Across the country, governments are preparing to
reopen society and the economy after the initial wave of coronavirus cases
subsides. Regions, states, and localities are crafting plans based on scientific
data to loosen public health restrictions and get Americans out of their homes
and on the move again.
Although New York has been an unfortunate and
enduring hot spot with over a quarter-million cases, by contrast Arizona has seen
a little over 5,000 cases. Arizona and states like it may be ready to reopen
In light of this, what might the future of our
fight against the new coronavirus look like from a public health perspective?
1. Testing, testing, and more testing. Testing is critically important, and as it scales up across the country there may be a coronavirus test in your future.
Of course, you could certainly expect one if
you aren’t feeling well and have any of the symptoms associated with COVID-19,
the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
But that’s not all.
You also may be tested for the presence of SARS-CoV-2
antibodies if you’ve had the virus and gotten well [MK1] either at home or in a hospital. An antibody test may indicate
that you have some level of immunity to the virus and possible protection
Because antibodies remain in your system long
after the active infection, these tests also are used to determine the true
spread of the coronavirus geographically.
Diagnostic testing also will be an important
tool for monitoring progress against the virus. If health officials can detect where
SARS-CoV-2 hot spots are flaring up, they can rush resources to the fire and craft
plans to put out the flames.
tracing. When a person tests positive for
COVID-19, a state or local health department likely will seek to interview him to
determine who he came into contact with recently. This process is known as
After an interview, officials may quarantine contacts
of the infected individual for possible sickness and isolate them if they are sick
Then, officials will want to trace the
contacts of any infected contacts, too.
Innovators are exploring ways to use
technology, such as our smartphones, to provide contact tracing in ways that–rightly—protect
In the meantime, policymakers can use traditional
contact tracing, which has been an effective public health tool and will help
contain the disease and prevent new infection.
3. New mitigation
measures. As we move beyond physical and social
distancing and toward reopening the country, you should expect to be asked to
incorporate new public health practices into your life to protect yourself and
After all, lifting lockdowns won’t make this
virus any less infectious—or less deadly.
These new mitigation measures could include
wearing face masks outside the home to places such as work, shopping, or the
gym, possible health checks (e.g., getting your temperature taken) at your
place of employment, and limiting the occupancy of reopened places where people
These places can help by providing hand
sanitizer dispensers near common contact surfaces, such as cash registers and
restrictions. As we look toward
a reopening of the nation, America’s leaders are navigating uncharted
territory. No one wants to hear this, but if the virus begins to regain a
foothold in a rebound or second wave, we may need to go on the defense for a
bit—and find a new attack route.
The daily rate of cases and deaths has stalled
over the past few days and possibly may be beginning to decline. This bodes
well for the effort to reopen the country as consistently declining incidence
is necessary for a safe resumption of our daily lives.
But we must be mindful of this one fact: In
this war, the virus gets a vote.
A setback may mean reimplementing some social
distancing measures, returning to telework, staying at home, and limiting
nonessential travel. The road to recovery and the return to something close to normal
may have a few potholes and speed bumps along the way.
5. Protecting the vulnerable. Society
must takespecial measures to guard
at-risk groups from infection from the virus, especially those at nursing homes
and in elderly communities and those with preexisting conditions—especially diabetes
or respiratory, cardiac, or immunity issues. These groups are highly
susceptible to the effects of COVID-19.
Although inconvenient and emotionally
difficult, we’ll need to continue physical distancing from vulnerable loved
ones while we develop therapeutics that treat the disease as well as a vaccine to
protect us from contracting it.
The coronavirus crisis has hit us
hard. We can’t change that, but we can and will work our way through the crisis
with thoughtful public health policies and practices.