How Massachusetts Can Reopen

Eliza Sutton, Contributing Writer

COVID-19, discovered in the winter of 2019 in Wuhan, China, has been noticeably upsetting the normalcy of people’s everyday lives since the beginning of 2020, when it emerged as a viral health problem. Five months later and the virus has spread to all corners of the globe, bringing mass disruption with it. 

In Massachusetts, “normal” life essentially ended the week of March 8th. Just two days later, on March 10th, Governor Baker declared Massachusetts to be in a state of emergency. On Friday of that week, March 13th, Cambridge Public schools announced closure, and now all Massachusetts schools are closed for the remainder of the school year. Beginning on March 24th, all non-essential businesses have also been required to close. The official reopening date for these businesses is May 18th, but given how many times this date has already been pushed back, it’s probable that these closures will extend further. As a further precaution, as of May 6th, the entirety of Massachusetts has been mandated to wear facemasks in any public location indefinitely.

Similar mandates and closures have been put in place in other states and countries around the world in order to contain and minimize the impact of the virus until its threat has been reduced. These restrictions, despite being put in place for the safety of the community, often feel extremely oppressive and frustrating to those under them, in large part due to their seemingly interminable nature. After nearly two months of enforced quarantine, many are wondering when even a semblance of normal life will resume. 

Generally speaking, there are three systems which must be put in place before any sort of reopening can be considered: testing, contact tracing, and isolation.”

Generally speaking, there are three systems which must be put in place before any sort of reopening can be considered: testing, contact tracing, and isolation. Currently the United States is woefully low on available testing. Had testing been more readily available and reliably accurate, people could get tested as needed. Anyone with a positive result would then isolate themselves for at least two weeks to prevent the wildfire spread that makes this virus so dangerous. If a person were to test positive, not only would they isolate themselves, but all people who they had come into contact with in the past week or so would be alerted, and would be urged to isolate as well. 

This system of “contact tracing” to prevent the spread of COVID-19 may seem like an unacceptable invasion of privacy to many, especially when taking into consideration the technological strategies likely involved. One such strategy is the tracking of people’s locations through their phones to more completely identify and isolate anyone who has come near a known COVID-positive patient and poses a risk of further spreading the virus. However, without adequate testing, the strategy of contact tracing is unimplementable anyway. This tracing strategy would be very useful as the world begins to slowly resume normal life, but public opinion may render it impossible to effectively execute. 

It’s difficult to predict a timeline for how the world will re-open and come back to normalcy. As of now, the return seems as though it will begin for Massachusetts on May 18th, with the lift of the order that only essential businesses remain open in person. Despite this soft reopen, it is likely that people will still be strongly encouraged or even mandated to keep distance from one another, wear masks, and stay home for the foreseeable future until there is greater knowledge, testing, and tracing resources available. When restrictions are loosened, there may be a “trial-and-error” period in which there is a second surge of cases, and a resulting second closure. Overall, it would be wiser to take the hit of a lengthened closure period now in order to prevent even more severe viral impact later on. It remains to be seen whether that view will be shared by enough of the Trump administration and the public to effectively combat this unprecedented pandemic.