A Balancing Act
Over the last several weeks, the spread of COVID-19 has caused unthinkable disruptions to life as usual, and it will continue to do so for some time, even as we “flatten the curve.” Following the unprecedented strain on our health care systems and the devastating economic hits to hardworking Americans as a direct result of this coronavirus, the desire for normalcy to return is certainly a sentiment shared by us all. But as state and local economies slowly and cautiously begin to reopen, it is important to remember that getting back to business does not yet mean getting back to normal.
Even though the fight against COVID-19 is far from over, keeping businesses closed and workers at home is not a sustainable option for the long-term. While the federal government has provided some short-term relief to help individuals, households, businesses and communities stay afloat during this period of extreme social distancing, our economies need to get moving again and Americans need to get back to work. However, any such efforts to reopen must continue to keep the health and safety of Americans at top of mind and not undo previous progress in slowing the spread of this coronavirus. This will indeed be a balancing act. For until there are working treatments, effective therapeutics and ultimately a vaccine to control COVID-19, the risk and danger of the disease remains.
Returning to more regular functions and operations requires gradual action, completed in phases and based on data. President Donald Trump recently recommended criteria for states and communities to achieve before moving into phases of reopening. This includes a consistent downward trend in reported symptoms, consistent downward trend in documented cases or positive tests as well as hospitals being able to treat all patients without crisis care and robust testing in place for at-risk healthcare workers.
While the president has provided a helpful reopening blueprint that contains three phases, states are not strictly bound to it. Indeed, just as there are 50 separate and unique states, there may well be 50 different approaches to reopening that carry the same spirit of caution and decision-making based on sound data. However, the idea behind three phases is to gradually allow businesses and workplaces to open back up, but not immediately at full speed ahead nor without adaptations to prevent crowded environments. In the earliest phases, this may include limiting the number of employees inside places of work, continuing telework practices, vulnerable and older Americans remaining at home or limiting the number of customers inside retail stores and restaurants.
Regardless of the phase of reopening in our communities, we should not abandon practical and hygienic precautions like thoroughly and frequently washing your hands, not touching your face, daily disinfecting surfaces, keeping a safe distance from others and staying home when you’re sick. For the latest guidance from the President’s Coronavirus Task Force and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), visit coronavirus.gov. And for health and prevention updates provided locally by the Oklahoma State Department of Health, visit coronavirus.health.ok.gov.
Finally, it is critically important that the federal government learns from this crisis and actively prepares to face down another pandemic in the future. While I am proud that Congress has generously invested in worthy tools and response resources to strengthen our readiness in recent years, it must be an even higher priority in the days to come. Though the United States was prepared to face an emergency, you can never be fully prepared for what you don’t know is coming – in this case, a mysterious and deadly virus originating in China, only identified early this year and for which a vaccine does not yet exist.
For more resources and the latest updates from my office, please visit cole.house.gov/coronavirus. You can also call my office at (405) 329-6500.