New Jersey Congressmen Urge Department of Health to Extend Public Health Emergency

By: Carly Truett, Writer / Follow South Jersey Public Health Intern

Updated 7-24-2020 at 2:20 p.m.

BRIDGETON, N.J. — The COVID-19 public health emergency, declared in January and renewed in April, is set to expire on July 25. The New Jersey congressional delegation is urging the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to extend. 

In a letter penned by Congressmen Donald Norcross and Frank Pallone Jr., New Jersey lawmakers ask for an extension of the public health emergency and a “centralized effort to increase testing and manufacturing of PPE.” 

The letter was co-signed by New Jersey Senators Cory Booker and Robert Menendez as well as the remaining members of New Jersey Congress — including Jeff Van Drew, who represents the state’s second congressional district encompassing all of Cumberland and Salem counties. 

A public health emergency is an act that the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services has the ability to determine under section 319 of the Public Health Services Act after consulting with public health officials. The declaration lasts for 90 days, but it can be renewed as necessary — as Secretary Alex M. Azar II did in April. The declaration allows for further action and resources to respond to the emergency. These include accessing funds, modifying the requirements of certain social services like Medicare, Medicaid, and Children’s Health Insurance Program — and conducting and supporting investigations into the causes, treatments, and prevention of COVID-19, among other special abilities. 

For the COVID-19 pandemic specifically, the declaration has allowed for insurance coverage of COVID-19 tests and easing of telehealth restrictions, as well as many other responses to the pandemic. 

The letter from New Jersey lawmakers attributes New Jersey’s downward trend in COVID-19 cases in part to public health emergency resources, stating “due in large part to services and funding accessed under the previous two emergency declarations, the number of cases in New Jersey are decreasing.”

Other states, the letter points out, are not seeing the progress that New Jersey is. In Florida, Texas, Arizona, and Louisiana, the virus continues to spread at “an alarming rate.” 

“With over 60,000 new cases each day and testing still not meeting the necessary standards to open the economy or help contain the spread, we need to continue putting all available resources into our efforts to control the outbreak. By extending the current public health emergency we can help save lives, right our struggling economy, and bolster our recovery,” the letter concludes.

The New Jersey congressional delegation is not alone in asking for an extension of the current public health emergency. Maryland’s congressional delegation, the American Hospital Association, the American Public Health Association, and other organizations have also called for the extension of the public health emergency. HHS Spokesperson Michael Caputo had tweeted back on June 29 that HHS “expects to renew” the public health emergency, and Secretary Azar renewed the order on Thursday, effective July 25. The current public health emergency is now set to expire in late October.

This article was produced by a Follow South Jersey news intern thanks to a grant provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation through the New Jersey Health Initiatives program to create hyper-local news to meet the informational and health needs of the City of Bridgeton, N.J.