California governor Gavin Newsom just announced his plan for how the state will gradually relax social distancing measures -- when the time comes. He did not say when restrictions might be lifted or whether the stay-at-home order will remain in place through May as he's previously suggested it might.
But before it lifts, the state said in a press release, businesses and schools will have to demonstrate their ability to support social distancing. In the real world, that might mean that restaurants operate with fewer tables, with diners having their temperatures checked as they enter, Newsom explained. California schools are closed for the remainder of this academic year, and when they reopen in the fall, it might mean staggered class times allowing students to keep a greater distance from each other.
Similar measures are already being implemented in parts of Asia where coronavirus infections have been brought under control. Chances are, wherever you are, you'll see some version of these measures as well whenever current restrictions begin to lift.
On Sunday the National Institutes of Health infectious diseases head Anthony Fauci said that a "rolling" reentry to the economy might be possible in May, but only in parts of the country where the spread of the coronavirus appears to be under control, and only with widespread antibody testing to monitor who's been infected already. Both he and Centers for Disease Control chief Robert Redfield have warned that reopening the economy will inevitably lead to more coronavirus infections, with Redfield predicting a second wave of Covid-19 in fall or winter.
With that in mind, Newsom laid out six "indicators" the state will look for before modifying the current stay-at-home order. In addition to schools and businesses being ready for social distancing, they include having both the hospital and health care systems able to provide needed care without getting overwhelmed, the ability to protect the most vulnerable from infection, and ability to use antibody testing, contact tracing, and isolation of the infected to safeguard the community at large. And, he said, California would retain the ability to reinstitute social distancing measures as needed if infections start to spread.
Sonia Angell, California's public health officer, clarified that what the state has planned is an incremental modification of the stay-at-home order over time rather than lifting it altogether, which might lead to a spike in infections. Such measures as the widespread use of face masks might remain in place until a vaccine is widely available, she added.
Earlier this week, Newsom, Oregon governor Kate Brown, and Washington governor Jay Inslee announced that their three states would work in tandem when it came time to start lifting the social distancing restrictions that have helped control the spread of Covid-19 on the West Coast. No one knows yet when that time will be. But just like the rest of us, they're planning ahead and imagining a changed future.