The Backstory: We're not as divided as you think. Most Americans want to get back to work, school and social lives. But safely.
R-0 may be the most important scientific term you’ve never heard of when it comes to stopping the coronavirus pandemic. USA TODAY
I'm USA TODAY editor-in-chief Nicole Carroll, and this is The Backstory, insights into our biggest stories of the week. If you'd like to get The Backstory in your inbox every week, sign up here.
Shortly after Wisconsin lifted its quarantine last week, photos circulated showing crowded bars. But did life truly change after the sudden decision? We set to find out.
John Diedrich, Daphne Chen, Matt Wynn and Dan Keemahill of the USA TODAY Network analyzed data from millions of cellphones and found "an overall uptick in the number of residents leaving their homes in the hours and days after (restrictions were lifted) and a jump in restaurant and bar visits. But the overall increase statewide was small and is consistent with a trend toward greater movement that started more than a month ago."
The SafeGraph cellphone data is based on the daily recorded movements of more than 16 million cellular devices. The data does not identify device owners. There are caveats to the findings, the reporters noted. Not everyone owns a cellphone, daily fluctuations are possible and weekly averages are better, and while many Wisconsin counties opened, businesses in the state's two largest cities, Milwaukee and Madison, largely remained closed.
Still, the data showed that the quarantine lift didn't lead to a spike in people leaving their homes or a spike in mobility. "Three days after the order, the share of people leaving their homes in Wisconsin grew by 3% compared with the same three-day period the week before," the reporters found. "That rate was in keeping with what the data showed was generally happening in other Midwestern states and nationally."
People want and need to get back to life, but safely. We published an opinion piece this week that gave guidelines for doing just that.
The piece was signed by more than 20 bipartisan health policy experts and was spearheaded by Andy Slavitt, founder and board chair of United States of Care, and Dr. Mark McClellan, director of the Robert J. Margolis Center for Health Policy at Duke University.
"We have sacrificed with great unity to #StayHome in order to reduce the infection rate and save lives," they wrote. "We want a sense of normalcy back – to go to work, to go to restaurants, to see sports again, to send our kids to school, to hug our families – but not at the expense of the lives of our friends, families and neighbors.
"We want a good economy and public safety, but we are afraid if we open too quickly, or don’t have plans to adjust if spread recurs, we will have neither."
They then detailed, based on the reopening plan first presented by White House coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx, what areas can most safely open up when criteria are met ("Outdoor weddings and funerals with small groups that physically distance and wear masks when close together"); additional areas they hope can open under significantly modified conditions ("Summer camps and youth sports"); and areas that should remain closed until risks can be significantly reduced ("Large-scale events like concerts, sports with high attendance.")
"We're not asking for zero risk before we open," Slavitt said. "But we are asking that the tools be in place to make sure that if we do have any cases, which we will, that they quickly become contained and don't turn into outbreaks.
"The basics of the coronavirus haven't changed. It's still contagious. It still travels in a surreptitious way. It's still lethal to large populations. So when we open up, we've got to do it in a step wise kind of way."
This week, all 50 states began reopening in some form. Slavitt said, 'There's not a governor, a person in the country, that wants people to die unnecessarily or wants to see their economies tank.'
We know. People are hungry for information on how to stay safe as they venture out more from home. They are concerned about a second wave of the infection. We've been getting a steady stream of questions. Reporter Grace Hauck has been speaking with infectious disease experts to answer them.
Can my grandkids visit from out of state safely this summer? "It's not safe to visit until community transmission has been eliminated in both areas and the groups getting together have no illness and have had no outside exposures for a week to two weeks beforehand, according to Greg Poland, director of the Mayo Clinic's Vaccine Research Group."
Are gloves necessary? "The CDC recommends wearing gloves when you are cleaning or caring for someone who is sick. In most other situations, such as running errands, wearing gloves is not necessary."
Is it safe to go to the gym? "Many gyms are putting protocols in place that may reduce the risk of transmission, such as separating workout equipment and limiting the number of people inside the gym at any given time."
Hauck points out, "It's important to note that the answers vary on a case-by-case basis and depend on how much risk you're willing to take on."
Yes, there is risk. But we do have to #OpenSafely. It will not be a straight path, or a simple one.
Slavitt has great advice for us all: "If we give people the credit from all coming from good motivation, it's easier."
Nicole Carroll is the editor-in-chief of USA TODAY. Reach her at EIC@usatoday.com or follow her on Twitter here. Thank you for supporting our journalism. You can subscribe to our print edition, ad-free experience or electronic newspaper replica here. You can subscribe to this newsletter here.