Coronavirus pandemic over? ‘Not so fast,’ says AFL-CIO
In this Sept. 21, 2021, file photo, visitors sit among white flags that are part of artist Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg's "In America: Remember," a temporary art installation to commemorate Americans who have died of COVID-19, on the National Mall in Washington. Firstenberg was struck by how strangers connected in their grief at the installation, which ended Oct. 3. | Patrick Semansky/AP

WASHINGTON—Amid a headlong political rush to proclaim the coronavirus pandemic virtually over, by both Democratic President Joe Biden and especially the House’s ruling Republicans, the AFL-CIO is saying, in so many words, “not so fast.”

And so is the data on illnesses and deaths. It shows that cumulatively at least 1.107 million people have died in the U.S. in the three years since the pandemic was officially declared in early 2020.

That’s equal to killing off San Jose, the U.S.’s tenth-largest city (1.036 million people) plus 81,000 in its suburbs. And the total may be low since state reporting all COVID-19 (coronavirus) deaths is now optional.

Nevertheless, the Republicans plan votes on three pieces of legislation to end the pandemic’s restrictions, including one ending the national emergency announced in 2020. Biden himself is planning to end it as of May 11.

The federation opposes all the repeals, whether they come from Republicans or President Biden.

“The AFL-CIO urges Congress to oppose the Pandemic Is Over Act (HR 382), legislation to end the COVID-19 national emergency (House Joint. Resolution 7) and the Show Up Act (HR 139). These bills will severely disrupt the administration’s ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” it said in a series of tweets.

The Show Up Act also concerns federal worker unions—a favorite punching bag for Republicans. It mandates workers return to their offices, rather than work from home, within 30 days, the federation pointed out. Current teleworking both mimics the situation in the private sector and is a mandatory health care bargaining subject in negotiations, the federation noted. Passage of the GOP-backed bill would be another serious attack on collective bargaining rights, the federation notes.

A bigger concern is the continuing death toll and the end of anti-COVID care. It also, though the AFL-CIO didn’t explicitly say so, ends an emergency-imposed ban on private insurers refusing to cover people with COVID-19. The nation can afford to continue both, public health scholars told the Public Broadcasting System on Jan. 31.

“These bills will also eliminate important access to COVID-19 testing and treatment and cause millions to abruptly lose Medicaid coverage and free testing. Our nation can simultaneously provide resources to keep Americans healthy while moving our economy to full capacity,” it explained.

Still claiming lives

“COVID-19 is still claiming the lives of thousands of Americans and straining our healthcare system. In the past week alone, 3,756 people died from COVID-19 and many of its victims continue to suffer the debilitating effects of Long COVID,” the federation warns.

The federation isn’t the only group concerned with the abrupt ending of anti-coronavirus measures. National Nurses United, which now represents more than 240,000 RNs nationwide, is particularly worried about the lasting impact of “Long COVID”–the damage that will linger among people for months and years.

NNU’s even offering a continuing education course to members on treating Long COVID, including scientific updates on the course of the disease and its implications for patients, nurses, and quality of care. Many hospitals still report buckling under the load of COVID patients.

“The COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread unabated around the world due to a near complete abandonment of public health measures and dissembling about the ongoing pandemic,” the union warns.

“Repeated surges in COVID infections, hospitalizations, and deaths put nurses and other health care workers at heightened and perpetual risk for infection and moral injury. As more individuals are continually exposed to and infected by” the coronavirus, “reports of long-term health consequences have also increased” from Long COVID.

Though Biden announced he would end the COVID health emergency on May 11, his Office of Management and Budget opposes the Republican legislation. It calls the measures “a grave disservice to the American people.”

“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,” OMB explained.

That’s why, as part of the laws the last Congress enacted, it mandated at least 60 days advance notice of the emergency’s end. Otherwise, state budgets, which partially pay for Medicaid to treat COVID-19 victims “would face a radical cliff” as the extra money for that is cut off—and the patients are, too.

Ending the emergency, OMB said, also means the end of special extra Medicaid funding to states “to ensure tens of millions of vulnerable Americans kept their Medicaid coverage during a global pandemic.

“If the public health emergency were suddenly terminated, it would sow confusion and chaos into this critical wind-down. Due to this uncertainty, tens of millions of Americans could be at risk of abruptly losing their health insurance, and states could be at risk of losing billions of dollars in funding.

“Additionally, hospitals and nursing homes that have relied on flexibilities enabled by the emergency declarations will be plunged into chaos without adequate time to retrain staff and establish new billing processes, likely leading to disruptions in care and payment delays.”


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.