CDC Releases New Guidance On How States Can Safely Reopen

(UNDATED) – After weeks of delay, the federal government’s top experts on infectious diseases on Thursday released new, more detailed guidance on how states can safely allow businesses and schools to reopen their doors during the coronavirus pandemic.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published six “decision trees” aimed at helping businesses, communities, schools, camps, daycares and mass transit decide whether it’s safe to re-open.

The guidelines, posted on the agency’s website, include ones designed for businesses and workplaces as well as for schools and childcare programs.

The one-page decision trees are much shorter than a much-anticipated, lengthy, and detailed document that has been delayed at least once.

President Donald Trump pushes states to reopen and most have already started to do so.

“The purpose of this tool is to assist employers in making (re)opening decisions during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially to protect vulnerable workers. It is important to check with state and local health officials and other partners to determine the most appropriate actions while adjusting to meet the unique needs and circumstances of the local community,” the workplace decision tree reads.

For schools, the decision tree asks: “Will reopening be consistent with applicable state and local orders? Is the school ready to protect children and employees at higher risk for severe illness? Are you able to screen students and employees upon arrival for symptoms and history of exposure?” If the answer to any question is no, the CDC advises, do not open.

For camps, the advice includes screening. “If feasible, implement enhanced screening for children and employees who have recently been present in areas of high transmission, including temperature checks and symptom monitoring,” the decision tree reads.

“Are you ready to protect employees at higher risk for severe illness?” the mass transit tree asks.

The decision trees are very similar, with small adjustments to account for the differences between daycare, for example, and restaurants.

They stress flexible leave policies — something public health experts say is vital to controlling the spread of infectious disease. US employment practices are frequently criticized because they discourage workers from taking sick days.

Full guidance for the pandemic is on the CDC’s website. It was not immediately clear what further guidance might be coming from the CDC, or when it might come.

Former CDC acting director Dr. Richard Besser said they did not look like guidelines he was used to seeing. “What we worked on was presenting the best scientific evidence and in extreme detail so that they could be applied in a way that you knew exactly what you needed to do. These guidelines are high level principles,” Besser said on the CNN Global Town Hall. “That’s not what people need.”

Besser said what people need from the CDC are “detailed specifics” like how many feet away tables should be at restaurants to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. “What kind of barriers should restaurants use. When will it be safe for people to be on the street,” added Besser, who is now president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

“You know, specifics is where it gets done,” Besser said. “CDC is really good at that when they’re allowed to do it.”