VYF Board Member Offers Road Map for Lifting Stay-At-Home Orders
Apr 24, 2020

As state and federal government officials in the U.S. debate lifting stay-at-home orders, we must be thoughtful about when and how to safely reopen during the COVID-19 crisis. Opening up too quickly, and we run the risk of another deadly spike in coronavirus cases. But keeping businesses closed for extended periods could also hurt the health and safety of communities. It’s a tricky balance, which is why it’s so essential leaders turn to public health experts for guidance.

VYF board member and internationally recognized virologist, Dr. Paul Offit, partnered with his colleague Dr. David Rubin to offer their suggestions on how to safely reopen society. The recommendations are data-driven, taking into consideration several key points we’ve learned about the novel coronavirus, such as how easily it spreads, who it impacts and how deadly it appears to be. They’ve given us permission to summarize their recommendations below, and you can read the full guidance here.

A Targeted Approach to Reopening Schools and Businesses 

Before governments lift stay-at-home orders, the authors make clear four key things should happen:

  • The number of new COVID-19 cases has dropped significantly.
  • There are enough supplies (like hand sanitizer, disinfectants and face coverings) for the general public.
  • Employers have the guidance they need to protect their employees and customers.
  • Health officials can identify and track cases effectively.

Once those boxes are checked, Drs. Offit and Rubin said governments should take the following steps.

1. Initiate the “Herd Immunity” Stage.

herd immunity thresholdsHerd immunity, or community immunity, is when enough people are immune to a particular disease — either because they got sick or because they were vaccinated against it — that the germ can’t spread easily from person to person.

We don’t yet have a vaccine against COVID-19, but health officials are hopeful that people get some amount of immunity after they’ve been infected with the virus and recovered. By reopening slowly (such as starting with childcare facilities and local businesses in rural or less densely populated areas), health agencies would be better able to measure the impact of reopening and spot early signs of another spike in cases.

2. Be Strategic About Prevention Strategies.

Some prevention measures should keep being used even after businesses reopen, such as:

Young girl doing distance learning

Kids living with high-risk individuals should continue to use distance learning, if possible. | Image via Pexels

  • Working from home whenever possible for those who can, and encouraging employers to make arrangements so that lower-risk individuals work on-site (such as managing classrooms) while high-risk employees work remotely.
  • Limiting the number of people who can gather, especially in indoor spaces
  • Continuing to encourage high-risk populations — like adults over 60 years old and those with weakened immune systems —  to stay home as much as possible.

Drs. Offit and Rubin also recommend child-serving systems like schools and childcare facilities reopen with some precautions:

  • Schools should adjust their calendars to close the facilities during high-risk winter months when the new coronavirus and flu are both circulating.
  • Kids with high-risk family members should continue to get distance learning so they can stay home.
  • Facilities should be strict about hand-washing, cleaning surfaces and enforcing sick policies.
3. Have a Clearly Defined Plan to Keep Workplaces Safe.

It might not be practical or useful for us to test everyone for COVID-19 infection or immunity before letting people go back to work, Drs. Offit and Rubin argue. Instead, they recommend a broader (but more strategic) approach of looking for signs of tracking COVID-19 at the community level. That way, health officials can spot outbreaks quickly and figure out which groups to prioritize for individual testing — for example, those living and working in nursing home settings or mass transit employees.

4. Soften the Economic Blow of the Pandemic.

Congress has already passed several stimulus bills to help businesses and individuals get through the financial hardships they’re experiencing because of the pandemic. But Drs. Offit and Rubin say more should be done, such as:

  • Providing a basic income for those who lose their jobs because of stay-at-home orders.
  • Subsidizing paid leave so that people can stay home when they’re sick or have come into contact with the virus.
  • Boosting manufacturing for things like face masks and ventilators.
  • Investing in public health infrastructure to help health departments identify, track and stop outbreaks.
  • Subsidizing child care and schools so that people can go back to work.
  • Increase funding for research into new tests, treatments and vaccines.

NOTE: These views reflect the opinions of Drs. Offit and Rubin and do not represent a Vaccinate Your Family position. 

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