Here are the possibilities for what life might be like after quarantine measures for COVID-19 to end.
Though there is still a lot of uncertainty and disagreement surrounding how to handle the deadly coronavirus pandemic, there is one thing nearly everyone seems to agree on: most people have their eyes on opening up the economy and getting back to some sense of normalcy.
Most places in the United States have experienced some measure of lockdown over the past few months, though it varied significantly from state to state. But states are finally starting to open back up again. Bars and restaurants are open, movie theaters are up and running, and businesses of all kinds are opening their doors. Some things, however, remain closed. In many states, schools never opened before the end of the school year, and it’s unclear if they’ll be open come fall. Large events, such as sports games and concerts, are still forbidden in most places, and social distancing is still a reality across most of the country.
Ultimately, what stage of opening up each state is in differs significantly. To see what your state is currently planning, check out CNN’s handy interactive tracker.
Meanwhile, people are still feeling the economic pain from the lockdown measures. Beyond the health implications of COVID-19, daily life has been hugely disrupted for most. Unemployment has spiked to record highs (over 45 million people have filed for unemployment since mid-March), while the economy has taken a nosedive.
But even as states begin to reopen, things are a far cry from normality. The unfortunate reality is that there is currently no certain timeline as to when our lives will get back to normal. Ultimately, things might not completely be as they were before until a vaccine is created, which could take anywhere from 12 to 18 months, if not longer. Health experts also warn that there will likely be a second wave of the outbreak.
Despite all the uncertainty, there are a few things about life after lockdown that are beginning to take shape. One thing we know for sure is that the economy will open up in stages. Another is that we’ll likely have to practice some form of social distancing for the foreseeable future.
This guide showcases a set of plans to end the lockdown and likely possibilities of what life may be like after quarantine. It examines everything from bars and restaurants to schools and sporting events. These possible scenarios are not for certain how things will necessarily play out. Rather, they are based on a combination of what health experts are advocating for, what state and local officials are saying, and what states that have already started to open up have been doing.
Before you continue reading, there are two big caveats you need to be aware of:
- Things will differ significantly from state to state.
- With all the uncertainty, things are subject to change very quickly. What might be true in this guide today may not be true in a week from now.
Table of Contents:
Chapter 1: A Quick Recap of COVID-19
Chapter 2: What’s Happened So Far and Where We Are Now
Chapter 3: How to Make the Most of Quarantine
Chapter 4: How to Choose a Mask for Going Outside
Chapter 5: Plans to End the Lockdown and Social Distancing
Chapter 6: What Opening up the Economy Might (Realistically) Look Like in the Near Future
Chapter 7: What to Expect Moving Forward
A Quick Recap of COVID-19
Despite wall-to-wall media coverage of the pandemic for months on end, many people are still unclear on some of the details of COVID-19. Here’s a quick refresher.
What is COVID-19?
Coronavirus disease 2019, better known as COVID-19, is the infectious respiratory disease caused by SARS-CoV-2, a kind of coronavirus. Common symptoms include fever, cough, fatigue, shortness of breath, and loss of smell and taste. Though most cases are mild, some result in pneumonia and other severe symptoms, and a smaller fraction still result in death. Some people can be completely asymptomatic, which is one of the reasons the disease has spread so quickly, as people can infect others without even knowing that they have it.
How is COVID-19 spread?
According to the CDC, COVID-19 is primarily spread from person to person. You can contract the virus by coming in contact with someone (within six feet) through respiratory droplets produced when a person coughs, sneezes, or talks. You can also get it by touching objects that have been contaminated and then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes.
How can I protect myself?
The CDC recommends you take the following precautions:
- Stay at home as much as possible; only go out if it’s absolutely necessary.
- If you do have to go out, wear a mask of some kind in public settings, either a cloth face covering or a respirator mask such as the N95 Mask.
- If you do have to go out, stay at least six feet away from other people.
- Do not gather in groups and stay out of crowded places.
- Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after you have been in a public place or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces.
What’s Happened So Far and Where We Are Now
A quick timeline of what’s happened so far:
- December 2019 – The first case of COVID-19 detected in Wuhan, China.
- January 21, 2020 – The first COVID-19 case detected in the U.S.
- February 29 – U.S. reports first death related to COVID-19. Washington State becomes the first U.S. state to declare a state of emergency.
