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April 28, 2020

Is 'quarantine fatigue' leading America to reopen too soon?

Daily Briefing

    After more than a month of social distancing, some Americans are experiencing "quarantine fatigue." Some people are taking to the streets to protest so-called "stay-at-home" orders—and some states are taking steps to ease those restrictions, even though they haven't achieved metrics called for by public health officials.

    3 ways you can limit the effects of social isolation

    Americans are protesting stay-at-home orders, leaving their houses more

    In recent weeks, Americans in several states have participated in protests against states' stay-at-home orders and policies that have temporarily closed nonessential businesses in an effort to slow the new coronavirus' spread—and the protests aren't the only indication that some Americans are growing tired of the social distancing measures. New data from the Maryland Transportation Institute (MTI) at the University of Maryland showed that the percentage of Americans staying home decreased slightly from a national average of about 33% over the six weeks leading up to and including April 10 to 31% on April 17.

    The findings are based on location data from more than 100 million cellphones. Researchers presumed that people stayed at home if the location data from their cellphones indicated they didn't move more than one mile in a given day. Based on the data, the researchers estimated that the average number of personal trips per day increased from 2.4 per person on April 10 to 2.5 per person on April 17, marking a 4% increase.

    "We saw something we hoped wasn't happening, but it's there," Lei Zhang, lead researcher and director of the MTI, said. "It seems collectively we're getting a little tired [of stay-at-home orders]. It looks like people are loosening up on their own to travel more."

    States begin reopeningbut many don't meet metrics called for by public health officials

    Across the nation, 42 states issued stay-at-home orders, Reuters reports. But several states are easing those orders or have announced plans to do so soon.

    Colorado's stay-at-home order expired Monday and Alaska, Georgia, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Tennessee have taken steps to begin reopening nonessential businesses in the states. Other states, including  Minnesota, Mississippi, and Montana have announced they will soon follow suit.

    For example, Georgia allowed barbershops, tattoo parlors, gyms, movie theaters, and some other businesses to reopen, and Tennessee has allowed restaurants to reopen—though affected businesses have to comply with new requirements aimed at preventing the new coronavirus' spread. Missouri intends to allow "almost every business" in the state to reopen this week, and Idaho intends to allow places of worship to open by next weekend.

    But many of the states haven't yet met metrics called for by public health officials or those laid out in guidance the White House released earlier this month. The guidance suggests that state officials should consider reopening nonessential businesses and easing social distancing measures only if:

    • Officials have seen a downward trajectory in influenza-like illnesses in their state for 14 days;
    • Officials have seen a downward trajectory in cases of Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, in their state for 14 days;
    • Officials have testing programs, including antibody testing, set up for at-risk health care workers; and
    • Providers have the capacity to treat all Covid-19 patients in the state without operating under a crisis care plan.

    According to Reuters, Colorado, Mississippi, Minnesota, Montana, and Tennessee do not yet have the ability to either adequately screen residents for the new coronavirus or to track down individuals who may have come in contact with people who test positive for the virus. A new analysis conducted by Harvard University and STAT News found that, overall, 31 states and the District of Columbia are not yet conducting testing to identify people infected with the new coronavirus quickly or widespread enough to safely reopen nonessential businesses and loosen social distancing measures, with 10 states needing to increase their daily testing totals by at least 10,000 in order to safely reopen by May 1.

    Experts say reopening too soon could have devastating consequences

    Public health experts have warned that reopening nonessential businesses and easing social distancing measures too soon could cause Covid-19 cases to surge in areas that haven't yet been severely affected by the new coronavirus. Experts say the orders have helped to curb the epidemic, but widespread testing and contact tracing is needed before the measures can be lifted safely.

    An analysis from the Rockefeller Foundation estimated that the United States needs to be testing three million people per week to safely reopen, while Vital Strategies, a nonprofit headed by former CDC Director Tom Frieden, has recommended the United States test 450,000 people a day at minimum.

    Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, on Saturday said the United States needs to at least double its current testing rates before states can safely ease social distancing measures (Shaver, Washington Post, 4/25; Brown/O'Brien, Reuters, 4/26; Witte et. al., Washington Post, 4/25; McKinley, New York Times, 4/26; Cassidy/Dearen, Associated Press, 4/25; Begley, STAT News, 4/27; Haltiwanger, Business Insider, 4/26; Denton, Denver Post, 4/27).

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