The World Health Organization (WHO) declared an end to its three-year-long COVID-19 global health emergency on May 5, 2023, citing continuing declines in deaths and hospitalizations. The Centers for Disease Control also ended its COVID-19 public emergency on May 11.
“For more than a year, the pandemic has been on a downward trend, with population immunity increasing from vaccination and infection, mortality decreasing, and the pressure on health systems easing,” said WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in a news conference announcing the decision.
The pandemic’s impact on the nursing profession is well-established. Recent research from the NCSBN found that 100,000 registered nurses (RNs) departed the workforce during the pandemic due to burnout, stress, and retirement.
But even as the WHO global health emergency ends, nurses remain indispensable in stamping out COVID-19 over the long term — and helping prepare their workplaces, patients, and colleagues for future pandemics.
“With the WHO’s announcement that COVID-19 is no longer a health emergency, they warn that the disease is here to stay, and the virus is not going away soon,” says NurseJournal contributor, Joelle Y. Jean, RN, FNP-BC.
“I think nurses are relieved about the announcement, but they should still continue to protect themselves and practice universal precautions. We should continue to stay hypervigilant and stay up to date with any new viruses and/or diseases that are likely to come again. I’m hoping COVID-19 has prepared us for future emergencies,” she cautions.
Staying Involved with COVID-19 Care
Despite the decline in cases, nurses will continue to encounter and care for people with COVID-19. But nurses’ involvement doesn’t end there: it spans the entire care continuum.
Ambulatory care nurses administer the COVID-19 vaccine to patients alongside other scheduled vaccines. Acute care nurses ensure COVID-19 patients are treated with cutting-edge infection protocols. Family nurse practitioners help people and families affected by COVID-19 find access to appropriate care.
More broadly, many hospitals and other care facilities are drawing on the experience and expertise of nurse leaders to help develop and implement COVID-19 prevention and management strategies for various contexts, including primary care, infection control, and emergency services.
Many of these efforts are familiar to nurses, especially those who cared for patients during the pandemic.
Jean explains that, “As a former ER nurse, we were trained in disaster preparedness as well as universal precautions, which is an approach to protect us from infectious diseases.”
“Although no one was prepared for the COVID-19 pandemic, nurses are fully equipped and trained to handle these situations as long as we have the support of our hospital administrators and government officials, she says.”
A Look Ahead
The WHO and other healthcare agencies recommend that research into developing integrated care models related to COVID-19 continues, particularly for immunocompromised populations. The nursing community can play important roles in research efforts around COVID-19 care and preparing for future pandemics.
The role of nurse practitioners (NPs) in coordinating patient care can only gain importance in the coming months and years after the federal government recently ended its own COVID-19 health emergency, along with various COVID-19-related waivers and flexibilities that assisted those affected by the pandemic.
For example, COVID-19 telehealth benefits are set to expire for Medicare beneficiaries on December 31, 2024. NPs will work with patients and insurance companies to determine the available and appropriate care for each individual.
The WHO ending its COVID-19 emergency came as a relief to anyone who lived through the pandemic era. As they were in 2020, nurses remain on the front lines of COVID-19 care and pandemic preparedness and response by:
- Integrating COVID-19 prevention and management into primary care.
- Preventing and preparing for another health emergency or a return of the COVID-19 emergency.
- Ensuring everyone has access to COVID-19 preventive and acute care.
- Participating in thought leadership and research efforts to improve the healthcare system.