The most important lessons about reopening the community are learned from places that never locked down in the first place: hospitals.
As the author of this linked article describes it, in the face of enormous risks, American hospitals have learned how to avoid becoming sites of coronavirus spread.
This approach to reopening the community that is documented to make the difference can be thought of like a “combination therapy” or a “drug cocktail.” These ingredients (below) are all familiar to you. Each has flaws. But skip one, and the treatment doesn’t work. Taken together – and taken seriously – the virus is shut down.
1. Hygiene measures – cleaning your hands frequently. In the previous 2002 SARS epidemic, hand washing 10 times a day cut down transmission by over 50%. Disinfecting surfaces is likely very important, also, though less research exists.
2. Screening – taking temperatures prior to entry to a building; and also self-reporting of a new fever, cough, sore throat, shortness of breath, loss of taste or smell, and even just persistent nasal congestion/runny nose.
Ideally, we will test people with new symptoms to allow people to quickly get back to work or to life, without quarantine. Without testing, people with symptoms should self-quarantine for at least seven days from the start of their symptoms and until they’ve been fever-free and with improving symptoms for 72 hours.
3. Distancing – SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, spreads primarily through respiratory droplets emitted by infected people when they cough, sneeze, talk, or simply exhale, and the droplets are then breathed in by others. This is why social distancing is so important.
4. Masks – three major points here. First, it turns out that infected people just on the verge of having early symptoms or just beginning to have mild symptoms, are important sources of coronavirus spread.
Second, the effectiveness of masks has recently been extensively reviewed and suggests that if at least 60% of the population wore masks that were just 60% effective in blocking viral particles – which a well-fitting, two-layer cotton mask is – the epidemic could be stopped.
Third, since cloth and surgical masks do not fit tightly, you can breathe air coming in around the sides. They are designed to safeguard others, not the wearer, although laboratory research finds that surgical masks reduce inhalation of respiratory-droplet-size particles by about three-quarters. The basic logic is: I protect you; you protect me.
The linked article is a quick and entertaining read, and answers a number of obvious questions about coronavirus and COVID-19. I urge you to read it, and then: embrace the desire to keep others safe, not just ourselves.