Federal Guidelines for Reopening State and Local Economies

BY Alex Ayers
4/17/2020 - HVAC Government Affairs , COVID-19

The Trump Administration has released its guidelines for reopening the economy in stages at the state and local level. The 18-page plan outlines three phases to getting the economy reopened to a near normal setting during the COVID-19 pandemic. Under these guidelines, states will need to expand testing and develop local strategies to protect workers as they begin to interact with more people on a day to day basis.

At all points, federal officials encourage individuals to continue to use good hygiene including washing hands frequently, avoid touching your face, sneeze or cough into a tissue or inside of elbow, disinfect often used items and surfaces frequently, consider using face coverings in public. The guidelines also strongly encourage anyone feeling ill to stay home and follow the advice of their medical provider.

Based on the released guidelines, a state could reopen to near normal status over a six-week period depending on reaching certain thresholds such as decreasing number of cases and ability to continue to use social distancing guidelines. States are allowed to use these guidelines at the statewide or county/metropolitan area levels. This would allow some states to open parts of their economies while other areas are slower to see improvements.

Gating Requirements

The first step before any state can re-open their economy requires establishing a baseline of testing and reporting accurate numbers of cases while also protecting healthcare workers. Before entering Phase 1, a state must meet all of the following gating requirements:

  • Symptoms: Decreasing number of cases of influenza like illnesses or covid-like symptoms over a 14-day period; and
  • Cases: Decreasing number of new documented cases of COVID-19 or number of positive tests as a percentage of total tests over a 14-day period (this will encourage states to increase testing without being penalized for more cases); and
  • All hospitals must be below maximum capacity for treating COVID-19 and other illnesses; and
  • States must have robust testing in place for at-risk healthcare workers including the use of new anti-body testing.

By reaching these baseline requirements a state can prove their current stay-at-home, essential business closures, or other social distancing measures have decreased the community spread of the virus and that healthcare facilities are capable of handling a sudden increase of cases in case a second outbreak occurs.

Phase 1

Once these baseline requirements are met, states and counties can allow some businesses to reopen. Any workers capable of telework are encouraged to continue doing so, other workers are allowed to return to work in phases if possible, and employers should close common areas where employees congregate. Employers should also consider special accommodations for personnel who are vulnerable to the virus. Any businesses with crowds are to remain closed including bars, sit-down dining, events, and schools. Businesses that can accommodate strong social distancing such as gyms can reopen.

Employers should monitor employees during all phases for signs of COVID-19 symptoms and be prepared to close down facilities that have sick employees based on state and local guidelines.

Once states enter Phase 1, they also must continue to meet the gating requirements including decreasing number of new cases and be below hospital capacity. Once another 14-day cycle is reached a state or region can move on to Phase 2. Any state that sees evidence of a rebound in cases should not move to the next phase.

Phase 2

States are encouraged to continue social distancing requirements, however limits on non-essential travel are lifted. Employers are still encouraged to use work-from-home policies and social distancing such as keeping common areas closed to limit exposure to potentially sick employees.

During Phase 2, states can reopen schools and some non-essential businesses as long as they can use moderate social distancing including bars, sit-down dining, and event spaces. It is still encouraged that senior care facilities and hospitals remain closed to visitors.

States must again meet all of the gating requirements over another 14 day period before moving to Phase 3.

Phase 3

As states enter Phase 3, vulnerable populations can resume public interactions, however all individuals should still practice social distancing when they can including avoiding crowds. Employers can begin using unrestricted staffing including bringing back telework employees if appropriate.

The near normal stage will still require individuals to be aware of their surroundings and avoid large gatherings or close contact with others. Social gatherings at bars, restaurants, and events are allowed. Hospitals and senior care facilities can reopen to visitors who use good hygiene and show no symptoms.

Role of Governors and other state officials

While these guidelines offer a roadmap to reopening, every state’s governor will be the ultimate arbiter of when a state’s stay-at-home or non-essential business closure order is lifted. Several regions including six states in the Northeast and a group of West coast governors have entered into agreements to work together on reopening their regions.

Several governors have started to make preparations that follow these guidelines with plans to enter Phase 1 on May 1, the day after the current federal social distancing guidelines expire. Other states have extended their stay-at-home orders past May 15:

  • California
  • New Jersey
  • Connecticut
  • New York
  • Delaware
  • Oregon
  • District of Columbia
  • Rhode Island
  • Kentucky
  • Vermont
  • Maryland
  • Virginia
  • Massachusetts
  • Washington
  • Minnesota
  • West Virginia
  • New Hampshire


Resources for tracking gating requirements

States have been releasing data on the number of COVID-19 cases and several websites are aggregating that data. The University of Washington has also modeled peak hospital resource use that can be used to help determine when states will reach some of the gating requirements.

  • Tracking new cases: The New York Times has compiled all reported cases on a daily basis, their state tracking table shows daily case growth on a colored graph, as the color gets lighter, the number of new cases decreases. This data is also available at the county level. Click here to view state cases.
  • Tracking visualization: Utilizing the NYT’s data, this source puts the visualization into graph form. As a state’s line starts to move down it indicates a decrease in the number of new cases compared to the previous day, nearly all states are currently decreasing. Click here to view this visualization. This current comparison shows three states with varying degrees of new cases, Washington is seeing the fastest drop, New York is starting so slow, while South Dakota is continuing to increase. Any state can be selected in the right-hand menu.
  • Test tracking: The COVID-19 tracking project has been updating their data daily with the number of new tests including positive and negative results, and in some cases the number of recovered patients. For states that are seeing increasing number of cases, it is possible the total number of tests are increasing at a rate that the total proportion of positive tests are decreasing and meet the gating requirements. Click here to view testing data.
  • Hospital capacity: The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation has modeled every state’s hospital capacity and the expected date to reach capacity. Once the solid lines are below the dashed lines in the model’s top graph a state is expected to be below maximum capacity and qualifies for this gating requirement. Click here to view the model.

These data sources and models can help to determine where states are in meeting their gating requirements, however issues like weekend data being reported on a Monday may make the data appear to increase when the actual daily numbers continue to decrease. Every state’s governor will make the final decision on when to lift stay-at-home or non-essential business closure orders and you should follow their news releases for the best information.

HARDI is working on developing a tool to aggregate these data sources for members to more easily track how their states are progressing towards reopening.

Contact Alex Ayers for more information or any questions and visit our COVID-19 resource page for more on this topic.