When Will America Reopen?

Table of Contents:

  1. Hospitals Are Not Overwhelmed
  2. Tests Are Available
  3. Infected Individuals Are Monitored
  4. Reduction in Cases for Two Weeks
  5. Do Your Part

How long will it be until Americans can safely return to school, work, and social gatherings? That’s the question on everybody’s mind. The answer will vary based on where you live and how susceptible you are to a viral infection. For now, however, all answers are just guesses.

Mid-crisis, ‘When will America reopen?’ isn’t just an unanswerable question, but an unproductive one as well. The New York Times’ Aaron Carroll suggests a better alternative: ‘How will towns, cities, and states know it’s safe to return to business as usual?

A new report from the American Enterprise Institute presents the insights of five doctors who believe they know the answers. They suggest four key milestones that will indicate if it’s safe for a city or state to lift social distancing orders and begin reopening businesses.

How will state and local authorities know they are succeeding in the fight against COVID-19?

Hospitals Are Not Overwhelmed

To begin reopening businesses, the report reads, a state must reach a point where “Hospitals are able to safely treat all patients requiring care without resorting to crisis standards of care.” The report’s authors suggest that reducing undue stress on hospitals should be each state’s top priority. “At the moment,” Carroll writes, “there’s no reason to believe any area is over a surge of cases, and analysts’ models suggest many places won’t peak for weeks to come.”

It is unclear if another region will see the surge in cases that New York and Washington have seen. What is clear, however, is that states must maximize the availability of beds, respirators, and personal protective equipment to keep the healthcare system running as smoothly as possible. Experts suggest that practicing social distancing by obeying stay-at-home orders can help reduce the number of infections and keep hospitals from reaching crisis status.

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Tests Are Available

Before they can begin to loosen social distancing restrictions, states need to confirm that they can test every person who shows signs of COVID-19 infection. The report suggests that America will need the capacity to administer 750,000 tests every week — and that’s after things have slowed down a bit.

Mark McClellan, one of the report’s authors, continues, “If more testing to help contain outbreaks and potential outbreaks is needed, which seems very plausible, especially early on, the number would need to be significantly larger.” So far, the scarcity of tests and testing facilities has been a major shortcoming of the U.S. response to COVID-19.

Infected Individuals Are Monitored

Reaching the third milestone is only possible once a city or state has reached the previous milestone and tested all symptomatic individuals. Once tests have given authorities a sense of the outbreak’s scope, states need to establish a robust and effective system for tracing infections. It is necessary that the state’s healthcare infrastructure not only know who is infected, but possess the means to monitor those individuals and put them in isolation if necessary. Some countries have used cell phone tracking to chart the spread of the virus. Carroll notes, “We don’t have anything like that ready, nor is it even clear we’d allow it.”

Reduction in Cases for Two Weeks

If an individual is infected with COVID-19, it can take as long as two weeks for symptoms to reveal themselves. For this reason, healthcare authorities cannot be sure that local cases are decreasing unless they have seen them drop steadily for at least this length of time. “It’s not possible,” Carroll concludes, “to set a benchmark number for every state, because the number of infections that will be manageable in any area depend on the local population and the public health system’s ability to handle sporadic cases.”

Do Your Part

Whether you’re an essential worker or you’re safe at home, we all have a role to play in slowing the spread of COVID-19. Learn more about ongoing efforts to “flatten the curve.”