- March 11 – WHO declares COVID-19 a pandemic. President Trump addresses the nation and places 30-day suspension on most travel from Europe.
- March 13 – President Trump declares a national state of emergency.
- March 19 – California becomes the first state to issue a stay-at-home order.
- March 23 – The Dow Jones hits its lowest point in the stock market crash.
- March 25 – Congress passes the CARES Act.
- March 27 – U.S. records over 100,000 COVID-19 cases.
- March 28 – A record-setting 6.9 million unemployment claims filed in one week.
- April 11 – The U.S. surpasses Italy for having the most confirmed coronavirus deaths in the world.
- April 16 – President Trump unveils a set of guidelines for opening up the American economy.
- April 18 – Protests against state-wide lockdown measures spring up across the country.
- April 24 – Georgia becomes the first state to start lifting lockdown measures.
- April 28 – U.S. records over one million COVID-19 cases.
- May 13 – Top WHO official says the coronavirus “may never go away.”
- May 21 – COVID-19 cases exceeds 5 million worldwide.
- May 27 – U.S. records over 100,000 COVID-19-related deaths.
- June 4 – Texas, Arizona, and Florida begin seeing a spike in COVID-19 cases after reopening.
- June 8 – U.S. records over two million COVID-19 cases.
- June 17 – 21 states see upward trends in newly reported COVID-19 cases.
- June 23 – Seven states— Arizona, Arkansas, California, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas—report new highs for coronavirus hospitalizations.
- June 27 – U.S. records over 125,000 COVID-19-related deaths. U.S. reaches a new high for number of new COVID-19 cases reported in a single day (44,703).
- June 28 – COVID-19 cases exceed 10 million worldwide.
- July 3 – U.S. reaches another new high for number of new COVID-19 cases reported in a single day (57,718).
- July 8 – U.S. records over three million COVID-19 cases.
- July 17 – U.S. reaches another new high for number of new COVID-19 cases reported in
a single day (74,710).
- July 18 – U.S. records over 140,000 COVID-19-related deaths.
- July 20 – President Trump advocates for wearing face masks for the first time.
- July 21 – U.S. records over four million COVID-19 cases. COVID-19 cases exceed 15
- July 22 – California surpasses New York as state with most COVID-19 cases (over
Where we are now in the pandemic
As of July 22nd, there have been over four million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States and over 140,000 deaths caused by the virus, according to worldometer.
Though the number of new cases reported each day across the country was sharply declining in late May and early June, cases started climbing once again in mid-June. While some states, such as New York, are seeing a decline in the rate of new cases, most are seeing an increase. On June 27th, the U.S. reached a new high for the number of new COVID-19 cases reported in a single day with 44,703, according to the CDC. On July 3rd, it reached another record with 57,718. On July 17th it reached yet another record with 74,710.
How to Make the Most of Quarantine
Though states are slowly beginning to reopen their economies and lift lockdown measures, it’s still advisable to avoid leaving your home if possible. Fortunately, there are some great ways to enjoy your time indoors.
Spending quality time with family
Before COVID-19, commuting to work left little time to spend with your family at home for many people. One silver lining of the quarantine is that it may just give people the chance for the quality time they’ve been missing out on. When you’re at home with your family, you can play board games, cook a meal, or do other activities that bring you closer together.
Pick up a hobby
Quarantine is a perfect excuse to pick up a new hobby. Now that you’re not spending the time commuting to and from work, you could use that extra time to get really good at something. In fact, countless Americans have taken up hobbies such as sewing and baking bread.
Just because your gym is closed doesn’t mean you can’t still workout. From Pilates to yoga to calisthenics, there are many different ways you can get (or stay) in shape at home. Do a quick internet search for your exercise method of choice and you’ll be sure to find countless resources.
Go for a walk
Being under a stay-at-home or shelter-in-place order doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t go outside. If you’re feeling healthy it’s more than okay to get some fresh air. Just remember to wear a mask like the N95 mask and maintain a distance of at least six feet from other people! However, if you’re feeling even a little under the weather, it’s best to stay home.
How to Choose a Mask for Going Outside
As mentioned above, it’s perfectly acceptable to go outside. This does, however, entail wearing a mask, as per CDC guidelines.
But how should you go about choosing the right kind of mask or face covering to use?
