Wisconsin DHS begins its COVID-19 wind down

DHS credits declining case numbers, hospitalizations, and deaths from the disease, for its decision to move away from emergency response efforts.
Published: Apr. 28, 2023 at 1:48 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) – State health officials outlined in greater detail this week the change in store as it draws back its response efforts next month. The changes, the Department of Health Services explained in a statement, come as the federal emergency declaration for the pandemic ends.

The agency noted in its explanation that cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are down significantly from their late 2021 and early 2022 peaks. Its statement added state health officials have also been planning to step down their focus on the virus and the federal declaration, that has been in effect since early 2020, ends on May 11.

“As the federal public health emergency declaration nears its end, DHS will continue to shift our COVID-19 response operations,” DHS Secretary-designee Kristen Johnson said, crediting the state’s declaration with helping save lives during the pandemic.

Johnson, however, did caution that just because the declarations are going away and some of the focus on the virus is shifting, that does not mean COVID-19 is gone. It still puts peoples’ lives at risk, and everyone should remain vigilant about protecting themselves.

According to its dashboard, the seven-day rolling average for COVID-19 cases has slipped to 181 cases per day, its lowest point in more than three years. Approximately three coronavirus-related deaths were reported each day over the past week; putting the total number of confirmed deaths for the week at 14,461, DHS statistics show. As far as total cases, the agency has tallied 1,777,738 since the first case was reported in Dane Co.

Despite the end of the declaration, people in Wisconsin will still be able to get free vaccines so long as the federal supply lasts. After that, vaccination costs will fall mainly to public or private insurers, while the federal Department of Health and Human Services has launched its Bridge Access Program, which is designed to provide them to those who are uninsured.

Something people will have to start expecting to pay for sooner is getting tested. Some insurance plans will continue them and those on Medicaid can get free tests through September 2024, DHS continued. The agency also expects retailers to continue stocking them. Lab tests or ones tests ordered by a physician may still be covered by insurance, but others will have to start paying for them once the emergency declaration ends.

DHS did point to free resources that will be available for some individuals, including through free clinics or federal testing programs. End dates have already been set for state initiatives:

ProgramEnd Date
Say Yes! COVID TestWhile supplies last
K-12 COVID-19 TestingJune 15
Community Testing SupportApril 15
Testing for confinement facilitiesTesting ends April 30; Supplies available until June 15

According to DHS figures, health officials distributed more than 15 million tests during the pandemic, working in conjunction with local and tribal health departments. More than 2.2 million tests were delivered via the Say Yes COVID test program. More than a million more tests were sent to schools during the 2022-2023 school year.

Uninsured individuals who cannot afford testing or vaccines, on they start costing again, are directed to the Forward Health website.

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