When is the Right Time to Reopen?

Posted by on Apr 21, 2020 in Top Stories

To say that the global coronavirus pandemic has been devastating would be an understatement. Worldwide, nearly two million people are infected, with more than 120,000 dead. Right now, 82 countries are imposing some form of lockdown. Around the world, 1.4 billion children are out of school, and the global economy is expected to shrink by 3 percent.

Here in the U.S., which is currently where the disease is at its worst, 23 million people are out of work. Most of us are chomping at the bit to get back to school, work, seeing our friends, and participating in our normal activities. But experts (and politicians) differ on when it will be safe to reopen the country. Here, btw considers that question.

So When Should the Country Reopen?

Already, some states, such as Florida, are taking steps to reopen beaches and other public venues. Other states are banding together to insist that they won’t reopen as a region, even if the White House tells them to. It can be hard to know what the “right” or “wrong” approach to this is. The World Health Organization (WHO) has compiled a helpful list of six guidelines that need to be met before any country (including the U.S.) can safely reopen:

  • Disease transmission is under control
  • Every case of infection can be identified, tested, treated, and contained
  • Hot spot risks are minimized
  • Schools, businesses, and other essential places have taken the necessary precautions for safety
  • If new cases emerge, they can be managed
  • Communities are fully educated on the risks and are fully participating in safe behaviors

What is the White House’s Plan?

The Trump administration has put together its own plan to reopen the country. It involves a phased approach, meaning some things will open up before others. According to the White House, in order for a region of the country to begin reopening, it must show a consistent downward trajectory in the number of cases over a two-week period; there must be a robust testing program for at-risk health care workers; states must have widespread, safe, and efficient screening methods in place; and there must be an adequate supply of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), such as masks.

This illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), shows the COVID-19 virus.
This image is a microscopic view of the COVID-19 virus. Credit: CDC/Alissa Eckert, MS; Dan Higgins, MAMS

Once states meet the guidelines above, they can begin taking steps to reopen. Phase One of the reopening plan requires all high-risk residents to continue staying at home. Those who are not considered vulnerable, and who choose to go out, should practice good social distancing techniques. Social gatherings of more than ten people should still be avoided, and non-essential travel should be minimized. Those who can work from home should continue to do so. Places such as schools and daycare centers will remain closed. Large venues, such as churches and stadiums, can reopen, as long as social distancing protocols are used.

Phase Two of the plan is for states that have met the above guidelines twice, and show no sign of an infection rebound. It’s essentially the same as Phase One, except that nonessential travel will be allowed to resume, schools and daycare centers can reopen, large venues (such as stadiums and churches) can begin to relax their social distancing guidelines, and gyms and bars can reopen.

Phase Three, for states that have satisfied the guidelines a third time and still have no evidence of a rebound, allows things to basically return to “normal,” within reason. Vulnerable people won’t have to stay home anymore, but they should still practice good social distancing techniques. Workplaces can return to normal. Visits to hospitals and nursing homes can resume. People can socialize normally again, in groups, although they should minimize the amount of time they spend in crowded places.

What Do You Think? Imagine that you are the U.S. president. Based on the WHO’s guidelines, what would be your plan to reopen the country? Create a paragraph describing your plan.