6 Things That Need to Happen Before the Lockdown Can Be Lifted

When can things begin to return to normal? The World Health Organization has this to say.

As the curve of coronavirus cases begins to flatten in many hotspots across the country, the discourse is quickly turning to when we can end the nearly nationwide lockdown that has kept us all at home for weeks and cratered the U.S. economy. While a political debate rages on between federal and state authorities as to when to open up national and local economies, the World Health Organization (WHO) has issued guidelines designed to inform countries on what metrics to consider and meet before lifting the lockdown.

"These decisions must be based first and foremost on protecting human health and guided by what we know about the virus and how it behaves," Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of WHO, said at a media briefing on Monday. "We're all learning all the time and adjusting our strategy, based on the latest available evidence. We can only say what we know, and we can only act on what we know."

WHO's guidelines appear to transcend politics and are good benchmarks to consider and inform the body politic as to when it is safe to expect for things to begin to return to "normal," or a "new normal," whatever the case may be.

Here are the six factors WHO recommends considering.

COVID-19 must be controlled.

man in mask staring out window

According to WHO, the first thing that needs to happen is that "transmission of the coronavirus must be controlled." The technical term for those who study these sorts of outbreaks is mitigation.

And the good news is that, according to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, the outbreak of the COVID-19 contagion is being controlled. Of course, that's really just in the New York hotspot, and there are other areas that are likely at different points in their respective "curves." But it seems that the social distancing and stay-at-home orders have effectively controlled the outbreak so far. That doesn't mean it's safe to return to normal just yet, but it's a good and important first step.

We need to have systems in place to detect, test, isolate, and treat every patient.

stack of coronavirus tests

Next, WHO's guidelines specify that in order for lockdowns to begin to end, "health system capacities [need to be] in place to detect, test, isolate, and treat every case and every contact." This is a more challenging metric to hit, particularly with regard to testing. While our hospitals and broader health care systems have been working harder than ever, they are not overburdened to the point that they can't treat coronavirus-positive patients. That's great news if, in fact, we are seeing peak, or past-peak, incidents of COVID-19 cases. Though nationwide testing is still some time away, efforts to get effective and efficient tests to everyone who needs them are rapidly progressing. And for more on COVID-19 on the frontlines, check out 10 Doctors and Nurses Reveal What It's Like Fighting COVID-19 Every Day.

Outbreak risks must be minimized at hospitals and nursing homes.

woman talking to elderly woman in a nursing home

Third, WHO says, it's important that "outbreak risks are minimized in special settings like health facilities and nursing homes." These "special settings" are particularly susceptible to the spread of COVID-19, especially since the elderly appear to be at a much greater risk of COVID-19 complications. And for more on helping seniors during this difficult time, check out 5 Heartwarming Stories of People Helping the Elderly Amid Coronavirus.

Work, schools, and other essential locations must have preventive measures in place.

nurse in hospital in background of photo with supplies and sanitizer in the foreground

Additionally, WHO says, in order for lockdowns to end, every country needs to ensure "that preventive measures are in place in workplaces, schools, and other essential places." This is likely where the "new normal" comes into place. Work and school will eventually resume, but likely with continued—or at least modified—social distancing guidelines. Does this mean you'll still be donning masks and/or facial coverings? That's yet to be determined. And if you want to make your own mask, check out 5 Household Items to Use as Face Mask Alternatives.

"Importation" must be managed on domestic and international levels.

people lined up to go through airport immigration

WHO also says it's important that "importation risks can be managed" before lockdowns can end. Because the coronavirus outbreak is hitting different parts of the world at different times, international, or even interstate, travel needs to be tightly managed, in hopes of preventing a second wave of the outbreak.

The public must be "fully educated."

couple reading on computer while wearing masks

Finally, WHO says, it's pivotal that "communities are fully educated, engaged, and empowered to adjust to the 'new norm.'" Of course, "fully educated" is a subjective term, but it's never a bad goal to make communities better informed and smarter about the public health risks they face. And for more answers to your common coronavirus questions, check out 13 Common Coronavirus Questions—Answered by Experts.

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