US ends COVID-19 public health emergency

Americans have put lockdowns, mask mandates, and social distancing behind them. Now, they are set to leave aside another aspect of the pandemic. On Thursday, they are marking the end of the coronavirus public health emergency.

Government officials declared the emergency in January 2020, when they had still only seen a handful of cases. They then saw the virus spread and hospitals fill up. More than 1.1 million people ended up dying.

The declaration gave doctors struggling to treat cases greater flexibility. It expanded healthcare for millions. And it required international travelers and federal employees to be vaccinated.

However, widespread vaccinations have brought cases down by 95 percent from their peak. White House officials say the measures are "no longer necessary."

They say vaccines will continue to be free for now. However, some Americans could face new costs for testing and treatment.

Last month, government officials ended separate measures, called a "national emergency," that supported the health system and also the economy.

Many business owners are still feeling the impacts of what they went through.

Jeffrey LaPadula, a restaurant manager, said, "It's just an adjustment. You know, it's a different business climate."

He added that his business has lost half of its customers on Mondays and Fridays, when some people remain working from home.

The end of the US measures comes days after officials with the World Health Organization announced that COVID-19 no longer constitutes a global emergency.