With the peak of Covid-19 infections now behind us and with clear evidence that social distancing has helped "flatten the curve," slowing the rapid spread of the disease, political leaders everywhere are debating when to start easing social distancing restrictions and business leaders are wondering when they can safely reopen their stores and offices. To help both groups plan, modelers at the widely respected University of Washington Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) have just come out with state-by-state projected reopening dates. They cover 48 of the 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia.
IHME recommends beginning to reopen 27 states during May, including the two hardest-hit states, New York and New Jersey. Its earliest recommendation for reopening is for West Virginia, which it projects can safely reopen on May 10. The latest recommendation is for North Dakota, which so far has fewer than 1,000 confirmed cases and may not yet have reached its peak.
How is IHME picking these dates? These are the dates each state is predicted to have no more than one person per million with a Covid-19 infection. Since not everyone is getting tested for Covid-19, IHME is not basing its infection count on tests; instead it's extrapolating an infection rate based on how many people have died of the disease in each state. One infection per million residents is a very conservative number, and one every state's healthcare system could handle, an IHME official told NPR. Given that the number of infections isn't dropping as quickly as expected, and given new evidence that the virus is even more contagious than previously thought, a conservative number seems like a good idea.
Switching from social distancing to containment.
IHME is not recommending that states go back to business-as-usual on their reopening dates. Instead, it's recommending a switch from social distancing measures to what it calls "containment." Containment consists of widespread testing, contact tracing of those who have been infected, isolation of any new cases, and a continued ban on large gatherings to prevent mass infections.
Of course, not every state is following these recommendations or this timetable. Georgia governor Brian Kemp, for example, created plenty of controversy when he allowed certain businesses, such as beauty parlors and gyms, to reopen last week -- although IHME's projection says that state should not reopen until June 28. Several other states have already reopened their beaches or lifted some of their social distancing rules. IHME says that its models to date have assumed that social distancing measures that slowed the spread of the virus would continue a while longer; it says it is now adjusting its model to account for newly lifted restrictions.
Once governments begin lifting restrictions, it will be up to individual business owners and leaders to decide when to reopen locations, and what safety measures to put in place. This timetable gives you a starting point for figuring that out.