May 11 came and went without much fanfare, but it was actually a significant date for the history books, in the U.S. at least.

That was the day the federal COVID-19 disaster declaration, instituted in March 2020, ended. Gov. J.B. Pritzker also ended the state of Illinois’ COVID emergency declaration that day.

Of course, COVID-19 remains with us. To date, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health, the cumulative number of reported COVID-19 cases through May 7 had topped 4.1 million in the state.

The IDPH’s website puts the death tally at more than 36,000 people. While reported cases remain pretty low, COVID-19 has not disappeared. On May 7, according to IDPH, Illinois recorded more than 3,600 cases and seven fatalities.

The end of the emergency means that we’ve concluded COVID-19 is endemic and that we’ll all deal with it as we do with other endemic diseases. 

Luckily, there are plenty of effective vaccines for preventing its spread, and for now the U.S. government is distributing free COVID-19 vaccines to adults and children. At-home tests are not likely to be covered by insurance any longer, but treatments like Paxlovid remain free while supplies last, according to the Centers for Disease Control. After that, we’ll be at the mercy of drug and insurance companies, which is cold comfort.

The COVID-19 pandemic could have been the catalyst for a host of positive changes in the ways healthcare is delivered in the U.S., but it’s looking like not much has changed at all. Healthcare, for the most part, in the U.S. remains incredibly expensive and tied to employment.

The Affordable Care Act was a good start and has helped many millions of people who otherwise would be without health insurance, but there’s been no move to expand those benefits or lower those costs.

One thing we did witness during the pandemic was the enormous power of the federal government to make vital healthcare available to all. If only we had the collective political will to harness that revelation and initiate real change that improves the physical and financial lives of people who are burdened with a health system that delivers less care for more money.

Of course, those kinds of problems don’t actually face the people making those decisions. And there are too many people in this nation who seem to cling to the belief that suffering indicates moral failure and ought to be punished and not a symptom of a system with its priorities in the wrong order.

There are lessons to learn if only we would see them.