Across the country, governments are preparing to reopen society and the economy after the initial wave of coronavirus cases subsides. Regions, states, and localities are crafting plans based on scientific data to loosen public health restrictions and get Americans out of their homes and on the move again.
Although New York has been an unfortunate and enduring hot spot with over a quarter-million cases, by contrast Arizona has seen a little over 5,000 cases. Arizona and states like it may be ready to reopen immediately.
In light of this, what might the future of our fight against the new coronavirus look like from a public health perspective?
1. Testing, testing, and more testing.
Testing is critically important, and as it scales up across the country there may be a coronavirus test in your future.
Of course, you could certainly expect one if you aren’t feeling well and have any of the symptoms associated with COVID-19, the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
But that’s not all.
You also may be tested for the presence of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies if you’ve had the virus and gotten well either at home or in a hospital. An antibody test may indicate that you have some level of immunity to the virus and possible protection against reinfection.
>>> When can America reopen? The National Coronavirus Recovery Commission, a project of The Heritage Foundation, is gathering America’s top thinkers together to figure that out. Learn more here.
Because antibodies remain in your system long after the active infection, these tests also are used to determine the true spread of the coronavirus geographically.
Diagnostic testing also will be an important tool for monitoring progress against the virus. If health officials can detect where SARS-CoV-2 hot spots are flaring up, they can rush resources to the fire and craft plans to put out the flames.
2. Contact tracing.
When a person tests positive for COVID-19, a state or local health department likely will seek to interview him to determine who he came into contact with recently. This process is known as contact tracing.
After an interview, officials may quarantine contacts of the infected individual for possible sickness and isolate them if they are sick with COVID-19.
Then, officials will want to trace the contacts of any infected contacts, too.
Innovators are exploring ways to use technology, such as our smartphones, to provide contact tracing in ways that—rightly—protect privacy.
In the meantime, policymakers can use traditional contact tracing, which has been an effective public health tool and will help contain the disease and prevent new infection.
3. New mitigation measures.
As we move beyond physical and social distancing and toward reopening the country, you should expect to be asked to incorporate new public health practices into your life to protect yourself and others.
After all, lifting lockdowns won’t make this virus any less infectious—or less deadly.
These new mitigation measures could include wearing face masks outside the home to places such as work, shopping, or the gym, possible health checks (e.g., getting your temperature taken) at your place of employment, and limiting the occupancy of reopened places where people gather.
These places can help by providing hand sanitizer dispensers near common contact surfaces, such as cash registers and doorways.
4. Reimplementing restrictions.
As we look toward a reopening of the nation, America’s leaders are navigating uncharted territory. No one wants to hear this, but if the virus begins to regain a foothold in a rebound or second wave, we may need to go on the defense for a bit—and find a new attack route.
The daily rate of cases and deaths has stalled over the past few days and possibly may be beginning to decline. This bodes well for the effort to reopen the country as consistently declining incidence is necessary for a safe resumption of our daily lives.
But we must be mindful of this one fact: In this war, the virus gets a vote.
A setback may mean reimplementing some social distancing measures, returning to telework, staying at home, and limiting nonessential travel. The road to recovery and the return to something close to normal may have a few potholes and speed bumps along the way.
5. Protecting the vulnerable.
Society must take special measures to guard at-risk groups from infection from the virus, especially those at nursing homes and in elderly communities and those with preexisting conditions—especially diabetes or respiratory, cardiac, or immunity issues. These groups are highly susceptible to the effects of COVID-19.
Although inconvenient and emotionally difficult, we’ll need to continue physical distancing from vulnerable loved ones while we develop therapeutics that treat the disease as well as a vaccine to protect us from contracting it.
The coronavirus crisis has hit us hard. We can’t change that, but we can and will work our way through the crisis with thoughtful public health policies and practices.
This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal