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CDC Releases New Reopening Guidelines

May 14, 2020
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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidelines today to help schools and businesses decide whether they're ready to open. The recommendations are similar to those in a draft that was circulating within the Trump administration in recent weeks. The new guidance is a set of decision trees. These are charts that cover yes-or-no scenarios that are aimed at assessing readiness to reopen, and NPR's Allison Aubrey joins us to explain. Hey, Allison.

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: Hi there.

CHANG: So what are the guiding principles here?

AUBREY: Well, the CDC is setting criteria for employers and schools, restaurants and mass transit systems to consider. So for businesses, the CDC says the first two questions to answer are, one, would reopening be consistent with state and local orders? And No. 2 - this one much tougher - are you, the employer, ready to protect employees at higher risk for severe illness from COVID?

CHANG: Whoa.

AUBREY: If the answer is no to either of these, then the business should not open, the guidelines say. Now, it's very much open to interpretation what protecting employees at high risk may entail so a lot of detail to fill in here. But I'd say the assessment looks similar for mass transit systems. The guidance says that they should not expand any service until they've met these first two conditions.

CHANG: And what about schools?

AUBREY: Well, schools should be able to answer yes to both complying with local and state guidance and being ready to protect students and employees at high risk. In addition, the CDC has said schools should be able to screen students and employees upon arrival for symptoms and history of exposure. So this is a significant change of major protocol on how schools operate.

CHANG: Yeah.

AUBREY: And for businesses, the guidance spells out that employers should have monitoring in place to check for signs and symptoms and should monitor daily, upon arrival, as feasible. So this paints a picture of what the new normal...

CHANG: Wow.

AUBREY: ...Could look like. And it's much different, right?

CHANG: It is so abnormal. Well, what about bars and restaurants?

AUBREY: Well, the criteria looks similar. Whether it's restaurants, schools, workplaces, the CDC says, to open, these places should be promoting healthy hygiene practices, such as the hand-washing we hear so much about, the face mask wearing, intensifying cleaning, disinfection and ventilation and encouraging social distancing, which may include enhanced spacing between employees and offices, increased spacing between desks in schools, increased spacing between diners at a restaurant or a bar. So it's a stark reminder of how different the new normal could feel.

CHANG: Well, Allison, I mean, these guidelines are all nice and good, but how likely do you think we are to see workplaces and schools and transit systems actually follow these guidelines?

AUBREY: Right. You know, I think a lot of it depends on how this guidance is received by state and local leaders and the White House. The Trump administration has been criticized for a lack of a more coordinated federal reopening plan. So if the administration were to come out and say, hey, look - here are the guidelines to follow, that would show that they're embracing it. Also have to look to see how governors and mayors respond.

CHANG: All right, that is NPR's Allison Aubrey. Thank you, Allison.

AUBREY: Thank you, Ailsa.

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