The Centers for Disease Control has shared detailed guidelines for how states can safely start to reopen after months of stay-at-home orders amid the new coronavirus, COVID-19, outbreak, but they come weeks after many have already partially reopened, in part due to delays from the White House.
The 60-page document, released over the weekend, suggests measures for how schools, restaurants, transportation systems and non-essential business can start to resume after shutdowns that began in mid-March.
The CDC first urges that states need to have several health standards in place before anything reopens. They should be seeing a decrease in new COVID-19 cases, fewer emergency room visits for COVID-19 patients, a “robust” testing system and enough space in hospitals to treat patients “without crisis care,” meaning that ICUs are not full, there are no staff shortages and that they have enough personal protective equipment.
States and cities should also be able to conduct contact tracing — tracking down and monitoring anyone who has come in contact with a new COVID-19 patient to ensure that they do not have or spread the virus further.
From there, the federal health agency offers guidelines for how institutions can safely reopen. For schools, the CDC recommends that students stay six feet apart and face in the same direction, that teachers and staff wear face masks and get their temperature checked daily and that students arrive at different times.
For public transit, they advise that only essential workers use the service and that buses leave empty rows between passengers.
The CDC cautions, though, that areas need to go back to the restrictions if they start to see a resurgence in cases.
“While some communities will progress sequentially through the reopening phases, there is the possibility of recrudescence in some areas,” the CDC wrote in its guidance. “Given the potential for a rebound in the number of cases or level of community transmission, a low threshold for reinstating more stringent mitigation standards will be essential.”
But these guidelines have come well after many states have reopened. They recommend, for example, that bars add sneeze guards and that restaurants remain limited to take-out or curbside delivery in the first phase of reopening. Meanwhile, bars and restaurants have already reopened with minimal changes in states like Wisconsin, where drinkers recently packed a pub near Milwaukie after the state’s stay-at-home order extension was struck down by the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
The delay was in part because the White House said the guidelines were “overly specific” and would not release them, The Washington Post reported. The Trump administration instead posted a brief plan for phased reopening without information on when states can move to each new phase.
The White House did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.
As of May 20, all 50 states have reopened in some capacity, though the hardest-hit areas like New York City, Washington, D.C. and Chicago are still shut down. Reopening has become politicized, with small groups of protestors storming state capitols to demand that restrictions are lifted and a split down party lines between which states have reopened and which have not.
New cases of COVID-19 are on a downward trend nationwide, though some states, including Texas, North Carolina, Minnesota and Arizona are currently seeing spikes in cases. As of May 20, more than 1,547,300 Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, and at least 92,617 people have died.
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