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White House Issues Guidelines on Relaxing COVID-19 Precautions

April 17, 2020

White House Issues Guidelines on Relaxing COVID-19 Precautions

April 17, 2020

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For states ready to begin lifting restrictions, the White House guidance provides a plan to reopen for business in three phases.

On April 16, 2020, the White House rolled out a series of guidelines for relaxing social-distancing measures imposed to slow the spread of COVID-19. Signaling a potential return to normalcy for many Americans, especially those under quarantine, the guidelines provide a road map for states to reopen businesses and allow employees to return to work.

Core Abilities

To prevent a second outbreak, the White House is advising state governments to implement “Core State Preparedness Responsibilities” before lifting restrictions in three phases. Before beginning the first phase, states must see a downward trajectory of COVID-19 cases or flu-like illnesses during a 14-day period and ensure their hospital systems are capable of testing and treating all patients without crisis care. Specifically, the guidelines recommend that states develop the ability to efficiently screen symptomatic individuals at dedicated testing sites, trace and track streams of infection and monitor cases of asymptomatic infections. The guidelines also focus directly on healthcare system capacity. The White House is advising states to ensure hospitals can rapidly provide personal protective equipment, increase ICU “surge capacity” and have a reliable supply of medical equipment before lifting restrictions.

The White House also identified the importance of safety in critical industries. Those considered especially at risk of infection include emergency care providers, senior care facility workers and residents, and employees and users of mass transit. States should continuously monitor conditions and take steps to limit and mitigate any rebounds or outbreaks by restarting a phase or returning to an earlier phase, depending on severity.

A Three-Phase Approach

For states ready to begin lifting restrictions, the White House guidance provides a plan to reopen for business in three phases. The timing and manner in which states choose to implement (or not implement) the phases will vary. Still, the guidance paints a picture of how American life will likely return to something resembling normal over the course of the following weeks and months.

Phase One

Vulnerable individuals should continue sheltering in place. All others should maintain social distancing in public and wear face masks. Employers are advised to encourage working from home and to allow employees to return to work in phases, while also taking precautions such as closing common areas and minimizing nonessential travel. Large public gatherings should remain prohibited.

Phase Two

Vulnerable individuals should continue to shelter-in-place. Individuals in public should continue social distancing, and gatherings of 50 or more people should remain prohibited. Nonessential travel can resume. Employers should continue encouraging working from home, keep common areas closed and make special accommodations for vulnerable employees to return to work. Elective surgeries can resume, and schools, bars and large venues can resume with moderate social-distancing restrictions.

Phase Three

Vulnerable individuals can resume public interactions, but only while observing social distancing. Low-risk individuals should consider minimizing time at public events. Employers can resume unrestricted staffing levels. Hospital and senior care facility visits can resume. Large public gathering places (e.g., sit-down restaurants, sporting venues, movie theaters) can reopen with physical-distancing protocols. Gyms can operate with normal sanitation standards. Bars may operate as normal, but with "increased standing room occupancy."

Given the eagerness to resume  the economy, Suzanne P. Clark, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, published an op-ed in USA Today outlining how businesses, public health experts and individuals can work together to reopen the country.

Despite indications the COVID-19 curve is flattening in many areas of the country, the virus remains as lethal as ever. The United States has reported more COVID-19 cases and deaths than any other country. More than 690,000 people have been infected and at least 36,118 have died. We urge employers and individuals to follow the rules of their respective state and local governments, and to take every precaution during this crisis.

About Duane Morris

Duane Morris has created a COVID-19 Strategy Team to help organizations plan, respond to and address this fast-moving situation. Contact your Duane Morris attorney for more information. Prior Alerts on the topic are available on the team’s webpage. 

For More Information

If you have any questions about this Alert, please contact Sharon L. Caffrey, Dominica C. Anderson, Caroline M. Austin, Christopher M. Champine, any member of the COVID-19 Strategy Team or the attorney in the firm with whom you are regularly in contact.

Disclaimer: This Alert has been prepared and published for informational purposes only and is not offered, nor should be construed, as legal advice. For more information, please see the firm's full disclaimer.