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When cities reopen: What to expect from restaurants, school, gyms after lockdown ends

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Will you still need to wear a face mask when the world reopens?


James Martin/CNET

For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO website.

Plexiglass dividers when you sit down to dinner. Temperature takers at the office and classroom. Sanitizing stations as you enter and leave stores. These are some of the measures that could go into effect as the coronavirus lockdown restrictions ease across US cities and states, and around the world.

But when will it happen, you ask. And what will life be like? I wish I could tell you. There’s no single way to reopen. Different municipalities across the globe are following their own playbooks, and looking to each other for advice about what works and doesn’t. Nearly all of them are reintegrating in phases, and they’re looking to data to help determine what will happen and when. 

Keep track of the coronavirus pandemic.

For example, if COVID-19 cases appear to be contained in one area, it’s more likely you’ll find businesses open, but changed. The reasons for reopening cities and businesses are many: People are restless, rents are due and flagging economies need a boost. In some places, coronavirus testing could also play a role if it’s determined to be safe enough to be out  but cautious. Elsewhere, mandatory face mask laws are in effect in stores and other public areas.

Here’s how life could look as restrictions loosen, based on what leaders are saying and doing. Note that this story is intended to provide an overview of the situation and will update frequently in response to global coronavirus developments. Your local situation may differ.

Read more: Coronavirus antibody testing: What to know about serology tests and antigens

Restaurants and bars

Many restaurants are already open for some combination of delivery, take-out or curbside pickup. In some places, restaurants that allow dine-in customers may place patrons six feet apart and restrict capacity by, say, half, in order to uphold social distancing. Some businesses are closed altogether.

Closed restaurants that reopen are likely to roll back measures one at a time, in order to keep customers and their own employees safe. Others may be quick to welcome back diners, but with extra sanitation or capacity measures — maybe menus will be disposable, or laminated and disinfected after each use. Servers could wear plastic gloves.

In the warmer months, it’s possible we’ll see outdoor patios opened to a limited number of seated orders, with tables and chairs sanitized between parties. In Austria, for example, restaurants, cafes and bars will open May 15, and must close at 11 p.m., Reuters reported.

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The most significant challenge dine-in service faces is the inability to wear a face mask while eating. If the coronavirus can transmit through droplets when you speak and breathe, in addition to spreading via coughs and sneezes, then eating indoors could be riskier. 

It also isn’t clear if air conditioning causes air flow patterns that could infect healthy diners if a customer winds up being asymptomatic. It’s worth noting that the World Health Organization has said airplane ventilation systems present a fairly low risk of transmission.

Shopping malls come back to life

Simon, the largest shopping mall property in the US, announced that it will reopen malls in over 20 states by May 16. Not every store within the mall may open at once. For example, individual retailers may choose to keep their doors shut. To help limit the spread of COVID-19, single-use items like shopping bags and coffee cups will be used exclusively, and shoppers will be encouraged to wear face masks. Employees definitely will be.

Store hours will be limited, for example from 11 a.m to 7 p.m. most nights, closing early so cleaners can rigorously disinfect common areas and bathrooms. Every other urinal will be off-limits to encourage social distancing, and there are protocols in place if employees get sick.

“Human occupancy within the property will be limited to a maximum density of 50 square feet per person. If the targeted occupancy is achieved, 5 other Customers/Public will be asked to wait in their cars or in queue lines outside, spaced 6 feet apart,” Simon Properties said in a document posted online.

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Like many businesses, gyms put people — and their bodily fluids — in close proximity.


César Salza / CNET

Gyms, hair salons, movie theaters

Essential businesses such as grocery stores, pharmacies and hardware stores are open, but smaller retail shops, like clothing boutiques, hair salons and malls, often aren’t. It’s likely that when these stores reopen, the number of customers allowed in at the same time could be based on the size of the retail space, as is the current situation in Germany, according to The Guardian

As with American shopping malls, hygiene precautions could also be put in place, like sanitizing your hands before and after leaving the business, and wearing face masks or coverings. It’s possible that some services might be temporarily suspended if they put people’s faces too close together.

Senior hours are already in effect in many grocery stores — giving people over 65 the opportunity to shop before the general population could carry over to these other retailers. 

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Schools and universities

The question on every parent’s lips: When will schools reopen? Online learning is the watchword of the day, but what happens next is even more important as parents, teachers and students attempt to mentally prepare. School administrators, government officials, and teachers are all scrambling to create policies that keep students from potentially transmitting the virus when school doors reopen.

That question of when is prickly, and varies greatly, since schools are a potent vector for the transmission of pathogens. Denmark has reopened schools for younger students, with a set of rules distancing children’s desks, disinfecting toys, playing in groups of two or three and prohibiting the sharing of food. Beijing and Shanghai reopened classes for older students, with both teachers and students wearing face masks. 

In other parts of the world, government officials consider when to reopen schools, and for which ages. In some cases, the discussion is fraught. For example, in California, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s suggestion to reopen schools as early as July in oder to make up for a learning loss during quarantine, was met with skepticism.

Social distancing and temperature-taking could become routine. Some municipalities are exploring the potential to stagger student meals and schedules throughout the day.

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Many trails are closed to discourage people from gathering.


James Martin/CNET

Beaches, hiking and nature trails

The Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and large parts of Yosemite National Park are closed as part of the National Park Service’s coronavirus prevention efforts, but some will see phased reopening. For instance, the Great Smoky Mountains will provisionally reopen as soon as May 9. 

Many local beaches and nature trails are too, to discourage groups of people from congregating. Meanwhile, in Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis has given municipalities the authority to reopen the economy and outdoor spaces, with social distancing practices in place. Jacksonville’s mayor officially reopened beaches during set hours and limited gatherings to 50 people. 

Concerts, sports, amusement parks and other major events

The state of Georgia is lifting lockdown restrictions that would see gyms, tattoo parlors, hair salons and elective medical procedures reopen as long as distancing and hygiene guidelines are enforced.  

Meanwhile, major gatherings worldwide continue to be canceled, including Germany’s iconic annual Oktoberfest celebration, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and most major sporting events. Amusement parks like Disneyland and music festivals that attract large crowds are also closed, cancelled or postponed until further notice. 

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Could lockdown happen again? Yes

One continuous refrain from public health officials is that reopening economic and social life too soon could trigger a resurgence in coronavirus cases and deaths related to the COVID-19 disease. 

It’s happened in Singapore, which was thought to have the coronavirus outbreak contained and under control before more cases erupted. In China, a spike in positive cases has reportedly resulted from travelers reintroducing the virus upon their return.

Meanwhile, Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, is slowly lifting restrictions, but warned that a second wave of infections could come. She echoed the words of WHO leader Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus who said, in an April 10 coronavirus briefing, that “lifting restrictions too quickly could lead to a deadly resurgence.”

For more, here are six things you shouldn’t expect to do when lockdown ends, 15 practical coronavirus tips to help stay safe in public and information about what to do if someone you live with gets sick.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.

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