COVID-19 Task Force E-lert: White House Issues Guidelines for "Opening Up America Again"

Authored by Ellen Lamb, Government Research Analyst, GrayRobinson

President Donald Trump announced last week the White House Coronavirus Task Force’s “Guidelines for Opening Up America Again,” which sets criteria for individual states and localities to make decisions about whether and how to reopen businesses and allow public activities. The White House’s “30 Days to Slow the Spread” initiative ended this week.

President Trump said it would be up to governors and local authorities to determine whether they meet the criteria for beginning the three-phase process to returning to normal activity levels. Those criteria call for:

  • downward trajectories of influenza-like illnesses and COVID-like syndromic cases reported within a 14-day period;
  • downward trajectories of documented cases over a 14-day period, or downward trajectories of positive tests as a percentage of overall testing over 14 days; and
  • the ability of hospitals to treat all patients without crisis care and a “robust testing program” in place for healthcare workers, including antibody testing. 

The guidelines set no nationwide minimum standards for acceptable infection rates or testing levels, and President Trump emphasized that states will be responsible for developing and conducting testing programs. 

Once a state meets these criteria, it may begin Phase One, in which:

  • Vulnerable individuals continue to shelter in place
  • Healthy people continue to maximize social distance in public, with no social gatherings of more than 10 people
  • Non-essential travel remains minimal
  • Employers continue to encourage telework, and bring employees back to work in phases
  • Workplaces close common areas and enforce social distancing protocols
  • Workplaces “strongly consider” special accommodation for employees who are part of vulnerable populations
  • Schools and daycare centers that have closed remain closed
  • Senior living facilities and hospitals are closed to visitors
  • Large venues, such as movie theaters and sports arenas, can operate under strict distancing protocols
  • Elective surgeries can resume
  • Gyms can reopen if they comply with strict distancing and sanitation protocols
  • Bars remain closed

After 14 days in Phase One, if the state or area continues to meet the criteria for reopening, it may continue to Phase Two, in which:

  • Vulnerable individuals continue to shelter in place
  • Healthy people continue to maximize social distance in public, but social gatherings of up to 50 people will be allowed
  • Non-essential travel resumes
  • Employers continue to encourage telework
  • Workplaces keep common areas closed
  • Workplaces continue to “strongly consider” special accommodation for employees who are part of vulnerable populations
  • Schools, daycare centers, and camps may reopen
  • Senior living facilities and hospitals remain closed to visitors
  • Large venues, such as movie theaters and sports arenas, can operate under moderate distancing protocols
  • Elective surgeries may resume on an outpatient and inpatient basis
  • Bars may reopen with diminished standing-room occupancy

If the state or area continues to meet the criteria after 14 days in Phase Two, it may move to Phase Three, in which:

  • Vulnerable people can resume social activities, practicing physical distancing
  • Low-risk populations should consider avoiding crowds
  • Workplaces can reopen without restriction
  • Visits to senior living facilities and hospitals can resume, with diligent hygiene practices
  • Large venues can operate under limited distancing protocols
  • Bars may operate with increased standing-room occupancy

President Trump said last week that as many as 29 states may be eligible or close to eligible to start Phase One, but did not specify which states. The Centers for Disease Control report a drop-off in reported new cases nationwide over the past two weeks, while cautioning that this may not capture illnesses that have begun during that period.

The independent Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) projects that the nation’s COVID-19 outbreak reached peak healthcare resource demand on April 10, although several individual states’ outbreaks have yet to peak.