready to vote on what it has titled the Pandemic Is Over Act. GOP lawmakers have long pushed to end COVID national and public health emergencies. Joining us now is Lawrence Gostin, a public health law expert and professor at Georgetown University who's been advising the White House. Professor, the Biden administration has been under pressure to end these declarations for a while now. So given the timing, how political of a decision is this?

LAWRENCE GOSTIN: I think they were really pushed hard, I mean, in every corner. I mean, its own FDA recently just decided to go to seasonal COVID vaccines, like influenza. Congress won't give any money for next generation vaccines or drugs. And the American public has just moved on. So I think, you know, all emergencies have to come to an end. And what they want is an orderly transition and a softer landing.

MARTÍNEZ: And that's why it's not till May 11, to make sure that everyone is able to adjust to - what would be the some of the implications, higher prices on things?

GOSTIN: Oh, there'll be some really severe implications over time. You know, one of the most important is our social safety net, things like Medicare, Medicaid, the Children's Health Insurance Program, Veterans Administration benefits. Telehealth will be more difficult. We may lose our free testing and treatments. CDC will find it harder to get surveillance data. And, of course, there's that all-important Title 42 at the southern border.

MARTÍNEZ: So let's get into that - Title 42, the Trump-era public health order that was used to quickly turn away migrants at the border. The Biden administration tried to lift it. Courts blocked it. The Supreme Court's due to hear arguments on this next month. Professor, if there is no public health emergency, though, what will that mean for Title 42, which is a public health order?

GOSTIN: Well, you know, the Supreme Court, you know, could find it moot. But it's probably more likely that the court will just look and say, well, there is no emergency, and so it should be over. But Title 42 has always been really perverse because it's literally the last, you know, public health measure of COVID. And it's not really for public health. It's really for immigration. And so it's one of those anomalies. And at least in my field and in the international migration community, it's really abhorred because it treats migrants badly. It doesn't allow asylum-seekers to get their day in court. But we'll have to see what the Supreme Court does. It's always a wild card.

MARTÍNEZ: Because haven't Republicans for a while now almost dared the Biden administration to declare no more public health emergency? So that way, if he did want to lift Title 42, then there would be nothing in the way of him doing it.

GOSTIN: Yeah, that's right. I mean, Title 42 has been a political football between that and public health. And, yes, Biden has been off again, on again. And it's really become, you know, raw politics without any humanity. It's hard to describe how perverse our national politics has been over Title 42. And this could signal the end of it.

MARTÍNEZ: I remember back in September on "60 Minutes," President Biden declared the pandemic is over. Now, with this order being set to be lifted in May, is the administration saying that the pandemic is really, really over?

GOSTIN: No, not at all. You know, we've still got over 500 deaths every day, twice a bad flu season. And what I worry about most is public messaging. When CDC now asks you to wear a mask or to get a booster, American eyes might roll, and that can't be a good thing.

MARTÍNEZ: That's Georgetown law professor Lawrence Gostin. Thanks a lot.

GOSTIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.