By now, you’ve heard reports that the White House has announced federal guidelines for the easing of social distancing orders that have been put in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The leadership of different states will have the final say, of course, but the guidelines offer some indication of when we can expect to start congregating again without gloves and masks.
There are three phases in the proposed guidelines. (We are apparently in Phase 0 currently.)
Communities would enter Phase 1 when the statistics show a downward trajectory of reported illnesses within a 14-day period, and when hospitals were able to treat all patients without resort to crisis care.
In addition, before we can enter Phase 1, there would need to be a “robust testing program” in place for all at-risk healthcare workers.
If those criteria are met, the guidelines would still require vulnerable individuals—the elderly and those with pre-existing health conditions—to continue to shelter in place. Schools would remain closed and visits to senior living facilities and hospitals would still be prohibited.
What would change? People who are not at risk would go back to work, provided that they maintain appropriate social distancing. Large venues (the guidelines mention sit-down dining, movie theaters, sporting venues and places of worship) would be allowed to open under unspecified “strict physical distancing protocols.” Elective surgeries could also resume, and gyms could open. But bars would remain closed.
Phase 2 kicks in if the states and regions enter Phase 1 and show no evidence of a rebound in cases. Vulnerable individuals would continue to shelter in place, but schools and organized youth activities would be allowed to reopen. Bars would also be allowed to open, although the protocols specify “diminished standing-room occupancy.”
If there is no evidence of a rebound, then the state or region could enter Phase 3, which would not actually be a full return to normalcy. There would still be physical distancing protocols in workplaces, large venues, gyms, and bars. But employers would resume unrestricted staffing of worksites.
The guidelines prominently make no mention of increased testing other than for healthcare workers. It’s possible that, even if the state and local leaders give us the “all clear” signal, people will still want to know whether the people in the adjacent cubicles are contagious.