Report Finds “Reopening Day” in the Commonwealth Will Likely Include Phasing in Businesses and Contact Tracing

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Comparative study shows what Massachusetts’ reopening strategy could look like

BOSTON – Based on case studies from Europe, Massachusetts’ strategy for beginning to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic may include allowing businesses to open in phases and extending social distancing guidelines that include mask-wearing and maintaining distances between individuals, according to a new study published by Pioneer Institute.

Rebekah Paxton, author of “Case Studies on Re-Opening National Economies, and What to Expect in the U.S. and Massachusetts,” compares the reopening approaches of three European countries – Austria, Denmark, and Germany – to highlight approaches that could inform the Commonwealth’s reopening strategy. While Austria and Denmark have been some of the early movers in Europe in terms of reopening, Germany provides a good example of how a system based on federalism may operate in this unique situation.

“As Massachusetts develops plans for ‘Reopening Day,’ it is imperative that policymakers draw lessons from the experiences of other countries that faced their infection peaks weeks before we did,” said Jim Stergios, executive director of Pioneer Institute.  “The variations in approaches taken by the countries we reviewed are interesting for both the variety of approaches and their impact.”

Despite Governor Baker’s announcement on Tuesday that existing social distancing guidelines and non-essential business closures would be extended until May 18, Massachusetts may soon see a plan for reopening the economy in the wake of COVID-19 for when this advisory expires.

While every country has faced unique challenges and chosen individual responses based on the number of cases relative to population, approaches taken in Europe suggest the reopening of businesses may start with establishments that are the smallest in retail space size, while food service and accommodations establishments may remain closed for longer.

In addition to economic and social restrictions, each of the three European countries studied has introduced the concept of a nationwide contact tracing plan to supplement their reopening strategies. In particular, each country has announced the potential use of a smartphone app that would let users know if they have come in close contact with another app user who is considered positive for COVID-19 and contagious.

For Massachusetts, which is one of the top five states in terms of total COVID-19 cases, such a concept may be utilized on a voluntary basis to identify cases in the early stage and reduce potential hospitalizations.

This comparative study also highlights actions taken by governors in Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Illinois to inform the Massachusetts reopening strategy. These and other states have already announced plans to partially lift executive orders mandating the closure of non-essential businesses, or have expanded their definitions of “essential” to allow certain businesses to reopen immediately.

“Understanding the timeline and strategies taken by these European countries is important to inform us on when the Massachusetts economy may begin to open up,” says Paxton. “Likewise, changes in the case curve in states that have already initiated opening will also inform how Massachusetts goes about lifting its restrictions.”

While Massachusetts is presumably on hold until May 18, information gained during the time leading up to this deadline may present some additional solutions for phasing back into normal economic activities.

Chart: Case studies on re-o… by Pioneer Institute on Scribd

About the Author

Rebekah Paxton is a Research Analyst at Pioneer Institute. She first joined Pioneer in 2017 as a Roger Perry intern, writing about various transparency issues within the Commonwealth, including fiscal policy and higher education. Since then, she has worked on various research projects under PioneerPublic and PioneerOpportunity, in areas of state finance, public policy, and labor relations. She recently earned an M.A. in Political Science and a B.A. in Political Science and Economics, from Boston University, where she graduated summa cum laude.

About Pioneer

Pioneer Institute is an independent, non-partisan, privately funded research organization that seeks to improve the quality of life in Massachusetts through civic discourse and intellectually rigorous, data-driven public policy solutions based on free market principles, individual liberty and responsibility, and the ideal of effective, limited and accountable government.

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