The three most common types of masks you’ll see people wearing these days are cloth masks, surgical masks, and construction masks. To be sure, each of these is better than nothing, but they also come with their drawbacks. Cloth masks, for example, you need to wash after each use. Meanwhile, none of these masks creates a seal around your mouth, so air can get in through the sides. They are also made out of highly permeable materials, meaning that they won’t filter out fine particles like droplets containing the coronavirus. If someone with COVID-19 sneezes nearby, these three kinds of masks are an imperfect shield against infection.
A safer option is a respirator such as the N95 mask. Respirators differ from other masks in two important ways. First, respirators, unlike other masks, fit snugly against the face, creating a seal that prevents most particles from entering. Second, because of the material with which they’re constructed, respirators filter out extremely fine particles. For example, masks such as the N95 mask filter out up to 95 percent (hence the “95” in N95) of non-oily particles (hence the “N”) as small as 0.3 microns.
But remember, if you can’t get your hands on an N95 mask for whatever reason, even a cloth mask or face covering is better than none at all.
About the Respokare® NIOSH N95 Respirator Mask
One of the latest innovations in the respirator mask space is the Respokare® NIOSH N95 mask. In addition to filtering out 95 percent of non-oily particles as small as 0.3 microns like a regular N95 mask, this mask destroys micro-particles on the surface of the mask, enabling wearers to safely remove the mask from their face without the risk of contaminating their hands which could lead to infection.
Approved by the CDC and the FDA, the NIOSH N95 Respirator mask is built with a unique four-layer design laced with copper and zinc ions that cause structural rearrangement to viral proteins, nucleic acids, and lipids, which effectively inactivates virus particles and other pathogens within minutes. Beyond destroying Coronaviruses (such as SARS, and MERS), the NIOSH N95 mask is also 99.9 percent effective at inactivating, particles of influenza, measles, tuberculosis, toxic gas, air pollutants, allergens, and other viruses and bacteria.
Plans to End the Lockdown and Social Distancing
There are numerous plans out there to end the lockdown and get life back to normal, and though there are significant differences between them, nearly all plans share a few things in common:
- They envision the economy opening up in three or more stages rather than all at once.
- They require a huge increase in testing.
- They advocate for contact tracing.
- Social distancing won’t be able to fully end until a vaccine or reliable medication has been developed, which will likely take at least 12 to 18 months.
3-phase White House plan
In mid-April, the White House offered its own guidelines to states for re-opening the economy. It’s worth highlighting this plan, as, unlike other plans released by experts, many states, such as Georgia and Texas, have indicated that this is the plan they intend to follow.
Like others, the White House plan sets out a road map for opening up the economy in three phases. Following is a brief but non-comprehensive overview of the White House plan. To view the guidelines in their entirety, please click here.
Criteria for beginning Phase One
Before moving on to phase one, states should satisfy the following criteria:
- Downward trajectory of flu-like and COVID-like symptomatic cases within a 14-day period.
- Downward trajectory of documented cases or positive tests as a percent of total tests within a 14-day period.
- The ability to treat all COVID-19 patients without crisis care.
- Creating a robust testing program for at-risk healthcare workers including emerging antibody testing.
- The general population can leave their homes, but vulnerable individuals, such as those with pre-existing conditions and those over 60 years old, should continue to shelter in place.
- When in public, all individuals should continue to maximize physical distancing.
- Avoid gathering in groups of more than 10 people in circumstances that do not readily allow for appropriate physical distancing.
- Employers should continue to encourage remote working whenever possible.
- Schools and organized youth activities that are currently closed should remain closed.
- Large venues and gyms can reopen if they operate under strict physical distancing and sanitation protocols.
- Elective surgeries can resume.
- Bars should remain closed.
- Vulnerable individuals should continue to shelter in place.
- All individuals should continue to maximize physical distancing when in public.
- Avoid gathering in groups of more than 50 people in circumstances that do not readily allow for appropriate physical distancing.
- Employers should continue to encourage remote working whenever possible.
- Non-essential travel can resume.
- Schools and organized youth activities can reopen.
- Large venues can operate under moderate physical distancing protocols.
- Visits to senior care facilities and hospitals should be prohibited.
- Bars may operate with diminished standing-room occupancy where applicable and appropriate.
- Vulnerable individuals can resume public interactions but should practice physical distancing and minimize exposure to social settings.
- Low-risk populations should consider minimizing time spent in crowded environments.
