By David E. Hubler
Contributor, In Homeland Security
Over the weekend, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) sent the White House draft recommendations to help business establishments, schools and places of worship reopen safely by gradually lifting “stay-at-home” state mandates.
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Among the CDC recommendations: businesses should close company break rooms, restaurants ought to consider using disposable menus and plates, and students should eat their lunch in their classroom.
The draft recommendations must still pass muster with President Donald Trump before they can become national guidance for the states to use to begin to re-start their economies.
States Have Begun Loosening or Abolishing Restrictions to Contain the Coronavirus Pandemic
But prompted by frustrated business owners and ordinary citizens tired of remaining indoors, several states have already begun loosening or abolishing restrictions aimed at containing the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Washington State – once thought to be the origin of the novel coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. – will soon begin lifting the statewide “stay home, stay healthy” order issued by Gov. Jay Inslee on March 23.
Inslee announced on Monday that the state “will partially reopen outdoor recreational activities May 5,” according to the Seattle Times. Inslee ordered the closure of all non-essential businesses and recreational facilities in an effort to stem the state’s rapidly growing number of cases of the coronavirus.
State parks, public lands and boat ramps will be allowed to reopen. The ban on recreational hunting and fishing will also be lifted. “Public gatherings and team sports will remain prohibited and people pursuing outdoor recreation must still abide by social-distancing guidelines,” Inslee told a news conference Monday.
He called the reopening of the recreational facilities “a second step of many” aimed at fully reopening the state’s economy. Inslee added that “many restrictions would have to stay in place beyond May 4, but did not specifically say whether the stay-at-home order would be extended,” the Times noted.
As of April 26, there were 13,686 reported coronavirus cases in Washington and 765 deaths.
Georgia to Reopen Segments of the Economy despite Spike in Death Toll
In Atlanta, Gov. Brian Kemp on Monday defended his decision to reopen segments of Georgia’s economy, including tattoo parlors, gyms, and hair and nail salons. The Atlanta Journal Constitution said the governor spoke “shortly before the state reported a new death toll that was rapidly approaching a grim milestone.”
As recently as Friday, the death toll in Georgia from the coronavirus COVID-19 disease stood at 899, having doubled in less than three weeks. By Monday evening, the state’s public health commissioner, Dr. Kathleen Toomey, reported that the death toll had risen to 994.
She admitted that state data “did not show Georgia was meeting the Trump administration’s ‘full gating criteria’ for reopening businesses.” Federal guidelines call for a decline in new cases for least two consecutive weeks.
Georgia Health Officials Warn that Outbreak Still Has Not Reached Its Peak
The Journal Constitution also cited public health officials as warning “that with the outbreak in Georgia still not at its peak, Kemp risked inviting a new wave of coronavirus infections.”
Earlier, Kemp had announced that restaurants could resume dine-in service and theaters could reopen – “albeit with numerous restrictions,” the Journal Constitution said.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott, whose stay-at-home order expires on May 1, on Monday unveiled a multi-phased plan to reopen the state. “Beginning Friday, May 1, all retail stores, restaurants, movie theaters, malls, museums, libraries, churches and places of worship can reopen with occupancy limited to no more than 25 percent,” the Houston Chronicle reported.
But Abbott’s plan to allow restaurants to reopen at 25 percent capacity did not win over all restaurant owners, the Dallas Morning News said, adding “not all plan to [open].”
Tables must be spaced six feet apart and will only be set up to accommodate parties of six or fewer, as required by Abbott’s new executive order.
Dallas Restaurateurs Not Happy with One-Quarter Capacity Allowance
Brooks Anderson, a restaurant owner in the Dallas area, told the Morning News that he didn’t think the financials work out to operate at one-quarter capacity. “In the best of times at full capacity, restaurants have a hard time paying their bills,” he said. “What I can tell you is, we’re not reopening at 25% capacity. That makes no sense at all.”
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner told the Chronicle that he is hopeful Abbott’s timeline to reopen the state will work “but cautioned the public to continue practicing social distancing, wear masks and stay home if at all possible.”
Texas has recorded 25,297 cases of COVID-19 with 666 deaths as of April 27.
Tennessee Governor Terms His Reopening Decisions ‘More on the Aggressive Side’
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee acknowledged on Monday that his decision to allow businesses to reopen across most of the state was “more on the aggressive side.”
As he told Fox News, “We made our decisions primarily based on data,” Lee said. “We’ve had weeks of downward decline in our cases. … We’ve had a decreasing positivity rate for weeks.” The Tennessean reported.
When asked why he did not mandate health screenings at open businesses rather than only encourage their use Lee said that he had “a great deal of trust in business owners.”
Nevertheless, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Tennessee jumped to 9,918 on Sunday. The 478 new cases was the biggest daily increase so far. Monday “saw 251 new cases and 193 recoveries,” the Tennessean said.
“As the state has relaxed its standards for conducting tests and implemented mass testing sites statewide, a smaller percentage of total tests have come back positive. However, the positive case count is still increasing,” the newspaper added.
More states are expected to loosen business and societal restrictions once the White House formally releases the CDC guidance.