There’s a Way to Reopen Safely. America Is Not Doing It.
The CDC published science-backed guidance for reopening in May. Why isn’t it being used?
As states are becoming quickly overwhelmed by Covid-19 cases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — a largely silenced entity in this pandemic response — has a full report outlining when states should reopen and when they should move back phases. Their guidance outlines key health metrics, including consistent decreases in percent positive tests, decreases in Covid-like illness cases to emergency rooms, and having adequate health care capacity to allow movement between phases. Additionally, they also have metrics by which to slow down or reverse course. This has been out since May, yet has hardly been part of the conversation in many state reopenings.
I share this to say: The situation we are watching unfold now did not have to be this way.
Many states are spiraling toward recurrent lockdowns. This time around, public health expertise, not political or economic pressures, needs to guide reopening. Reopening was never meant to be easy; it was always going to be much harder than shutting down unilaterally.
And reopening was more than “flattening the curve,” which was one part of it targeted toward ensuring our health care capacity was not exceeded. The other key part was to create systems that could test, trace, isolate, produce adequate personal protective equipment (including better masks) for the community, and ensure that community surveillance could quickly detect new outbreaks. Proactively staying ahead of spikes before they happen was a critical goal of such a system. Clearly, that was not in place when states began to reopen.
As you are either fully aware of — or realizing quickly — the economy versus the virus “debate” is a false one. Most of the economy can’t run when people are not safe. People are not safe when the virus is uncontrolled.
In short, despite the availability of public health guidance, it was not operationalized. State leaders have either systematically ignored it or taken major shortcuts to reopen prematurely.