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Changes coming to Wisconsin’s COVID-19 response as the federal government is set to let COVID-19 emergency end

Wisconsin National Guard
Drive-thru COVID testing was made available during the beginning of the pandemic.

The federal government is ending the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency on May 11.

The emergency declaration gave federal and state governments flexibility when it comes to waiving or modifying certain requirements.

In Wisconsin, this means some COVID-related programs will change.

The Department of Health Services says it will continue to monitor COVID-19 cases in the state as they do for other respiratory diseases like the flu and RSV.

Some medical services that were free during the pandemic will now be billed through insurance or will need to be paid out of pocket.

Here's the breakdown of what DHS says will and won't change:


COVID-19 vaccines will still be available free of charge until the federally purchased supply is depleted. The FDA's emergency use authorization for the COVID-19 vaccines will not end with the public health emergency.

After the federally purchased supply of vaccines is depleted, those with public or private insurance will continue to be able to access COVID-19 vaccines, according to their insurance requirements. On April 18, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) announced the HHS Bridge Access Program for COVID-19 Vaccines and Treatments to continue to provide COVID-19 vaccines to maintain broad access to COVID-19 vaccines for millions of Americans who are uninsured. The program will continue to provide COVID-19 vaccines to people who are uninsured at with no cost, even after the federally purchased supply is exhausted.

To find out the latest recommendations regarding COVID-19 vaccines, visit the CDC COVID-19 vaccines webpage. To find a location to get a COVID-19 vaccine, visit Vaccines.gov.


The end of the public health emergency will mean changes to the availability of free COVID-19 testing resources, including how insurance covers testing.

At-home tests

At-home tests will likely become more costly for people regardless of their insurance status, although some insurance plans may still cover them. People covered by Medicaid will be able to access free at-home tests through September 2024. At-home tests will continue to be authorized for use and will likely remain available for purchase at retail outlets, such as pharmacies.

Laboratory-based tests

Most insured people will still have some coverage for tests ordered or administered by a health professional. Laboratory-based tests, such as PCR tests, will likely no longer be free for those without health insurance, and may result in a co-pay or out-of-pocket costs for those with health insurance. Some free resources may still be available for those without health insurance, such as through free clinics or federal testing programs, such as the CDC Increasing Community Access to Testing (ICATT) program. The eligibility and testing criteria for free testing may change with these programs after the end of the public health emergency.

State-supported testing programs

Wisconsin’s state-supported testing programs offering have begun to wind down:

  • The Say Yes! COVID Test direct-to-household antigen test distribution program has seen sustained demand and will remain available through May, while supplies last. Wisconsinites are encouraged to order before supplies run out and the program ends.
  • The K-12 COVID-19 testing program has ended in-school testing. Schools may order at-home antigen tests to distribute to students, staff, and families until June 15.
  • The Community Testing Support Program, the funding support for local pharmacies, local and tribal health departments, and other community locations, ended April 15.
  • Testing support for confinement facilities will end April 30. Supplies for confinement facilities serving persons in our care, including unhoused facilities, will remain available until June 15.
  • Access to laboratory-conducted (PCR) COVID-19 testing may be limited, and people may be charged, even if they have health insurance.
    • For people with health insurance, COVID-19 PCR testing may need to be conducted by a health care provider as community testing sites will be limited.
    • People without health insurance may need to access PCR testing through a free clinic, or through a federal program like the ICATT program.

Treatment and telehealth

Much like COVID-19 vaccines, doses of the pharmaceutical COVID-19 treatment purchased by the federal government will remain free until the supply is depleted. Antiviral treatments like Paxlovid and Lagevrio can help prevent serious illness, hospitalization, and death in people with COVID-19.

DHS’ free COVID-19 treatment telehealth service has been extended to December 31, 2023. DHS decided to extend the free service to continue its success in making COVID-19 antiviral treatment accessible throughout Wisconsin. Approximately 4,000 people have consulted with providers through the program since its launch in November 2022, and almost half of those were over the age of 60.

Additional updates

As the COVID-19 pandemic and response continues to evolve and more information becomes available about policies and efforts affected by the end of the public health emergency, DHS will provide updates to the public and to health care partners.

DHS will also begin to consolidate COVID-19 information on the DHS website. DHS remains committed to providing the most up to date and accurate information about severe illness and death from COVID-19. These updates will help people find the COVID-19 information they need more easily on the DHS website.

More than 14,000 Wisconsinites have died from COVID-19, according to DHS.

Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.
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