Disaster Discourse: The Hagerty Blog

Reopening After COVID

FRIDAY, MAY 1, 2020 AS OF 4:30 PM EST


The total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases has reached over 3.27 million, with more than 1.07 million confirmed cases in the United States (US). Today’s Disaster Discourse focuses on countries reopening during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. In the US, many states are taking different approaches to ease restrictions and reopen. For a full each state’s reopening plan and what they are currently doing, read here. 

Photo by Anastasiia Chepinska: Source

Lessons Learned in Reopening

As the number of new COVID-19 cases decrease, European and Southeast Asian nations are beginning to reduce community restrictions and are starting to reopen services or portions of their economies. Countries such as Denmark, Austria, Germany, Spain, China, and Italy offer examples of what other parts of the world and the US may expect when reopening in the coming months. While it is too early to fully understand the ramifications of reopening businesses and schools, there is a shared hope for establishing a “new normal” under reduced restrictions.

Below are three key takeaways we can learn from these countries:

 Key Takeaway #1: Countries reopening are able to meet three key criteria.

Global health expert Dr. Peter Drobac of the Oxford Saïd Business School states that all counties looking to reopen need to meet three main criteria: 

  • First, a country looking to reopen should have “bent the curve” and seen a consistent reduction in the number of new COVID-19 cases.
  • Secondly, the country’s health care systems must be able to cope without resorting back to crisis measures, such as instituting emergency hospitals.
  • Finally, there needs to be a system in place for mass testing, contact tracing, and isolation, ensuring sick people can be isolated earlier.

There are several different tactics used to support the last criteria. For instance, China and Israel are utilizing technology to trace people infected with COVID-19 and those they have been in contact with through different color-coded quick response (QR) codes and mobile data analysis. Additionally, for new cases that develop, Taiwan has addressed isolation issues by housing people in hotels, which also supports the economy by providing the hotels with income that is currently lacking as a result of a decline in tourism. The Taiwanese government has paid hotel owners as much as $200 per night to house people during quarantine, which also includes three meals a day, a book to read, and a stipend that is roughly equivalent to the person’s salary.

The Chief US economist at Standard & Poor’s (S&P) Global Ratings, Ann Bovino emphasized that the US will face challenges trying to replicate the social distancing policies necessary for reopening plans to be successful. For instance, cities reopening in China are better positioned legally to restrict regional travel for citizens and to quarantine whole buildings. In addition, there are implications associated with contact tracing using mobile data in the US.

Photo by Heidi Fin: Source

Key Takeaway #2: Use multi-phase plans that are simple and easy to understand.

There is considerable debate over the proper approach to reopening after COVID-19 related closures. Different nations are taking approaches that focus on priority areas for reopening, with no specific universal priority currently being applied. All reopening plans have been specifically designed with multiple phases to be able to immediately resort back to stay-at-home conditions should there be a spike in COVID-19 cases after restrictions are lifted. This will be achieved through close monitoring and waiting 7-14 days between phases.

Priority Area: Education

Germany and Denmark are prioritizing education and reopening schools in response to growing fears that (1) students will fall behind the longer they are away from school, and (2) pre-existing social challenges will be exacerbated by inequitable access to resources while students are learning from home. It is believed children are at a lower risk of developing serious COVID-19 complications if they do get the virus. Nonetheless, schools are required to have a hygiene plan in place before reopening, and officials are encouraging social distancing at schools by limiting student interactions. Germany will prioritize primary and secondary students in their final years of study to help successfully transition them out of the current school year. Alternatively, the Czech Republic is proceeding with caution, allowing teachers and students to have one-on-one consultations, though final exams will not be conducted until later in the year.

Photo by Anna Dziubinska: Source

Priority Area: The Economy

In another example, analysts tracking the reopening of Asian countries wrote that it is wise to follow China’s lead. They encouraged prioritizing growth of the economy through reopening restaurants and shops, while delaying school openings until after social distancing measures are relaxed.

In some cases, countries are prioritizing reopening businesses with small physical footprints. Austria opened non-essential businesses with floor space less than 400-square meters on April 14, with plans to extend the lifted restrictions to beauty salons, larger stores, and shopping centers on May 1. Similarly, Germany has opened stores with sale areas of up to 800-square meters.

All countries are likely to experience challenges with returning to “normal” business operations because the pandemic has a direct impact on foreign trade. In other words, simply “reopening” the economy is not a guarantee that things will return to normal. Global markets will struggle to rebound as the impacts of COVID-19 affect each region, making it difficult for smaller economies to return to business as usual. 

Key Takeaway #3: Continue promoting exceptional hygiene practices.

Though restrictions about the controlled activities are gradually being loosened, there is still a need for stringent guidelines on hygiene to control the spread of COVID-19.

Germany, Italy, the US, and China have implemented requirements that will help prevent the spread of COVID-19 as businesses reopen, with specific guidance about workplace hygiene. Germany requires all stores to have a hygiene and line maintenance plan in place before reopening, regardless of the size of the store. Furthermore, the decree signed by Italy’s Prime Minister Guiseppe Conte on April 10 allows some businesses to reopen through mandated series of hygiene measures. This growing list includes; handwashing, avoiding hugs and handshakes, keeping a distance of at least one meter from other people, sneezing and coughing into a handkerchief, and cleaning surfaces with chlorine or alcohol sanitizers. 

The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is recommending redesigning workspaces to physically prevent virus transmission, including “sneeze guards”, or walls of plastic or glass, to protect cashiers and adjusting production lines to provide more space between workers.

Beijing is attempting to reduce transmission risk as businesses return to work by requiring employers to check workers’ health and temperature daily, with quick quarantine for anyone showing symptoms. However, there is a risk for people who are infected but asymptomatic, and test kits producing false negatives.

Spain focused on encouraging good hygiene on the way to work by trying to mitigate spread in close quarters. An estimated 300,000 people returned to work after April 13 in Madrid, where police took protective measures against spreading the virus by distributing over 10 million masks to commuters at metro, bus, and train stations.

On a smaller scale, associate professor of environmental health and engineering at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Kristen Koehler, suggested one engineering control to help prevent the spread of the virus would involve improving ventilation either through air filtration or introducing outside air.


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