COVID-19 Reopening Priorities and Risk Budgeting
Today, the Governor announced his decision to move forward with the next phase (3) of easing of pandemic restrictions.
The public and private reopening debates continue regarding what is too fast versus too slow. As I wrote to you last week (COVID19 Steady Progress), we are in a good spot metrics-wise thanks to the collective sacrifices and focused efforts in our state to suppress COVID-19. Now we are faced with several ‘what if’ questions that are important to consider.
Many are concerned that the Governor is moving too fast by reopening bars, gyms, etc. in light of the current surge of new cases occurring in many states, perhaps as a result of their reopening missteps. While the trend in our health data is certainly encouraging for Massachusetts and helps to make the case for further easing of restrictions here, the scenario that we now find ourselves in and the questions of where priorities lie is covered in this Slate article that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. It contains points to consider that resonate for me personally and as an elected leader, including this quote from Helen Jenkins, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Boston University’s School of Public Health,
“We need to look at all the things we want to reopen and face the fact that if we truly want to prioritize schools opening and staying open, some other parts of our society might just have to wait.”
So, with Governor Baker’s announcement today, we know that with more reopenings and more movement will come some degree of increased transmission. So what are we to do?
In thinking of that question, I have found this article helpful (also referenced in the above Slate article);
"5 Rules to Live By During a Pandemic: There’s no playbook for living through a pandemic, so we decided to create one. With some basic rules to guide you, everyone can lower risk and live a full life while we wait for the virus to get under control,” authored by Tara Parker-Pope.
An excerpt I found especially thoughtful reads as follows:
“Manage your exposure budget: Risk is cumulative. Going forward, you’ll need to make trade-offs, choosing activities that are most important to you (like seeing an aging parent) and skipping things that might matter less (an office going-away party). Think about managing virus risk just as you might manage a diet: If you want dessert, eat a little less for dinner."
What if today’s health metrics and trends are as good as they get for the next six months? If we want the chance to physically convene schools again it is imperative that COVID-19 transmission rates stay low. If our transmission rate soon sees dramatic upticks, then we risk missing the window to physically reopen schools ‘on time’ because of the weeks that it takes for public health metrics (the curve) to trend downward again. For example, it took us approximately two months to come down from our peak April 2020 surge levels and to reopen restaurant dining in MA.
I remain hopeful that the medical therapies and vaccines under development will lead to good things, but for now, each of us must continue manage our risk and exposure budgets responsibly to keep the curve flat and our health metrics trending the right direction.
Thank you for your individual contributions and sacrifices made to support this effort and our public health.