Americans are eager to move beyond the shelter-in-place phase of the coronavirus response. But many are still anxious about safety. What are public health experts recommending?
The Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security includes some of the top public health experts in the country. Here are the minimum criteria for states to meet before considering reopening, according to their report, Public Health Principles for a Phased Reopening During COVID-19: Guidance for Governors:
1. The number of new cases in the state has declined for at least 14 days.
2. Rapid diagnostic testing capacity is sufficient to test, at minimum, all people with COVID-19 symptoms as well as their close contacts, plus all those in essential roles in health care and first response.
3. The healthcare system is able to safely care for all patients, including having appropriate personal protective equipment for healthcare workers.
4. There is sufficient public health monitoring capacity to conduct contact tracing for all new cases and their close contacts.
These criteria lay out the path for safely reopening. Every situation is different, so there’s no one-size-fits all formula for states to follow to the letter. But the experts are telling us that all states do need to have secured an adequate amount of essential pandemic-fighting capacity in the form of testing supplies, PPE and tracing capacity. With these tools, experts tell us, we can prevent unmanageable resurgence of COVID-19 cases and begin the process of safe reopening.
The curve of new cases has begun to flatten in many areas, thanks to public adherence to shelter-in-place and social distancing rules, and other forms of personal discipline like increased hand-washing and decreased face-touching. Across the population, people’s respect for expert advice helped make that happen, and will need to continue.
As for contact tracing, health agencies need to take that on at the state and local level. But the truth is, the states’ ability to stock adequate testing and medical supplies hinges on a coordinated national effort to make and distribute the materials we need. That’s why we’re demanding national leadership to increase production of these crucial pandemic-fighting materials, and most of all, to coordinate the response to ensure states have enough supplies when they need them.
Public health leaders have laid out our next steps. State and local officials should follow the experts’ advice. The federal government should ensure that they’re able to.
Photo credit: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Public Domain
State Director, Illinois PIRG
Abe Scarr is the director of Illinois PIRG. He is a lead advocate in the Capitol and in the media for stronger consumer protections, utility accountability, and good government. In 2017, Abe led a coalition to pass legislation to implement automatic voter registration in Illinois, winning unanimous support in the Illinois General Assembly for the bill. In 2019, he co-authored "Tragedy of Errors," a report documenting decades of mismanagement in the Peoples Gas pipe replacement program, and has built a large coalition to end wasteful gas utility spending. Before moving to Illinois in 2014, Abe worked as the state director for ConnPIRG, where he helped pass a landmark solid waste and recycling law. He also serves as a board member for the Consumer Federation of America. Abe lives in Chicago, where he enjoys biking, cooking and tending his garden.