As states across the US started to issue stay-at-home orders, the main topic has been when our country would reopen. Now, states face tough choices over reopening: how fast, how much, how soon.
Nation, States Face Tough Choices Over Reopening
The subject of reopening and resuming normal life has been batted around by politicians, medical experts and media pundits for weeks. There has been lots of information released on every side of this issue.
We’ve found stats and facts, backed by reliable experts in the field and from a variety of media sources, to help explain what’s a stake.
Differing Realities Across All 50 States
The reality is that infection rates and death tolls look different in every state right now. There are clear hotbeds, like New York City, and places where COVID-19 seems to have barely arrived, like Montana.
On that same note, each state has implemented a variety of different techniques to reduce spread and treat those who are ill.
With so much difference in spread and response, each state and, in some cases, individual counties or cities, will likely need to “reopen” on a variety of timelines.
There is no one hard or fast answer here. What works for one city, county or state might nor work universally.
States Should Remain Closed – For Now
There are many who believe that states should remain closed until infection and death toll reductions benchmarks have been reached in order to prevent further spread of the virus.
Right now, the CDC projections show a national increase in total COVID-19 deaths by early August. This increase currently predicts 137,000 COVID-19 related deaths, as of May 4, in a model by the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.
The latest model reflects a doubling of the projected death toll as compared to the IHME’s April 17 predictions. That early prediction estimated approximately 60,000 deaths by August. The US has surpassed that estimate, with almost 80,000 dead in mid-May.
Per a May 7 report, the daily death toll was predicted to reach and hover around 3,000 per day by June 1. This prediction is based on data compiled by FEMA and many believe that returning to business as usual too soon could lead to an increase in this already high projected death toll.
In fact, scientific models seem to support that there will be an increase in infections and deaths, should states reopen partially or fully prior to meeting White House and CDC guidelines. The IHME modified their projections based on the expectation of relaxed social distancing and increased travel.
“(R)ising mobility in most U.S. states as well as the easing of social distancing measures expected in 31 states by May 11, indicating that growing contacts among people will promote transmission of the coronavirus,” the IHME report noted.
We Need to Return to Business as Usual ASAP
There is no doubt that the US has been hard hit economically as a result of the pandemic.
In April, the unemployment rate rose to 14.7% and over 25 million people are now unemployed, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
4.4 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits in the week of April 18. While this is down from 5.2 million the previous week, according to reporting by Fortune.com, but also marks the fifth straight week of new unemployment filings over 3 million.
Many are worried about further economic collapse should the economy and businesses remain shutdown in the longer term. There have been protests in many states and cities pushing for immediate, full reopening of their states.
White House and CDC Reopening Guidelines
The White House and CDC have issued a multi-phase plan to help guide states as they consider reopening.
Each phase has infection and death toll benchmarks that indicate initiation and progression to the next phase.
- Initial Data Requirement Suggestions: in order to consider reopening, the White House recommends that states have a 14-day downward trajectory in flu-like symptoms and COVID-19 like symptoms. It is also recommended that states observe a downward trend of documented or tested COVID-19 cases in the 2 week period. Hospitals should also be operating outside of crisis mode, with the ability to treat all patients. There should also be a robust testing program
Cautious Reopening Under White House Guidelines
While these phases of reopening provide a blueprint for the nation, states are not required to adhere to them. They are merely suggestions from the White House and CDC.
Phase 1: the initial data should indicate a general downward trend in infections over a 2 week period with a return to non-crisis healthcare with robust COVID-19 testing.
- Individuals: all vulnerable individuals should remain sheltering in place. Everyone should be respecting maximizing social distance protocols and avoiding all gatherings of over 10 people. When in situations when where social distance cannot be maintained, protections, like face masks and increased hand washing, should be practiced. Non-essential travel should be limited and all travel should be followed by a period of self-isolation.
- Businesses: all businesses should encourage telework as much as possible. If employees must remain at work, closing common areas to prevent the spread of possible infection is recommended. Non-essential business travel should be avoided.
- Schools: all schools that are currently closed should remain closed
- Gyms: should only reopen if strict physical distancing is possible
- Senior Citizens: visits to nursing homes and assisted care facilities should be avoided
- Large Venues: sports stadiums, places of worship and concert venues should remain closed
- Bars: stay closed
Phase 2: there should not be a rebound to pre-Phase 1 infection rates with a continued downward trend in order to proceed.
- Individuals: vulnerable individuals should stay at home, but gatherings of up to 50 people can resume with appropriate physical distancing maintained
- Travel: non-essential travel can resume
- Businesses: continue to support telework as much as possible
- Schools: can reopen
- Gyms: can remain open with strict physical distancing and sanitation
- Senior Citizens: avoid visiting nursing homes
- Large Venues: can reopen with moderate physical distancing protocols
- Restaurants/Bars: bars may operate as standing room only with a limited capacity; restaurants can operate with moderate physical distancing and limited capacity
Phase 3: there should be no rebound to pre-Phase 1 infection rates with a continued downward trend in order to proceed
- Individuals: vulnerable individuals can break self-isolation, but maintain physical distancing. Everyone else should minimize the time spent in close proximity to others.
- Travel: non-essential travel can continue
- Businesses: no restrictions on staffing in any sector
- Schools: remain open
- Gyms: can remain open, with proper sanitation protocols
- Senior Citizens: visitors are welcome, with strict hygiene practices being followed
- Large Venues: can resume with limited physical distancing practice
- Restaurants/Bars: bars may operate with increased occupancy, but remain standing room only. Restaurants can resume operations with limited physical distancing protocols