Story at a glance
- States and public health officials are debating how long to maintain current social distancing measures and restrictions on public life.
- There are concerns that reopening the country too early could cause a second wave of the pandemic.
- Three renowned research centers have published their plans for reopening the country during the coronavirus pandemic.
Can you — and if so, how — go back to normal after the coronavirus pandemic?
The million dollar question could cost the United States millions of dollars, both in economic loss and public health expenditures. But officials and experts must first agree on a path forward. Researchers at Harvard University, Johns Hopkins University and the American Enterprise Institute have each put together a plan for reopening the country while holding back the tides of COVID-19.
The Harvard plan calls for a federal Pandemic Testing Board, state testing programs, contact tracing, support for quarantine and isolation, better disease tracking and an expanded public health and medical reserves corps.
“The great value of this approach is that it will prevent cycles of opening up and shutting down. It allows us to steadily reopen the parts of the economy that have been shut down, protect our frontline workers, and contain the virus to levels where it can be effectively managed and treated until we can find a vaccine,” the report reads.
The plan calls for at least 5 million tests per day by early June, increasing to 20 million a day by late July, in order to safely reopen the economy by August. Still, the report says that it may not be enough and recommends additional safeguards.
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Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), has contributed to a second report published by the American Enterprise Institute.
The plan calls for states to reopen schools and businesses when they can “safely diagnose, treat, and isolate COVID-19 cases and their contacts,” while maintaining social distancing measures, limiting public gatherings, encouraging people to wear masks and stay home when sick. At this point, the report suggests the country will be able to establish immune protection, including through broad surveillance, therapeutics and a vaccine, eventually lifting social distancing measures entirely.
“After we successfully defeat COVID-19, we must ensure that America is never again unprepared to face a new infectious disease threat. This will require investment into research and development initiatives, expansion of public-health and health care infrastructure and workforce, and clear governance structures to execute strong preparedness plans,” the report reads.
The Johns Hopkins plan focuses on testing to identify symptomatic cases of COVID-19, isolating the patients and conducting contact tracing. But this would require close to 100,000 new workers in the local and state public health workforces, which the report suggests could provide income to those who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic.
“The goal of adding at least 100,000 new contact tracers in the United States and managing their work, while challenging, is achievable with appropriate financial support and a collective commitment,” the report concludes.
At the same time, adding workers to the frontlines of the pandemic would also mean putting them at risk for contracting COVID-19 — yet another tradeoff to be considered.
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