- Resume unrestricted staffing of worksites.
- Large venues can operate under limited physical distancing protocols.
- Gyms can remain open if they adhere to standard sanitation protocols.
- Visits to senior care facilities and hospitals can resume.
- Bars may operate with increased standing-room occupancy where applicable.
What Opening up the Economy Might (Realistically) Look Like in the Near Future
Let us stress: there is no way anyone can say for certain what things will be like in the near future. To reiterate, the following scenarios are based on a combination of what health experts are advocating for, what state and local officials are saying, and what states that have already started to open up have been doing.
Going out in public
In all likelihood, health experts will be advocating for some amount of protective measures for quite a while longer. Though things may gradually return to normal, people may still be advised to wear masks in public places and maintain physical distance in public places when possible.
While large gatherings will still be prohibited, smaller gatherings of 10 or fewer people could be allowed. As the White House guidelines detail, gatherings of up to 50 people may be soon permissible if physical distancing protocols can be strictly adhered to.
Vulnerable populations, meanwhile, will likely be advised to remain sheltered in place.
For the foreseeable future, employers may likely require workers to work remotely whenever possible. However, some offices will slowly reopen.
But perhaps a larger problem regarding work life, is the fact that tens of millions of people have lost their jobs. A big open question is how quickly the economy will recover and how soon people who lost their jobs will be able to go back to work.
Bars and restaurants
Bars and restaurants will re-open gradually. Though you’ll be able to patronize them, they will likely operate at partial capacity at first. Servers may be required to wear masks while menus could be disposable.
Many states have issued orders to close schools for the rest of the 2019-2020 school year. It remains to be seen if all schools will be open come fall for the 2020-2021 school year.
When schools do re-open, things may look very different for students. Some states, including California, have been exploring measures such as staggered school schedules and smaller class sizes. Staggered school schedules, for example, would entail that students alternate between attending class on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday one week and Tuesday and Thursday the next.
According to health experts at Harvard University, schools may reopen with daily temperature checks as well as weekly testing.
Other businesses, venues, and events
Like restaurants, gyms may open at partial capacity and require patrons to wear masks and gloves. Similarly, barber shops may only allow a certain number of customers in at a time while others will have to wait outside instead of in the waiting area inside. Retail stores will only allow a certain number of customers at a time.
In many states, we may not see any festivals and large public gatherings until next year. Major sporting events may take place in empty stadiums without audiences.
What to Expect Moving Forward
America finds itself at a crossroads. As the rate of new COVID-19 cases continues to rise in certain parts of the country, the economy is arguably in its worst state since the Great Depression. This puts states in the unenviable position of choosing between public health and rebooting the economy in the short term.
Most states have opted for the former and are already in the process of reopening their economies, albeit only very gradually. However, things are still far from being totally normal. As stated above, it may take the development of a vaccine or effective medicine to allow things to fully go back to the ways were—and that could take as long as 12 to 18 months.
The potential side effects of reopening the economy.
The reality is that states are opening up in spite of the advice of many health experts. In fact, of the states that have begun to reopen, most have not met the White House’s criteria to do so.
Many health experts fear that as states ease stay-at-home orders and other measures, there may be a rebound in the number of COVID-19 cases. Texas, Arizona, and Florida, for example, are already starting to see a new spike in cases after having reopened.
Even if states managed to reopen their economies responsibly in the coming months, there is still likely to be a second wave of cases, according to many health experts. This could cause states to re-implement many of the same measures that have been crippling the economy over the past few months.
The missing keys: testing and contact tracing
Nearly all public health experts agree: two of the main strategies needed to safely reopen the economy are testing on a massive scale and contact tracing.
The United States had been behind the curve in terms of testing. But recently, the U.S. has seen a sharp rise in testing and has pulled ahead of most countries, though is still behind countries such as Denmark, Israel, and Russia. Meanwhile, contact tracing—the practice of tracing the people who have come into contact with someone known to have COVID-19—is in the U.S. is still far outpaced by most other countries in the developed world.
What the future holds
As states begin reopening, we are starting to get a glimpse of what day-to-day life might look like. From bars and restaurants to schools, a new normal is starting to take shape.
Unfortunately, there is still a lot of uncertainty. We may continue on a path where the economy gradually reopens, and things slowly go back to normal over the course of several months—or there might be a rebound in cases and we’ll find ourselves back at square one.