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The End of a Global Emergency: Life Beyond the COVID-19 Pandemic

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared that COVID-19 is no longer a global emergency, marking a symbolic end to the pandemic. Despite this, the virus remains a global health threat, with some regions experiencing spikes in cases. The decision means that COVID-19 will be treated like a common disease such as influenza, and emergency response measures can be lifted. However, the production, approval, and emergency use of vaccines will follow normal procedures, which may now take longer. The WHO's decision is based on the current stable situation, low global prevalence, decreasing pathogenicity, and strong population immunity due to vaccinations and infections. Experts warn that the virus will continue to be present, and surveillance and research will persist.

Since the pandemic's onset in early 2020, an estimated 20 million people have died from COVID-19, with 6.9 million deaths occurring after the public health emergency declaration on January 30, 2020. The virus has caused disruptions and devastation worldwide, with the United States being one of the hardest-hit countries. The virus still poses a significant threat, claiming a life every three seconds.

Countries are urged to transition to a new phase of managing the virus like other infectious diseases, maintaining surveillance and response systems and being prepared to reinstate health emergency declarations if needed. WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus has set up a Review Committee for long-term COVID-19 management recommendations, emphasizing that the fight against the virus is not over.

As the world adjusts to this new phase, changes in pandemic response measures are expected. In the United States, President Joe Biden plans to end the national coronavirus emergency on May 11. This will lead to changes in COVID-19 data tracking, with the CDC no longer tracking community levels and states no longer required to report cases. Hospital admissions data will be relied upon instead, with hospitals reporting weekly instead of daily. Wastewater surveillance will continue, and the CDC's COVID-19 Data Tracker will still track vaccination data. COVID-19 deaths will be reported based on death certificates for more accuracy, and genomic sequencing of positive samples will continue to monitor for new variants.

The pandemic has left a lasting impact on millions of lives. An estimated 245,000 children in the US have lost one or both parents to COVID-19, with around 10.5 million COVID orphans worldwide. Despite the profound implications, COVID orphans have been largely overlooked in policy responses to the pandemic. In February, California began working on a $100 million fund for COVID orphans and children in foster care when they turn 18, but this has not been replicated elsewhere in the US. The federal government has yet to address the issue directly with national policies or programs. Children of color have been disproportionately affected, with Black children in the US twice as likely as white children to have suffered the loss of a parent or caregiver. Half of the US children who have lost one or both parents live in California, Texas, Florida, New York, and Georgia.

As we move forward, it's crucial to remember the lives lost and the families affected by this devastating virus. While the global emergency may be over, the fight against COVID-19 is far from finished. We must continue to be vigilant, maintain pandemic preparedness and response plans, and ensure that those who have been affected by the virus receive the support they need. The end of the global emergency is a significant step towards a new normal, but there is still much work to be done in the battle against COVID-19.