Reopening in the COVID-19 era: How to adapt to a new normal

Public health experts offer their thoughts on costs and benefits of states and the federal government easing COVID-19 restrictions.

May 13, 2020
Category: Fact-Checking

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This week, protesters in Clearwater, Florida — just a few minutes from where I’m based — did push-ups and squats outside the county courthouse to protest gym closures. The display went viral, and exemplifies the frustrations some have with some COVID-19 regulations.

But, as states begin to reopen — most without meeting the thresholds recommended by the White House — a new level of COVID-19 risk analysis begins for Americans.

Should I go to the beach? What about the hair salon? A sit-down restaurant meal?

States are responding to the tremendous economic cost of the pandemic and people’s pent-up desire to be “normal” again. But public health experts remain cautious. In many areas, they note, COVID cases — and deaths — are still on the rise, and some fear new surges will follow the easing of restrictions.

“Reopening is not back to normal. It is trying to find ways to allow people to get back out to do things they want to do, and business to do business,” said Dr. Marcus Plescia, chief medical officer at the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. “We can’t pretend the virus has gone away. The vast majority of the population is still susceptible.”

So far, state rules vary. But they involve a basic theme.

“They are making assumptions that people will use common sense and good public health practice when they go out,” said Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director with the American Public Health Association.

As states start to reopen, people will have to weigh the risk versus benefit of getting out more, along with their own tolerance for uncertainty. The bottom line, health experts say, is people should continue to be vigilant: Maintain distance, wear masks, wash your hands — and take responsibility for your own health and that of those around you.

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Alex Mahadevan is a senior multimedia reporter at MediaWise. He can be reached at amahadevan@poynter.org or on Twitter at @AlexMahadevan. Follow MediaWise on TikTok.