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Healthcare coverage from WYPR is made possible by support from GBMC HealthCare.

Baltimore City to spend $80M to keep COVID tests, vaccines free after national emergency sunsets

Geraldine Long gets her COVID booster. Baltimore City’s continued efforts to combat COVID-19 includes a mobile clinic.
Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner
Geraldine Long gets her COVID booster. Baltimore City’s continued efforts to combat COVID-19 includes a mobile clinic.

As the federal government plans to wind down some health benefits related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the city of Baltimore says it will pick up the slack through 2024.

The Biden administration announced earlier this year that it will end the national emergency related to coronavirus on May 11. That means that the federal government will stop picking up the tab for things like free testing for COVID-19 and will phase out benefits like automatic enrollment in Medicaid.

Baltimore City officials say they expect to use $80 million in federal grant money from the American Rescue Plan Act to continue many of those services, according to a memo released by the city’s health department on Monday.

The city says it will continue to provide free COVID tests at city libraries, administer free vaccines, set up clinics across the city for testing and send medical professionals to the houses of people with limited mobility to give out vaccines.

“The end of the COVID-19 national public health emergency is a milestone we should all be proud of,” said Baltimore City Health Department Commissioner Letitia Dzirasa. “However, there are still too many vulnerable people among us to let our guard down. That is why the Baltimore City Health Department has prepared for the next phase of the pandemic and will continue to provide free vaccinations and tests across the city so we can protect ourselves and loved ones as long as remains necessary.”

Medicare will continue offering Paxlovid, the antiviral that treats COVID-19, until the end of September 2024.

The city is also using another $8.4 million grant to build up its health infrastructure over the next five years to continue to combat COVID-19 and other diseases. Those funds will go toward things like increasing medical staff.

President Joe Biden announced the end to the emergency declaration on Jan. 30.

It has been in effect since March 2020 and has been extended several times before.

About 500 people a day are still dying from the COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The most recent seven-day average has about 40,000 people infected with the disease, according to the New York Times.

Scott is the Health Reporter for WYPR. @smaucionewypr
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