At first, social or physical distancing represented the main way to flatten the curve and prevent the spread of novel coronavirus. While that remains an important strategy, public health experts have begun to look ahead at new tactics and tools.
On April 22, the White House introduced a plan for reopening the country. And several prominent groups of experts — including those from the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) and the American Enterprise Institute — have also released recommendations for how to move forward.
All of these plans use scientific data to guide next steps. Each emphasizes the importance of reopening the country slowly as testing becomes more widespread, case numbers decline and hospitals can handle those who are sick. Otherwise, some of the progress we’ve made to fight the virus may be reversed, they warn.
Already, some areas of the country have begun moving to reopen in phases, yet much remains uncertain. And specifics will look different by state. Here is some of what public health experts believe we can expect, from summer and beyond.
Spikes of COVID-19 May Continue to Ebb and Flow
After an initial peak and then a decline, states that reopen can expect increases in hospitalizations for coronavirus from time to time. It’s not clear when, exactly, they’ll occur. But as soon as public health officials notice them, they may close businesses and ask people to stay home for a little while again to keep everyone safe.
The Weather Might Make a Difference
Viruses that cause colds and flu spread more rapidly during winter, when it’s cold. However, it’s not yet known whether the same will be true for COVID-19.
Even if cases decline, it will still be possible to get sick during the summer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). So, we’ll still need to take precautions, such as washing hands frequently with soap and water and covering coughs and sneezes.
Contact Tracing Will Likely Become More Common
Contact tracing involves identifying and testing people who have had contact with a person with COVID-19. These people will be informed they’re at risk, then go into isolation until they’re sure they don’t have COVID-19, the CDC explains.
This process worked to control the outbreak of SARS, another coronavirus, in 2003, the IDSA notes. Many more public health workers will be hired to carry it out. Various entities will likely employ digital tools, including those that use Bluetooth or GPS, to make the process easier for everyone.
More People Will Wear Masks in Public
The CDC already recommends cloth face coverings anytime you’re in a public place where it’s difficult to practice social distancing, such as the grocery store or pharmacy. Moving forward, the White House is urging everyone to consider wearing them in public, especially on mass transit.
Large Gatherings Will Take Time to Resume
As states move through the phases of reopening, gradually larger groups of people will be able to get together. Once cases have been declining for a while, up to 50 people may gather. However, large festivals, conferences and sporting events may be delayed until there is a determined protective widespread immunity to the disease.
People at High Risk Should Remain Cautious
Even as some public activities resume, those who are most vulnerable to COVID-19 will still need to protect themselves. This includes people age 65 and older and those with underlying medical conditions, notes the CDC including:
- Liver or kidney disease, especially being on dialysis
- COPD and other chronic lung diseases in addition to moderate to severe asthma
- Serious heart conditions
- Severe obesity
- Conditions that cause a person to be immunocompromised, including cancer treatment and the prolonged use of corticosteroids like prednisone and other immune weakening medications
When some businesses and public spaces reopen, people at high risk should continue to stay home, the White House recommends. Those in the same household should take care, too, not to bring the virus home. Once cases have been declining for longer and more normal activities resume, high-risk people can go out more, provided they take precautions, such as social distancing.
Remote Working May Carry On
If your job doesn’t require you to be physically present, your employer may ask that you continue to telework, at least for a while. This protects you and your family, and it also keeps people who do need to be out and about safer.
Medical Researchers Will Continue Seeking Answers
Right now, there are no medications or other treatments for COVID-19 or vaccines to prevent it, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). However, some drugs have shown potential.
Scientists are learning more about the disease and ways to combat it every day. Hundreds of clinical trials are already underway to evaluate treatments, a recent research review found.
As far as immunity, the CDC and WHO aren’t currently sure whether people who have been sick can get the disease again. They’re studying this question, too, as well as tests for antibodies and other signs of immunity.
We’re Taking Important Steps to Ensure Patient Safety
Nothing is more important to us than you. We’ve been here for all your health care needs and will continue to be moving forward.
You’ll notice that now, we’re keeping you safe by:
- Asking everyone — including patients and visitors — to wear masks
- Checking everyone’s temperature before they enter a facility
- Monitoring physicians, health care workers and staff for COVID-19 symptoms
- Redesigning waiting rooms to allow for social distancing
- Taking care of patients with COVID-19 symptoms in a separate space from those who do not have symptoms
We’ll All Share Some Basic Responsibilities
Good hygiene measures will always be the best defense against viruses. So, even when other measures are relaxed, you’ll still want to:
- Avoid touching your face
- Disinfect frequently touched surfaces and items often
- Sneeze or cough into your elbow or a tissue
- Wash your hands frequently with soap and water, or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer
In addition, anyone who feels sick should stay home from work or school and contact their medical provider.
Some Long-Term Changes May Benefit Society
While many aspects of adjusting our lifestyles due to coronavirus can feel stressful, sad or challenging, there are signs of a better future. Creativity, resourcefulness and compassion have soared. Telehealth and video visits with doctors, essential during outbreaks, will continue to make medical care more accessible and convenient.
And, even as we’ve stayed socially distanced, we’ve found new ways to work together and connect across our social networks and communities.
We’re Here for You Through it All
You’ll find the latest information on COVID-19 at our Coronavirus Resource Hub. It’s part of what we’re doing at AdventHealth to keep you and your family informed, safe, supported and healthy.