Many people have lost count of just how many days they have been socially distanced from their loved ones. And just as President Trump is talking a big game about opening the country back up, state governors are advocating for extending the shutdown, possibly into summer. People want to know when they will be able to visit their friends and family again, but there aren't exactly straight answers.
Will people see their mothers on Mother's Day? How about Father's Day? Can they make plans with their friends for the Fourth of July? "It’s not going to be as easy as a single national 'masks off' day," says Peter Pitts, the president and co-founder of the nonpartisan research organization Center for Medicine in the Public Interest.
Instead, social distancing practices will start to change, city by city, state by state, region by region, depending on where your zip code is "on the curve" — and those changes will rely on hard data that's still in the process of being accumulated. According to a report published on April 14 by researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, intermittent social distancing could be the norm for the next two to four years. When cases rise, due to seasonality or from more people being out and about, social distancing measures might be enforced until the curve is flattened again.
Pitts tells Bustle that theoretically, the areas that were hit the hardest early in the coronavirus pandemic, like New York, could be the first to open back up. Pitts suggests that come summertime, New Yorkers might be able to get back to business, cautiously. Other areas of the world, like Germany, that were hit early on can be seen as possible examples: As of April 20, Germany has officially begun to reopen some businesses and schools, with some caveats.
Dr. Emily Gurley, Ph.D., a professor of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, says that for the U.S., we don't yet have enough information to say when visits will be safe. "Not much has changed in terms of risk for infection, except that we now do not see each other," she says. Until we get that information, Gurley suggests we keep our distance from loved ones, "particularly older adults who remain at high risk for severe disease should they become infected." Until more COVID-19 testing, treatments, or vaccines become available, we won't have the answers we need.
If friends or family members have survived COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that so long as they have been fever-free for three days, and have been symptom-free for seven days, they are no longer considered to be infectious. That said, only a test can confirm this fully. From what we know about other viruses, it's possible that this could mean the person is immune to getting COVID-19 again, but there isn't enough testing to know that for sure, and there have been reports of re-infection. Despite the fact that testing isn't yet widely available even for patients, Pitts is confident that with a "close working partnership between developers, manufacturers, testing laboratories, state health departments, hospitals, physicians and the federal government," a "radically enhanced testing volume" will become available as soon as the end of summer.
Dr. Steven Gundry, M.D., the director and founder of the International Heart & Lung Institute, is not as convinced. "Let’s be realistic: Because tests are still so rare, it is unlikely, particularly if you are asymptomatic, that you will or a loved one will be tested anytime soon." Instead, Gundry suggests we manage our expectations and plan only on "using videoconferencing modalities to stay in touch, or just the phone." If you have to visit a family member you're not currently living with (to deliver essentials, not celebrate an anniversary), "cover your mouth and nose with a mask, sit 4 to 6 feet apart at the table, and please resist the desire to hug," he says. Gundry adds that he has been following his own advice and hasn't hugged his daughter in months. To ensure that a hug won't come with fatal risks, Gundry says that hug won't come until testing becomes more available, period.
Peter Pitts, president and co-founder of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest.
Dr. Emily Gurley, Ph.D., professor of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Dr. Steven Gundry, M.D., director and founder of the International Heart & Lung Institute.