Tens of millions of United States residents are now adhering to stay-at-home or shelter-in-place orders, and on April 3, the CDC began advising those who must leave their homes to do so wearing nonmedical face masks or face coverings in public. But even with these advanced measures to attempt to flatten the coronavirus curve, many people are wondering when it will be safe enough to leave our homes again.
President Donald Trump is continuing to urge Americans to embrace social distancing through the end of April, despite the fact that he has yet to invoke any kind of federal “stay-at-home” orders. But his team also has said it’d like the country to be “open for business” by May 1. With that date rapidly approaching and new cases still being reported across the country, it still very much seems as if there is no end in sight.
When can the country realistically open back up?
Unfortunately, with so many factors in play, there really is no way of knowing. Without federal guidance, individual states and local authorities are making shelter-in-place decisions and other calls such as closing schools and universities on a case-by-case basis. Currently, more than 40 states are enforcing shelter-in-place rules or other social distancing guidelines. As of April 14, four states—Arkansas, Iowa, Nebraska, and North Dakota—have no such directives.
As the first state to impose stay-at-home restrictions on March 19, California is already seeing a positive effect on the number of new cases. However, there may still be a long way to go. Los Angeles has already extended restrictions to May 15, with six counties in the Bay Area going to at least May 3—in addition to several other states such as New York.
According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the country won’t be able to 100 percent safely get back to normal until an effective vaccine is developed. And that could take a year or longer.
What are other countries doing?
The most practical way of understanding our path forward will most likely lie in using other countries as a model for what the U.S. needs to do to pull out of this pandemic. Some parts of the world are already seeing a relaxation of social restrictions and, hopefully, a return to normalcy so the economy and nonessential business will have a chance to recover. Yet, other countries haven’t even begun to peak, meaning that the quarantine could still stretch on for months.
On April 7, China reported its first day with no new COVID-19 infection cases for the first time since the country was placed under quarantine. The following day, a 76-day lockdown was lifted in Wuhan, where the global coronavirus pandemic began and which was also the country’s hardest-hit city. As people began leaving the city in a mass exodus, concerns were sparked of a possible second wave of infections—although Chinese medical professionals do not believe that asymptomatic carriers will continue to spread the virus.
Back in the U.S., two groups of states on April 13 announced regional plans to begin to ease restrictions as conditions permit—New York, Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts on the East Coast, and California, Oregon, and Washington on the West. The same day, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that he believes the “worst is over” if people continue to be smart about social distancing measures.
However, both groups say they plan to use metrics in guiding any reopenings, with more details expected in the coming days.