/How and when the US economy will reopen, according to experts – Business Insider

How and when the US economy will reopen, according to experts – Business Insider

  • As some parts of the United States start to open non-essential businesses, it remains to be seen exactly how or when the country will reopen.
  • We spoke to epidemiologists, an investment analyst, and the mayor of Salt Lake City to learn more about how reopening our economy will happen, and what it could look like.
  • While nobody can predict the future, the experts Business Insider spoke to said that reopening will need to be a slow and careful process coordinated regionally.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

While some states like Georgia across the country are reopening hair salons and restaurants, experts are warning not to get too excited — we won’t be getting back to normal anytime soon.

Business Insider spoke to two infectious disease experts, an investment analyst, and the mayor of Salt Lake City — a liberal, urban hub in a red state that recently opened — about what reopening will look like, when it can happen, and how to do it while minimizing our risk of an explosion in cases.

Here’s how they’re thinking about reopening the country.

What’s opening now 

Gradual reopenings are expected to begin across the country in the next month, said Seema Shah, chief strategist at Principal Global Investors. That’s earlier than investors had expected, Shah said. 

A more broad reopening will likely happen widely during the early summer months, she said. Ideally, widespread testing, contact-tracing, and sufficient hospital capacity would be available before that, but states are likely to lift restrictions before then as they worry about how much economic activity “has been decimated,” Shah said. 

Utah opened gyms, hair salons, and dine-in services at restaurants on Friday, though with restrictions like required distancing and mask-wearing. States like Georgia and Texas have already lifted closures of many non-essential businesses. 

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A person exercises at Gold’s Gym in Georgia after it reopened.

Maranie Staab/Reuters

But, experts said, states should proceed carefully as they reopen. Georgia, which has not yet seen the recommended 14-day decline in coronavirus cases, is “gambling with their citizens’ lives,” said Dr. John Swartzberg, clinical professor emeritus at the University of California Berkeley School of Public Health’s division of infectious diseases. 

“They have no idea where they are” in regards to the number of cases, Swartzberg said of Georgia. He said robust testing will be needed for the country to carefully reopen. 

Testing and contact-tracing would allow states to keep close tabs on if reopening is causing a spike in cases, and if so, would allow them to more effectively prevent a real explosion of cases. 

Without testing, Swartzberg said, “they won’t be able to know whether there’s a problem unless people go to the emergency room.” 

How restaurants, offices, and schools could change

Restaurants would need to have tables spaced at least 6 feet apart from each other, and staff would still need to be screened and wear masks, said Dr. Susan Hassig, associate professor of epidemiology at the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. 

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A sign at a Waffle House in Madison, Georgia asks customers to practice social distancing.

Maranie Staab/Reuters

Schools could change so the density of children in one place isn’t as high, Hassig said. 

Swartzberg said that “children are a reservoir for this virus,” as they can get infected but not show severe symptoms, making schools difficult to reopen. 

Universities could use a hybrid system, with small groups meeting in person but larger lecture classes meeting online, Swartzberg said, though communal living in dorms could pose a hazard. 

Swartzberg, who is 75, said he is unlikely to return to campus in the fall. “I should be the last person to be on the campus,” he said. 

For office workers, workdays could start at different times “so people aren’t all on transit at the same time,” Hassig said. 

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A man wearing a filtering mask and another who wears none ride the New York City Subway.

Lucas Jackson/Reuters

But, people are likely to continue to work from home. The coronavirus simply “accelerated a trend” of remote work, Shah said. 

Why reopening will need to be a coordinated regional effort 

In Utah, city and county leaders are allowed to open more businesses than the state has allowed for, but can’t create policies that are more restrictive than the state’s order, unless they ask the governor for specific exceptions. 

That puts government leaders like Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall in a difficult position. 

Normally, the state sets the “floor” or minimum, but in this case they’ve set the ceiling, Mendenhall said. Salt Lake City has the highest concentration of coronavirus cases, and the virus has especially impacted its minority communities, Mendenhall said. 

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Downtown Salt Lake City.

George Frey/Getty Images

While she could ask for more restrictions to keep restaurants, salons, and gyms in the city closed, her city’s residents could easily drive a few miles to a suburb with open restaurants and bring the virus back home. Closing the city’s restaurants would only drive economic opportunity to businesses outside of the city, she said. 

In this way, Utah serves as an example of how complex reopening is, even within the same state. 

Texas, which reopened beaches close to Louisiana, could impact its neighboring state, which has been dealing with an outbreak in New Orleans. 

“I’m really concerned for the people of those areas,” Hassig said. 

When a second wave could come 

Experts warned of a possible “explosion” of cases if reopening isn’t done carefully or is done before states are ready. 

If that doesn’t happen, a second wave is still expected to come in the fall, due to seasonal patterns of viruses. That second wave, likely to start in October, could leave hospitals overwhelmed and people confined to their homes again, through the winter. 

“We’re in for a tough late fall and winter next year,” Swartzberg said. 

Smaller increases in infections are likely to come as regions reopen, experts said. Reopening will come with “fits and starts and some failures along the way,” Swartzberg said. 

How long until we get back to normal 

In order to return to some sort of normal, Hassig said, we would need some sort of preventative treatment, like the drug Truvada, which is used to protect against contracting HIV, or a vaccine.

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Scientists are seen working on a potential vaccine for COVID-19 in Keele, Britain.

Carl Recine/Reuters

Eighteen months has been shared widely as a possible time in which a vaccine could be produced, though Hassig said that is optimistic. Bill Gates said on Thursday that a vaccine could come in as soon as nine months, or as long as two years. 

Herd immunity without a vaccine, which happens when around 70% of the population is immune through prior infection, is one hope, but is the “least desirable” option, Swartzberg said, because having that much of the population infected would likely overwhelm healthcare systems and lead to a rise in deaths. 

Still, Swartzberg said we should remain optimistic — technology has improved, and laboratories around the world are throwing time and resources into producing a vaccine. “We have a very good shot” at a vaccine, Swartzberg said. 

What won’t happen for a while 

We’ll probably have to practice social distancing and mask-wearing through at least the end of the year, experts said. 

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The Mormon worldwide two-day conference normally draws 20,000 attendees per session, but due to the COVID-19 virus the conference is being broadcast online only.

George Frey/Getty Images

It’s unclear when places like churches and other religious functions could reopen. Mendenhall praised the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon church), which has a large presence in the area, for its early action in encouraging its members to stay home. Now, it will be up to government leaders across the country on when churches, mosques, and synagogues can reopen. 

Around the US, local and national festivals and conferences have been postponed to the fall, though without a sharp decline in cases they are likely to be canceled. 

Concerts and sporting events are unlikely until at least 2021 or until a vaccine has taken effect, experts said. Tightly packed bars and clubs are also far off. 

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