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Widespread testing still needed to meet reopening guidelines


TAMPA (WFLA) – President Trump’s plan to reopen the economy in three phases requires states and regions to overcome significant hurdles before even entering Phase 1.

The ‘gating criteria’ listed in the new White House guidelines released Thursday require flu-like and coronavirus-like symptoms and illnesses to be trending downward for at least two weeks.

Actual cases of COVID-19, or positive tests as a percentage of total tests, must also be trending downward for a two-week period.

Finally, hospitals must be treating patients without crisis care, and have robust testing in place, including antibody testing.

“And we don’t have that yet,” explained Dr. Jay Wolfson, associate vice president of USF Health and a professor of medicine and public health. “We have testing capacity, but not enough testing kits. I expect those will be resolved within the next couple of weeks–I’m hoping they will–especially as rapid kits become more available.”

Once those measures are in place, the Trump administration’s plan lays out specific guidelines for individuals and businesses.

Individuals who are immune-compromised, elderly, or otherwise vulnerable should continue to shelter in place. The guidelines recommend everyone else maximize social distancing in public, minimize non-essential travel, and continue to practice good hygiene. Anyone feeling sick should not go to work or interact with others.

Businesses are encouraged to continue social distancing in the workplace, provide personal protective equipment where appropriate, close common areas, sanitize workplaces, and do temperature checks where appropriate.

Companies are also guided to encourage working from home, return employees to work in phases, minimize business travel, and consider special accommodations for vulnerable people.

The guidelines then specifically list businesses that can reopen, including restaurants, movie theaters and sporting events, while advising that schools, daycares and bars should remain closed.

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said she will take her cues from public health experts on determining the threshold of testing and contact tracing needed to return to work.

“I don’t think the health and well-being of our citizens and the economy are mutually exclusive,” said Castor. “We can talk about both at the same time. And we can make decisions in both of those areas using available data. Just right now, we don’t have enough of it when we’ve only tested 1% of the population.”

Andrea Messina owns Joe & Sons Olive Oils in South Tampa and a second location in Carrollwood. The name is in honor of her great-grandfather and grandfather, who opened a market in Ybor City in 1938.

She had to stop tastings of the dozens of olive oils in her store when the virus began to spread, but she’s looking for the silver lining.

“Because people are cooking more at home, we’re hanging in there,” Messina said. “However, very much like many other businesses that do remain open, business is down. But we’re doing what we can.”

That includes switching to call-ahead curbside pickups, as well as dinner baskets filled with different oils, honeys and other products paired with recipes.

Like many small business owners with a family, she’s wearing a lot of hats. Messina read about the president’s plan and is cautious, but optimistic.

“I’m pleased with his comments that he’s allowing governors to make those decisions, because I think this does need to be a state-by-state decision,” Messina said. “We’re very different than New York, for example, and other states.”

“I think it has to be gradual. As much as we want everything to return to normal, we still have to be safe.”


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