Mitigation will be encouraged (but not required) and there will be no enforcement- a big mistake

Last week the governor extended his previous ‘stay at home’ executive order through May 15 (See EO 2020-33). The previous EO had been scheduled to expire on April 30.  Then yesterday at a news conference he made some changes that loosened the Stay At Home Order.

Under the new Stay at Home Order barbershops, hair salons, and other service industry and retail stores can open for business this Friday (May 8) as long as they have mitigation measures in place like social distancing and occupancy limits etc. On May 11 (this coming Monday) restaurants can start offering dine-in service as long as they have mitigation measures in place. Bars are not included, although it’s unclear whether that will be determined by the category of their liquor license or some other criteria.

Earlier statements by the governor suggested that he intends to use the guidance issued by the president about 2 weeks ago to make decisions about when to lift the stay at home order.  That guidance suggests that states meet the following criteria before lifting stay at home orders:

  • A 14-day downward trend of influenza-like illnesses and COVID-like illnesses;

  • A 14-day downward trend of positive COVID-19 tests, assuming a flat or increasing volume of tests;

  • Robust testing, including antibody testing, for at-risk health care workers; and 

  • Hospital capacity that would allow medical professionals to treat all patients without crisis care.

The first and last of the bullets have been met. The middle two bullets are in a kind of gray area where one could argue that they’ve been met, but one could also argue that they haven’t.

Editorial note: There has been a lot of public debate and discussion about what the proper timing is to relax some of the Stay at Home interventions. Basically- lots of talk about WHEN to allow things to open. Far less discussion has been about HOW they open. To me, the how question is more important than the when question.

It’ll be super important that retail stores, salons, and restaurants have good, effective and evidence-based mitigation measures in place when they open. So, basically, I’d like to see more thought and debate put into providing specific guidance and compliance criteria for how these businesses can open responsibly. Furthermore (and most importantly) there needs to be robust enforcement of mitigation measures. However, today’s Order doesn’t include any enforcement provisions at all!

The state health department put together a 1-page set of guidelines for retail businesses as they prepare for partial operations starting next week. The recommendations (not requirements) include enhanced sanitation and physical distancing steps customers and business owners should take to minimize the risk of spreading the virus. Perhaps more detailed guidance is on the way?