The worldwide uncertainty brought on by the outbreak of COVID-19 has affected every aspect of daily life. How can we return to some semblance of normalcy? The current roadmap to reopening the United States follows a simple three phase plan.
Coronavirus Reopening Plan
Phase 1: Slow the Spread
The lockdown and stay-at-home orders that many across the US are experiencing is the first step in reopening the country. By closing schools, community spaces, working from home, and ordering take-out, we are doing our civic duty to slow the infection rate of COVID-19.
The phrase “flatten the curve” has become a moniker for reducing the infection rate below levels that our healthcare system can handle. If we allow the number of infections to exceed these levels, not everyone who gets sick will be able to get treatment. Determining who does and does not get treatment is a decision no one should have to make in this crisis.
Phase 2: State by State Reopening
Once a state’s healthcare system is able to diagnose, treat, and isolate new COVID cases, they can begin to reopen some parts of society. Schools and businesses can open their doors, but it’s highly recommended they institute physical distancing measures. Strategies include creating larger spaces between workers, sneeze guards for cashiers, wearing masks, and the like. Large gatherings, such as concerts and conferences, are recommended to be limited, and our most vulnerable citizens (older adults, people with immunodeficiency conditions) should continue limiting their time spent in community spaces.
To get to this stage and continue reducing the rate of infection, there needs to be public health measures put into place. Community spaces should be regularly deep cleaned to prevent further spread of the disease. Individuals should strongly consider wearing masks in public. And, most importantly, testing must be widespread and a routine experience with all medical checkups. If we cannot identify infected individuals and isolate them from the public, we will see a resurgence of COVID infections.
This stage comes with particular risk because if handled improperly, it could spark a resurgence in infections and revert back to Phase 1. This is the worst possible scenario. There would be many more people infected and it could overrun the healthcare system. It would prolong the negative effects on the economy significantly. And, worst of all, it could spread to neighboring states that would then have to revert to quarantine protocol.
Phase 3: Establish Immune Protection and Lift Physical Distancing
This is the final stage the country is desperately anticipating. Essentially, the government will lift physical distancing, open up all businesses and activities, and return to normal. But to get here, there needs to be tools available to mitigate COVID infections and assist those that are most vulnerable. Most importantly, there needs to be a vaccine.
Without a vaccine to prevent new infections, there is a risk of backtracking progress and experiencing another spike in infection rates. Considering the low rate of testing in the United States and the unpredictability of a vaccine on the horizon, it unfortunately may be some time before this phase is reached.
Bonus Phase: Rebuild our Pandemic Readiness
If the outbreak of COVID-19 has taught us anything, it is that the United States was woefully unprepared for this type of crisis. Lack of proper medical equipment, limited testing capabilities, and confusion concerning our nation’s response and treatment methods have crippled our response to the disease. At the time of writing, the US surpassed 90,000 deaths and claims nearly 1/3 of all worldwide infections, and does not show signs of slowing down. We can do better.
The US should invest heavily in R&D initiatives to create better systems to manufacture medical equipment and support our healthcare workforce. They should expand the public healthcare system to ensure that every citizen can receive medical coverage, regardless of employment status. And finally, the US needs clear government structures to execute efficient and powerful response plans for the future.
How Are Other Countries Handling Reopening After COVID-19?
While many in the world are practicing social distancing and stay-at-home procedures, some countries in East Asia are quickly returning to near normal lifestyles. They offer a real-time model that the US can follow.
In South Korea, swift, decisive action made it possible to control the infection rate. They ramped up their ability to test every infection, trace the infected patients contacts, and test those people. Additionally, the government created apps that notified citizens of spikes in infections so people would know if it was particularly risky to leave their homes. As a result, South Korea has flattened the curve and imposed stringent restrictions of free movement of their citizens.
The US can also learn from the mistakes of these East Asian countries. In Singapore, they initially were able to mitigate the infection rate by utilizing thousands of hotel rooms to quarantine infected patients. Unfortunately, they paid little attention to over 1 million migrant workers within the country. COVID-19 does not discriminate based on income level, and if you do not treat the less fortunate equally with the affluent, the disease will continue to flourish. This is similar to the story in Japan, which worried about the economic impact of the quarantine orders and lifted restrictions after 3 weeks. In less than a month, a burgeoning infection rate caused them to reinstitute stay-at-home restrictions.
How Will Work Environments Change Post-COVID?
During the transition periods between the phases of reopening, there will be innumerable changes to how we do business day-to-day. In office environments, there needs to be additional time set aside for deep cleaning and sanitizing of all public surfaces. The early stages of reopening will likely involve some amount of staggered office attendance. Many businesses may want to limit the number of employees in the office to encourage social distancing.
In the long term, some organizations may want to consider rethinking their office layouts. A traditional office is not designed for social distancing, so spacing desks further apart, reorganizing cafeterias, and vigorously sanitizing restrooms are good first steps. For some organizations, this may require increased range for wireless networks within the building.
Business travel is currently at a standstill, and currently the plan is to open for interstate business travel in June and July. Different states may have different schedules for reopening, so this may be a staggered process. For international travel, some countries have tentatively listed July as a reopening goal for international travel.
Considering the risks associated with a resurgence of COVID infections, and the possibility that contracting the disease once and creating antibodies does not prevent a second infection, many governments are taking calculated precautions.
The Rise of Remote Work
The global workforce has seen a dramatic shift in the past two months. In the US, approximately 58% of the knowledge workforce is working from home, and many find that the home office benefits their productivity and work satisfaction immensely. It’s estimated that between 25-30% of workers will be working from home multiple days a week by the end of 2021. But this changing workforce brings with it a new set of challenges to overcome.
Accessing sensitive data over a remote connection presents an attractive target for would-be data thieves. To prevent the data from being intercepted over the air, it’s highly recommended to use a secure VPN to make the communication more difficult to track and manipulate.
But a VPN is only as secure as its authentication method. If a bad actor is able to brute force their way into gaining access by exploiting the weaknesses of passwords, the entire network and all of the organization’s data is at risk.
The weaknesses of credential-based authentication are well documented, and in response, more and more organizations are switching to digital certificates for 802.1x authentication. Certificates utilize public key cryptography, eliminating the possibility of a bad actor successfully impersonating a network user.
Certificate-based authentication is far superior to credential-based, but the misconception of a difficult configuration process is a barrier of entry to some organizations. In response, SecureW2 has developed powerful certificate onboarding tools to streamline this process and ensure each user is correctly configured and ready for secure authentication. As more workers incorporate remote work into their weekly routine, it’s vital that their connection and the organization is protected from a myriad of outside threats looking for a weakness in the network.
Getting Through the Pandemic Together
During the unprecedented crisis brought on by COVID-19, it’s important to seek solidarity to help us through each day. This has been demonstrated by baking cookies for neighbors, throwing parties over video calls, and simply supporting the people in your life. SecureW2 works to ensure every remote connection is rapid and secure. Check out our pricing page to see if our reliable VPN solution is a fit for your organization.