President Announces "Opening Up America Again" Guidelines

Author: Robert S. Teachout, XpertHR Legal Editor

April 20, 2020

The Trump administration has announced guidelines to help states begin easing public health restrictions and begin to reopen their economies and allow people back to work. The proposed three-phase approach is based on the advice of public health experts with an eye to limiting the risk of a coronavirus (COVID-19) resurgence and continuing to protect the health and safety of employees and at-risk individuals.

The "Opening Up America Again" plan may be implemented on a statewide or county-by-county basis at a governor's discretion based on up-to-date data and the state or localities' readiness. Before proceeding to the phased opening, states should meet the following criteria:

  • Symptoms - a downward trajectory of influenza-like illnesses and of COVID-like syndromic cases reported within a 14-day period.
  • Cases - A downward trajectory of documented cases or of positive tests as a percent of total tests (with a flat or increasing volume of tests) within a 14-day period.
  • Hospitals - Be able to treat all patients without crisis care and have a robust testing program in place for at-risk healthcare workers, including emerging antibody testing.

State and local officials may need to tailor the application of these criteria depending on local circumstances, such as if a locality is a metropolitan area with a high number of COVID-19 cases, as opposed to a rural locality with only a mild outbreak.

Governors are encouraged, where appropriate, to work on a regional basis to satisfy these criteria and to progress through the three phases:

Phase One

In Phase One, vulnerable individuals (elderly individuals and those with serious underlying health issues) should continue to shelter in place and others should continue to practice social distancing, avoid groups of more than 10 people and limit travel. Employers should continue to encourage telework whenever possible and minimize nonessential travel, but may begin to allow employees to return to work in phases and with common areas closed. Schools should remain closed and senior living facilities and hospitals should continue to prohibit visitors and follow strict hygiene protocols. However, large venues (e.g., sit-down dining, movie theaters, sporting venues, places of worship) may reopen provided they operate under strict physical distancing protocols.

Phase Two

In Phase Two, vulnerable individuals should continue to shelter in place and all others should maximize physical distance from others in public (e.g., parks, outdoor recreation areas, shopping areas). Social groups of more than 50 people should be avoided unless precautionary measures are observed. Employers should continue to operate within the Phase One guidelines. Nonessential travel can resume. Schools may reopen and large venues may operate with moderate distancing protocols.

Phase Three

Under Phase Three, vulnerable individuals may resume public interactions, but should practice physical distancing and minimize their exposure to social settings where distancing may not be practical, without observing precautionary measures. Others should consider minimizing their exposure in crowded environments. In addition, visits to hospitals and senior living facilities may resume while practicing diligence regarding hygiene. Employers may resume unrestricted staffing operations and large venues may operate under limited distancing protocols.

The three-phase plan requires states to be able to provide safe and efficient screening and testing, along with contact tracing. In addition, they need to be able provide personal protective equipment and emergency medical equipment in the event of a surge in COVID-19 cases. Finally, states should be ready to limit and mitigate any rebounds or outbreaks by restarting a phase or returning to an earlier phase.