On May 5, 2023, the World Health Organization (WHO) put a halt to the global health emergency for COVID-19 that spanned three years, recognizing the persistent fall in death rates and hospitalizations. In alignment with this, the Centers for Disease Control concluded its public emergency for COVID-19 on May 11.
The downward trajectory of the pandemic has been consistent for over a year, with a rise in herd immunity as a result of vaccinations and infections, reduction in death rates, and the diminishing strain on health facilities, as stated by Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of WHO, during a press conference where the decision was disclosed.
The repercussions of the pandemic on the field of nursing are well-documented. The NCSBN’s latest study discovered that during the pandemic, burnout, stress, and retirement led to a workforce depletion of 100,000 registered nurses (RNs).
Despite the conclusion of the WHO’s global health emergency, the role of nurses is still crucial in the eradication of COVID-19 in the long run and in equipping their workplaces, patients, and colleagues for potential pandemics ahead.
Joelle Y. Jean, RN, FNP-BC, a contributor at NurseJournal, reacted to the WHO’s announcement stating that while COVID-19 is no longer deemed a health emergency, the virus is here for the long haul.
She believes that nurses may feel a sense of relief with this announcement, but urges them to maintain their vigilance, stick to universal precautions, and keep abreast of any emerging viruses or diseases. She hopes that the experience with COVID-19 has equipped the medical community for emergencies in the future, underlining the need for continued vigilance and preparedness.
Maintaining Engagement in COVID-19 Treatment
While the cases are diminishing, nurses are still actively involved in providing care to individuals afflicted with COVID-19. Their role extends across the full spectrum of care.
Nurses working in outpatient care administer the COVID-19 vaccine to patients, along with other regular immunizations. Those in acute care environments ensure that patients with COVID-19 receive treatment according to the latest infection protocols. Family nurse practitioners facilitate access to suitable care for individuals and families impacted by COVID-19.
On a larger scale, many hospitals and care facilities are leveraging the knowledge and proficiency of nurse leaders in the design and execution of COVID-19 mitigation and management strategies in different scenarios, encompassing primary care, infection control, and emergency services.
These endeavors are familiar terrain for nurses, particularly those who were at the forefront during the pandemic.
Jean, having been an ER nurse, elaborates that they were trained in disaster preparedness and universal precautions, which is a protocol to safeguard against infectious diseases.
“While nobody was fully prepared for the COVID-19 pandemic, nurses are sufficiently equipped and trained to deal with these circumstances, provided that they receive support from hospital administration and government authorities,” she asserts.
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.