What Will It Take to Safely Open Back Up Nationwide?

While some U.S. locations have most or all of this infrastructure and capacity in place, much of the country isn’t close to achieving these goals.

Even though we’re lacking preparedness and a cohesive nationwide plan, a lot of states are reopening anyway (or never fully shut down). So, what now? Here’s what experts want you to keep in mind to stay safe as your state starts to reopen.

It’s best for lower-risk environments to open back up first.

When I read about reopening on various local news sites, I see a lot of comments from people wondering why we can’t just open everything back up. A blunt, all-or-nothing reopening really isn’t the best approach, Dr. Cevik explains. “I don’t think there is any location ready to open up as normal,” she says. When you look at the metrics above, it’s clear that we’re not ready to even start thinking about that.

Instead, it’s better to phase reopening by beginning with environments that seem to carry a lower risk—like outdoor areas of restaurants where customers can dine with proper social distancing measures but also still use take-out if they prefer—and then move to higher-risk areas, such as indoor dining rooms, in later phases. (I’ll explain more about why outdoor environments are seen as lower risk than indoor ones in a bit.)

Most states are taking this phased approach, but the window between phases may not be long enough to detect any potential increase in cases. In Ohio, for example, restaurants were open to outside dining on May 15 and to inside dining on May 21. Because the incubation period of the disease can be up to 14 days, new cases resulting from the May 15 opening may not even be detected until early June—well after the reopening phase that includes inside dining would already be in place.

This kind of rapid phasing is concerning, notes Dr. Cevik. Beyond that, instead of the scattered and inconsistent policies we’re seeing across states, Dr. Cevik would have preferred to see a more evidence-based approach nationwide, valuing teamwork across disciplines. “We really need to have a multidisciplinary approach including epidemiologists, urban planners, [and] internal and external architects to work towards putting in place safe opening measures,” she says.

Businesses need to consider design changes to allow for social distancing.

This will probably mean some changes to your favorite hangout. For example, state or local regulations may diminish the maximum capacity of various businesses in order to allow for additional space between customers or employees. In addition to that, Dr. Cevik says, businesses should consider steps like providing some additional open space if possible, having the staff use some kind of a face covering such as a mask or a face shield, instituting additional cleaning and disinfecting of surfaces, and trying to increase airflow for better ventilation.

For an office space, the safest reopening plan could look like “continuing to work from home if you can, but otherwise, having a shift schedule through which we can limit the people working in the same office at the same time, maintaining social distancing, strict surface and toilet cleaning, and [maintaining] airflow,” Dr. Cevik says.

These kinds of changes could also look like using Plexiglass dividers between workers and customers, stretching out the lines outside of locations so people waiting to get inside aren’t clustered together, making hallways one-way to reduce people passing by each other, and even putting plastic shower curtains between restaurant booths.

Remember that things aren’t necessarily safe just because they’re open.

There are plenty of recent photos circulating of packed restaurants, bars, and even water parks. It would be easy to think that a business being open or activity being allowed must mean it’s safe, but that’s not the case.

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