Nearly three years after Long Beach officials detected the first cases of COVID-19 in the city, the state of emergency declaration in response to the coronavirus was officially ended by the City Council Tuesday night.
On March 10, 2020, just three cases of travel-related COVID were detected in the city, and council members voted to declare a state of emergency. Since then, there hasn’t been a single day when no COVID-19 cases were detected in Long Beach, and 1,388 residents have died from the virus.
However, city health officials told the council Tuesday night that there was no longer a need for the emergency declaration because case rates had fallen to low levels, according to federal guidelines for the virus.
Here’s what will change now that the city officially ended its health emergency:
Testing and vaccinations
Health and Human Services Director Kelly Colopy said that the city will continue to provide free testing and free vaccines through the end of 2023.
Some city parks, Cal State Long Beach and Cabrillo High School will be among the sites where the city will provide vaccines or free tests, but Colopy said eventually test kits will have to be purchased, and vaccines will likely be rolled into regular immunization schedules with one manufacturer (Moderna) indicating that it might provide its vaccine free of charge.
People with insurance are also eligible to receive free test kits through the federal government.
About 71% of the city’s population is fully vaccinated, with the share of people who have three doses (39%) and the bivalent booster (17%) declining, especially in younger portions of the population and communities of color.
City health officials said they would continue to work on building relationships with communities in Central and North Long Beach, which had the lowest rates of vaccination in the city and also saw some of the highest infection rates.
What does the end of the emergency mean?
It doesn’t mean that COVID-19 is no longer a threat, Dr. Anissa Davis, the city’s health officer, said.
Long Beach is averaging about 53 cases per day in 2023, down from the worst year of the pandemic (2022) when the city averaged 215 cases per day. While 2022 saw the highest number of cases, 2021 was the deadliest year of the pandemic, when 643 people died of the virus, according to city data.
People are still dying from COVID-19, and in the first 41 days of the year, 25 more people have been added to the city’s death toll, which is now 1,388.
Davis said that health orders are independent of emergency declarations and that “both could be updated if the situation warrants it.”
There is encouraging data that the virus is having less significant effects on those it infects and that there is a level of immunity in the city. The winter surge this year appeared to peak in early December, when the city saw a few hundred cases per week, compared to the previous winter, when cases exceeded 2,000 per week.
Davis said that there is a misperception that because the emergency is over it must mean that COVID-19 is no longer a problem. The virus will be with us for the foreseeable future, Davis said, and the city will continue to monitor it and take layered prevention strategies to keep people safe.
The end of COVID-19 funding
The governmental response to COVID-19 brought an infusion of cash and grants to the city to help it recover from the economic shutdowns and allow local agencies to hire more people to respond to the pandemic.
Long Beach reassigned 230 of its employees to work at vaccine and testing sites, but it also hired 160 people through grants that will expire in July 2024.
The 160 employees that were hired through the grants helped track outbreaks at businesses and schools, investigated cases and operated mobile testing and vaccine clinics.
Colopy said these teams will be dismantled as the grant funding runs out, but the city is looking for more funding to potentially keep some of the employees as it works on a transition plan for them.
Funding is also ending for some programs that benefited residents during the pandemic. A freeze on requiring people with Medi-Cal to renew their coverage every year is going away April 1. After that, Colopy said that anyone who doesn’t renew risks being dropped from their coverage.
A program that paid for uninsured people to get tested, vaccinated and treated for COVID-19 hospitalizations at no cost is also ending. Those benefits are expected to stop at the end of May.
Residents who had benefited from additional money to buy food through CalFRESH will see that funding end next month. Residents on the CalFRESH program, which provides supplemental funds for low-income households to buy fresh food, have seen a bump of at least $95 per month since March 2020.