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Federal Guidelines released for “Opening Up America Again”

On Thursday, April 15, President Donald Trump released federal guidelines for “Opening up America Again,” his three-phase plan for getting the country back to work and more regular social interaction.

Contrary to a unilateral nationwide effort that he had previously touted, “Opening Up America Again” will rely heavily on governor discretion to implement county and state and wide.

Calling it a “gradual process” Trump did not specify any dates, but instead set safety requirements to be met at each phase.  Core state preparedness responsibilities hinge on testing and contact tracing, healthcare system capacity and plans to protect the health and safety of workers in critical industries, those living and working in high-risk facilities like senior care facilities, and employees and users of mass transit. They also address social distancing and face covering protocols and steps to limit and mitigate rebounds and outbreaks by returning to previous phases. There is an emphasis on protecting vulnerable populations such as the elderly and those with health conditions that would put them at greater risk.

Standard COVID-19 hygiene practices are advised and those who feel sick should stay at home and follow advice of their medical provider.  Guidelines are also recommended for all phases for employers, such as social distancing, temperature checks, restrictions on business travel and more.

“Gating criteria” is established before states or regions can continue to the phased opening. These include “downward trajectory of documented cases within a 14-day period” or a “downward trajectory of positive tests as a percent of total tests within a 14-day period (flat or increasing volume of tests).” For hospitals, it involves treating “all patients without crisis care” as well as putting “robust testing programs in place for at-risk healthcare workers, including emerging antibody testing.”

Each phase specifies guidelines for individuals, employers and specific types of employers.

Phase One

In Phase One, vulnerable individuals should continue to shelter in place and those in households with vulnerable individuals should recognize the risk of bringing the virus home from work or other public environments and distancing is encouraged. Distancing in public is encouraged, and gatherings of more than 10 discouraged. Non-essential travel should be minimized and CDC post-travel isolation guidelines should be followed.

Employers are advised to continue telework and return to work in phases, if possible, while closing common areas that would breed congregating. Non-essential travel should be curtailed  and special accommodations made for vulnerable populations.

Schools and organized youth activities that are currently closed should remain closed and visitors to senior living facilities and hospitals prohibited. Large venues like restaurants, movie theaters, sporting venues and places of worship can operate under strict social distancing protocols. Elective surgeries can resume; gyms can reopen if adhering to strict distancing and sanitizing protocols. Bars remain closed.

Phase Two

The second phase would kick in for states and counties with no evidence of rebound, satisfying the gating criteria a second time. Groups should still practice distancing in gatherings of no more than 50 people. Non-essential travel can resume. Schools and organized youth activities can reopen, and bars may reopen with limited standing room occupancy.

Phase Three

Areas with no evidence of rebound that satisfy the gating criteria a third time can move to Phase Three. This allows for vulnerable individuals to resume public interaction with appropriate distancing, and low-risk populations should limit time in crowded situation. Employers may resume unrestricted staffing of worksites. Only at this stage may visits to senior care facilities and hospitals can resume, with visitors practicing recommended hygiene protocols. Large venues (sit-down dining, movie theaters, sports venues and places or worship) can operate with restricted physical distancing. Bars may increase their standing room occupancy where applicable.

Governors will determine the appropriate timeline to begin this process, on a statewide or county-by-county basis as appropriate.

Read the guidelines at https://www.whitehouse.gov/openingamerica/