By Mary Kate McGrath - May 13, 2020
The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has posed unique challenges to states and territories across the United States, as the novel disease, for which there is no effective treatment or vaccines, continues to claim lives and disrupt economies. Many state and local leaders are getting ready for “Phase 2” of coronavirus, preparing to reopen states in a gradual manner that keeps safety and confidence in government at the forefront.
To protect citizens from the potentially-fatal illness and avoid overwhelming healthcare systems, governments have avoided worst-case scenarios of COVID-19 with social-distancing, but these actions have not been without considerable economic toll.
The White House recommends that states have a “downward trajectory” of either documented coronavirus cases or positive tests over a 14-day period before reopening, as per the New York Times. The guidance also recommends that before reopening, states should see a decline in the number of patients exhibiting coronavirus symptoms and be able to resume normal hospital capacity. Public health officials continue to warn against reopening before “indicators of meaningful, sustained transmission decline” are apparent, as per the publication. States looking to ensure a downward trend of coronavirus cases and begin staged reopening will need to build out public health infrastructure, starting with an expansion of testing, as well as a scaling of capacity for isolation, quarantine, and contact tracing.
Public health officials advise against premature reopening, emphasizing the need for significant public health infrastructure in to be in place before the reopening of the economy. Tools to identify and halt further outbreaks of the virus are necessary for a successful reopening - if not implemented correctly, states and territories might face a second crisis, resulting in more deaths, healthcare facilities pushed past capacity, and a return to strict social-distancing measures, as per the NGA. Not only will that scenario prolong economic damage and deepen the recession, it will also undermine the public confidence and cooperation necessary to continue to stem the outbreak of the virus.
In April, the National Governors Association published a 10-point plan titled, “Roadmap to Recovery,” urging state leaders to focus on two components: 1.) Building of this public health infrastructure, and 2.) Creating and executing a plan to gradually reopen the economy. Governors are advised to make a plan for recovery possible with frequent internal and external emergency communications, assignment of clear responsibilities amid key steps, and building partnerships across and outside of the government.
The National Governors Association outlined 5 key steps for building public safety infrastructure, emphasizing that the next phase of COVID-19 containment will require preparation by states to scale up testing, surveillance, and a public health workforce to identify active cases and limit the risk of outbreak. Find the fine components recommended by public health officials and the association of governors below:
Essential public health infrastructure, such as contact tracing, can be complimented with scalable technology solutions that help identify illness clusters and at-risk communities. When a community is ready to begin implementing the next phase of coronavirus response, these efforts can be supported by leveraging tools that allow state and local leaders to surface critical data, monitor the health of residents, use targeted communication, and connect key stakeholders.
A comprehensive coronavirus solution can help states and territories follow the NGA recommendations by assisting with several strategic practices fo managing public health, including:
Many states have already begun to roll out expanded public health infrastructure, with a focus on contact tracing, a “key strategy for preventing further spread of COVID-19,” as per the CDC. Teams of contact tracers are being trained - contact tracing is a specialized skill, and requires training, supervision, and access to social and medical support for contacts and patients. Johns Hopkins University is offering a free five-hour online course for contact tracers, and states across the country are beginning to scale up efforts. New York City will hire 30 contact tracers for every 100,000 residents, and between 6,400 and 17,000 individuals are expected to be included in what Governor Andrew Cuomo is calling an “army” of contact tracers", as per ABC.
Once states have invested in the necessary public health infrastructure, gradual steps toward reopening sectors of local economies will become possible. Governors must weigh the risks and benefits of resuming economic activities, clearly communicating with businesses and the public to minimize the potential for future outbreaks. The National Governors Association provided six steps for states looking to plan for long term economic recovery amid the crisis, which include:
Develop a strong and clear communication and public engagement plan. Effective communication ensures individuals, families, businesses, and organizations follow appropriate public health action. Engagement is a key part of this process, and a geo-polling feature of a mass notification system can be critical for ongoing assessments of community need.
Create a framework for reopening, including ongoing public input and engagement, as well as the establishment of a broad-based task force or advisory committee.
Set the criteria and define the stages for reopening, identifying key public health and preparedness metrics for initiating the process of reopening and developing key criteria for when social distancing measures might be reinstated or loosened.
Build partnerships between private and public sectors to implement the plan, developing and promoting tools to help public and private organizations reduce their risk of COVID-19 transmission.
Prepare to reassess and improve the plan frequently, communicating constantly among state agencies and running tabletop exercises, as well as continuing to engage stakeholders to inform or reassess the plan as the situation develops.
Public health officials advise against a unilateral reopening of state and local economies, and instead are urging states to gradually reopen business and public life. In Massachusetts, Governor Charlie Baker unveiled a 4-phase reopening plan, hoping to move the state from widespread shutdowns to a “new normal,” as per WBUR. The first stage allows for limited industries to resume operations with severe restrictions, then if successful, additional industries will resume operations with restrictions and capacity limits, and finally, the development of an effective vaccine or therapy will mark the beginning of a “new normal.”
Businesses will be subject to mandatory safety standards once they resume opening, and state officials plan to outline industry-specific safety measures. If public health measures fall below thresholds at any phase of the process, the state may move back to the prior stage until outlook becomes more positive. During Phase 1, the state plans to offer updates on overall social guidance regarding gathering restrictions, face masks, etc., as well as mandatory safety standards for workplaces, and sector specific best practices or protocols, according to WBUR.
Technology can strengthen phased economic recovery efforts, facilitating daily communications with the public, helping assign clear responsibility for next steps, and build the public and private partnerships necessary for reopening. Amid the reopening process, a coronavirus communications tool can provide the capability for:
Check out how our critical communication and data solution can play an integral role in your coronavirus recovery efforts in the video below:
States moving forward with the second phase of their coronavirus response plan can continue to leverage innovative safety solutions to promote public health monitoring, protect frontline workers, establish a database of vulnerable or high-risk community members, and continue to engage the public.
Mary Kate is a content specialist and social media manager for the Rave Mobile Safety team. She writes about public safety for the state & local and education spheres.
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