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Forbes: The First Phase Of Reopening The Country Has Begun — And It’s A Patchwork Of Small Steps

Read Full Article Here (Jack Brewster, Forbes April 20th 2020)

States across the country have begun to take small steps towards normalcy, lifting restrictions on everything from beaches to construction to garden-supply stores, in a sign of the cautious and divergent response governors will be taking to dial back social distancing guidelines.

KEY FACTS Even as President Trump has been pressuring states to reopen and protests have popped up calling on states to lift restrictions all across the country, most governors have heeded warnings from health officials about the possibility of another wave of outbreak should restrictions be lifted too early and proceeded with caution. The result is a patchwork of assorted and small steps towards relaxing social distancing guidelines, even as the number of infected continues to rise in states across the country, albeit at a slower pace. In Vermont, “low-or-no-contact” services including municipal clerks, law firms, contracting companies, construction crews and garden-supply stores can open Monday as long as they follow regulations that include wearing masks and staying six feet apart. This week, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott will allow state parks to open, nonessential surgeries to begin taking place, and retail stores to start selling to-go items. New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, some of the hardest hit states in the country, allowed marinas, boatyards, and golf courses to open to the public this past weekend; Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz followed suit, permitting residents to open recreational businesses in the state beginning Saturday. Florida reopened some of its beaches on Friday with social distancing restrictions in place and South Carolina will reportedly open its coastline in the next week; Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis drew controversy for refusing to shut down beaches last month in the early days of the outbreak. WHAT TO WATCH FOR If testing ramps up. Health officials maintain that before states reopen, it should have widespread testing available to identify and isolate new virus outbreaks as they happen. Most states are not performing nearly enough tests, mostly due to a lack of resources. Harvard researchers suggest the U.S. must perform three times as many tests as it is currently performing to safely reopen. Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week” that the federal government is partnering with states and labs to double the capacity of COVID-19 testing across the nation. KEY BACKGROUND Though governors are making their own decisions about easing restrictions, many states are coordinating together on the transition. The governors of California, Oregon and Washington announced a joint effort to reopen their states last week, hours after the governors of six east coast states, including New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey and Rhode Island agreed to a similar measure. Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin announced a joint transition effort recently as well. CRUCIAL QUOTE Dr. Anthony Fauci said on April 12 that relaxing social distancing restrictions would require a regional — rather than a nationalized, one-size-fits-all — approach. “It is not going to be a light switch that we say, ‘OK, it is now June, July, or whatever, click, the light switch goes back on,’” Fauci told CNN “State of the Union” host Jake Tapper. “It's going to be depending where you are in the country, the nature of the outbreak that you already experienced, and the threat of an outbreak that you may not have experienced.” After initially saying the decision to reopen the country was his alone to make, Trump has echoed Fauci and pointed to governors to “call [their] own shots” about when and how to transition out of lockdown. “We are not opening all at once, but one careful step at a time,” Trump told reporters during a briefing at the White House last Thursday, before announcing new federal guidelines for reopening the country that leaves the responsibilities to the states. BIG NUMBER 95%. More than 95% of Americans are under some form of stay-at-home order.

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