WHO Declares Global COVID-19 Public Health Emergency Over

It's been over for most Americans for a long time already.


The global COVID-19 health emergency is now over, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Specifically, the WHO says that "COVID-19 is now an established and ongoing health issue which no longer constitutes a public health emergency of international concern."

This comes more than three years after the organization first declared that the outbreak of the coronavirus responsible for COVID-19 constituted a public health emergency of international concern. Since the outbreak was first detected in December 2019 in Wuhan, China, it is estimated that the virus has infected 765 million people and killed nearly 7 million of them. More than 13.3 billion doses of various COVID-19 vaccines have been administered, covering 89 percent of health workers and 82 percent of adults over 60 years of age.

This is old news in the United States. The national COVID-19 emergency was officially terminated by a joint resolution of Congress and signed by President Joe Biden on April 10. Since the first domestic case of COVID-19 was diagnosed in Snohomish County, Washington, on January 20, 2020, nearly 105 million Americans have been diagnosed with the disease, of whom over 1,131,800 have died.

Physician and American Council on Science Health fellow Henry I. Miller argues that COVID-19 remains much worse than regular influenza. He points out that COVID-19 killed 350,000 Americans in 2020, whereas only 25,000 died of influenza during the 2019–2020 flu season. So far this year, about 43,000 Americans have died of COVID-19 and weekly deaths from COVID-19 have fallen from 4,109 in early January to 1,109 last week. COVID-19 dropped to the fourth-leading cause of death in the U.S. last year.

Nevertheless, the fact is that the pandemic was effectively over for most Americans well before the declarations made by Congress and the WHO. Back in December 2021, I reported on an article in the journal BMJ by two researchers who noted that "the end of the pandemic will not be televised."

In their article, Princeton historian David Robertson and University of Maryland pharmacy professor Peter Doshi pointed out, "There is no universal definition of the epidemiological parameters of the end of a pandemic." Consequently, they asked, "By what metric, then, will we know that it is actually over?"

After reviewing the history of three 20th century influenza pandemics, including the Spanish flu pandemic that killed an estimated 675,000 Americans, Robertson and Doshi argued that there will be no dramatic "end." Instead, the pandemic will "gradually fade as society adjusts to living with the new disease agent and social life returns to normal." Basically, epidemics socially end when people grow tired of panic mode and learn to live with a disease.

As the vaccines rolled out and the risks associated with infection became clearer, most Americans felt increasingly comfortable returning to normal activities—shopping, dining out, and attending social gatherings—by the spring of 2021. It's taken our global and domestic public health authorities two years more to formally acknowledge that for most Americans, the COVID-19 emergency has been long over.