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Coronavirus Recovery Planning: How State and Local Governments Can Safely Reopen Communities

After shutting down many jurisdictions in response to the swift spread of the coronavirus pandemic, many state and local governments are entering the coronavirus recovery planning stage in which decisions will be made about how to safely reopen communities without instigating a second wave of infection.

In 1918, the Spanish flu swept through the United States killing approximately 675,000 people. At the time, the population of the United States was a third the size it is now; so, in today's numbers, the equivalent of more than 2 million Americas lost their lives to the virus.

The reason for starting our guide to coronavirus recovery planning with this fact is that there are striking similarities between the Spanish flu and coronavirus COVID-19.

  • The virus was transferred from animals to humans
  • There was no vaccine available to counter the spread
  • The control efforts put in place included good personal hygiene, self-quarantine, and social distancing.

What's more concerning about similarities with the Spanish flu is that the first wave of infection in the spring of 1918 was not responsible for the highest number of deaths. The second wave in late summer - after social distancing measures were prematurely relaxed - caused the greatest loss of life, and this was followed by a third, less-devastating wave of infection in the winter of 1918/1919.

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Consequently, the fear of a second, more-devastating wave of infection has to be uppermost in coronavirus recovery planning. Although communities may be desperate to resume “normal life”, the consequences of making bad decisions at this stage could be unimaginable and would certainly result in a return to lockdowns, more business closures, and further loss of income.

Why Safely Reopening Communities is a Fine Balancing Act

While nobody wants a repeat of 1918, implementing measures that are too draconian will not work - especially in areas with low infection rates where the impact of the virus has been mitigated by timely action. Coronavirus recovery planning in these areas has to take into account that citizens may not understand why measures are being enforced and fail to comply with them.

Similarly, in areas that have experienced a large loss of life, citizens may not understand why social distancing measures are being relaxed at all. For some vulnerable members of society, it may be more preferable for them to remain in self-quarantine until a vaccine is available than risk their life and the lives of their loved ones by exposing themselves to the virus.

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Therefore, the most likely way in which most state and local governments will attempt to safely reopen communities will be based on the European model in which restrictions will be lifted little-by-little, area-by-area, with some social distancing measures still required. In some European states, this has involved the staged opening of some industries and different age groups being allocated specific exercise times.

Coronavirus Recovery Planning: What's on the Table at the Minute?

In some U.S. states, coronavirus recovery planning is already at an advanced stage. For example, in Vermont the Agency of Commerce and Community Development has set up an online COVID-19 Recovery Resource Center outlining measures already being taken to reopen communities and those which are being considered. There are also links to sources of recovery funding and debt relief.

In other jurisdictions, plans for reopening communities safely may not be so detailed, but they are being discussed. Recently, California's Governor Newsom revealed his six-point criteria for lifting or modifying the statewide stay-at-home order - adding that some communities may reopen before others if local officials determine it is safe to do so similar to the European model.

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Between the proactive approach of Vermont and the cautious approach of California, several other jurisdictions are relying on personal responsibility to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Last week, the states of Idaho, Alabama, and Texas allowed stay-at-home orders to lapse, and - along with Oklahoma - allowed communities to reopen with restrictions on capacity limits at retail and leisure venues.

Communication is the Key to Reopening Communities Safely

Whatever level of coronavirus recovery planning goes into reopening communities safely, clear communication about what is allowed and what is not allowed is key. Uncertainty can lead to unnecessary risks being taken which could reignite the spread of coronavirus, extend the length of time future stay-at-home orders are in force, and result in a slower lifting of restrictions thereafter.

A good idea in these circumstances is for state and local governments to take advantage of existing emergency notification systems that can send information to specific geographic areas. These systems can be used to inform communities of the restrictions that apply in their particular areas, answer questions from citizens, and communicate any reintroduction of stay-at-home orders at a granular level.

It is also a good idea to implement an anonymous text tipping service to gauge the level at which citizens are ignoring measures put in place to reopen communities safely. The feedback from this service can provide state and local governments with insights into what measures are working - and where they are working - in order to assist the decision-making process in future coronavirus recovery planning.


Tara Gibson
Tara Gibson

Tara is a Marketing Coordinator on the Rave Mobile Safety marketing team. She loves writing about all things K-12, State & Local, Higher Ed, Corporate, and Healthcare, and manages the Rave social media channels. When she's not working, she's taking care of her smiley, shoe eating, Instagram-famous fur baby, Enzo!

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