Clear Criteria Must Be Met Before Gradually Reopening After COVID-19 Outbreaks

Today, Dr. Tom Frieden, President and CEO of Resolve to Save Lives, an initiative of global public health organization Vital Strategies, briefed reporters on the criteria that must be urgently met to reopen society in the next phase of the COVID-19 response.

During the briefing, Dr. Frieden said, “It’s not about when we can reopen, but what we have to do to make that day come sooner. A key concept here is that we need to reopen the faucet gradually, not allow the floodgates to reopen. This is not a time to wait, it is time to work.”

“This is an emergency and we need to act with urgency to ready our public health and healthcare systems,” Dr. Frieden continued. “It’s a question of short-term economic pain for long term economic and health gains. But for this to happen we can’t just wait for cases to ebb; we must URGENTLY meet benchmarks so we can loosen the faucet as soon and as safely as possible. It’s not about WHEN we can reopen, but WHAT we have to do to make that day come sooner.”

Dr. Frieden concluded that, “This is World War C – we’re in a battle with coronavirus. We all have a role to play to protect our healthcare workers and each other. Decisions to reopen society should not be about a date but about the data – and today we have suggested clear criteria and triggers to follow.”

Dr. Frieden was joined by senior members of Resolve’s Prevent Epidemics team, Senior Vice President Amanda McClelland and Director Dr. Cyrus Shahpar, who reviewed the evidence base for reopening after experiencing a large increase of COVID-19 cases.

Together, they outlined criteria in three key areas to help communities know when and how to close and reopen due to COVID-19 spread. These include:

  • Epidemiology: What do we know about the disease?
    • As one example: Are cases decreasing over the past 14 days as the ability to test increases?
  • Healthcare: Is the system properly prepared to handle an increase in cases without risking the lives of health care workers and patients?
    • As one example: Is there enough personal protective equipment for healthcare staff, and face masks for patients, should the amount of patients double?
  • Public Health Capacity – Can we effectively find and isolate cases and contacts, control the spread of disease, and resume physical distancing rapidly if needed?
    • As one example: Can every contact who develops symptoms gets tested?

Even when the criteria are met, older and medically vulnerable people will likely need to shelter for longer. Communities can partially reopen businesses, such as daycares so people can get back to work, as long as people continue to wash their hands, stay home when sick and isolate if they are confirmed to have COVID-19

Dr. Shahpar outlined which triggers would indicate a reversal in progress. “If cases increase significantly, communities will need to implement physical distancing restrictions again and work on flattening the curve. There could be a series of closures and re-openings while we wait and hope for treatments and vaccines,” he said.

The team at Resolve to Save Lives and Vital Strategies are also working with countries throughout Africa and beyond—61 countries—to help flatten the curve by providing practical information and tools to enhance local efforts to combat COVID-19 and share best practices.

“Implementing restrictions in low- and middle-income countries is difficult,” said Amanda McClelland. “For many, staying home and not going to the market means choosing to starve. It’s critical local leaders listen to their community and adapt to their environment to minimize risk of exposure but also ensure basic needs are met.”

Resolve to Save Lives’ Prevent Epidemics team, which she leads, is partnering with countries on tracking the virus and its impact on communities, as well as rapid action to minimize both viral spread and social disruption.

Dr. Frieden closed the briefing with this call to action: “We all have a role to play to protect our healthcare workers and each other. Decisions to reopen must be less about a date and more about data. If this virus is not controlled everywhere, we will be much less safe.”

For a recording of the briefing, visit this link.

To view the slide on containment and mitigation efforts discussed during the briefing, visit this link.

Media Contacts:

Christina Honeysett, Vital Strategies: [email protected]; +1.914.424.3356

Erin Sykes, Resolve to Save Lives: [email protected]; +1.646.612.0001

About Dr. Tom Frieden

Dr. Tom Frieden is former director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and former commissioner of the New York City Health Department. He is currently president and CEO of Resolve to Save Lives, a global non-profit initiative funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and part of the global non-profit Vital Strategies. Resolve to Save Lives works with countries to prevent 100 million deaths and to make the world safer from epidemics. @DrTomFrieden.

About Resolve to Save Lives

Resolve to Save Lives is a five-year, $225 million initiative funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Gates Philanthropy Partners, which is funded with support from the Chan Zuckerberg Foundation. Resolve received additional funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies for the COVID-19 response. It is led by Dr. Tom Frieden, former director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and is part of the global organization Vital Strategies. To find out more visit: or Twitter @ResolveTSL

Resolve to Save Lives created a website called that shows how prepared each country is for an epidemic, including COVID-19, and how many flights are coming and going from infected countries. This site is also a resource for current coronavirus statistics and resources.

About Vital Strategies

Vital Strategies is a global health organization that believes every person should be protected by a strong public health system. We work with governments and civil society in 73 countries to design and implement evidence-based strategies that tackle their most pressing public health problems. Our goal is to see governments adopt promising interventions at scale as rapidly as possible. To find out more, please visit or Twitter @VitalStrat.

Stay in the know: Follow #KnowCOVID or subscribe to Vital Strategies’ Twitter, Facebook or Instagram accounts.

Media Contact

[email protected]

About Resolve to Save Lives

Resolve to Save Lives is a not-for-profit organization partnering with countries, communities and organizations to prevent 100 million deaths from cardiovascular disease and make the world safer from epidemics. To find out more, visit: or Twitter @ResolveTSL.