CDC Quietly Releases Detailed Guidelines for Reopening U.S.

The 60-page document comes weeks after some states announced that they would lift stay-at-home orders and would begin reopening parts of their economies

This April 23, 2020, file photo, shows the entrance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia.
Tami Chappell/AFP via Getty Images

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released detailed guidance for reopening schools, mass transit and non-essential businesses that had been shut down in an attempt to curb the spread of the coronavirus in the United States.

The 60-page document, posted on the website without a formal announcement, comes weeks after some states announced that they would lift stay-at-home orders and begin reopening parts of their economies. It also comes as the CDC has remained largely quiet on the pandemic. Agency officials haven’t held a coronavirus-related briefing in more than two months. 

The plan by the CDC outlines a “three-phased approach” for reducing social distancing measures and proposes the use of six “gating” indicators to assess when to move through another phase. The gating indicators include decreases in newly reported Covid-19 cases and emergency room visits as well as a “robust” testing program.

“While some communities will progress sequentially through the reopening phases, there is the possibility of recrudescence in some areas,” the CDC wrote in its guidance. “Given the potential for a rebound in the number of cases or level of community transmission, a low threshold for reinstating more stringent mitigation standards will be essential.”

The CDC said the decision to reinstate strict social distancing measures “will undoubtedly be very difficult and will require careful thought.” The agency said some amount of community mitigation will be necessary until a vaccine or effective drug for Covid-19 is widely available.

In its guidance, the CDC recommended that schools that are currently closed should remain closed in the first phase. Child-care programs should also remain closed in areas with a high number of cases unless the programs severe children of essential workers such as health-care workers. Once state and local governments enter the next phase, schools and child-care programs can open with “enhanced” social distancing measures. 

The health agency said bars should remain closed and restaurants should be limited to drive-through, curbside take out or delivery in the first phase before reopening with limited capacity in the next phases.

Mass transit, which the CDC says is “critical” for many Americans to commute to and from work, should restrict ridership to essential critical infrastructure workers in the first phase. Social distancing is encouraged in the next two paces phases. 

Last month, President Donald Trump unveiled an 18-page plan for “Opening Up America Again.” Like the CDC’s, the White House plan lays out three “phases” aimed at guiding parts of the country to move incrementally toward loosening restrictions on businesses and individuals.

Earlier this month, the Associated Press reported that the Trump administration shelved a document created by the CDC that was meant to help business owners and educators as they begin to reopen.

Read the CDC’s guidelines

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