The Way Forward: The Community

By Lianne Jacobs
People walking busy city crosswalk - Vitality

As states begin to reopen, employers must navigate a complex set of factors to determine how and when to reopen the workplace.  Vitality has put together a holistic framework to help guide our clients through those decisions centered around their communities, their workplaces, and their people.

As organizations begin to think about returning to the workplace, it is essential that first and foremost they are following the state and regional guidelines in their specific areas.  Currently, all 50 states have begun to reopen in some way, but there are large variations in how states are choosing to reopen, with some leading the way and others proceeding much more slowly. 

Some states, including Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Mississippi, Montana and Texas had stay-at-home orders that expired at the end of April, and their businesses have slowly been reopening since early May.  Other states had no stay-at-home orders in place at all, such as Arkansas, North and South Dakota, Oklahoma, Utah and Wyoming.  These states, for the most part, began reopening a variety of businesses in early May.  Several states are allowing some regions to open ahead of others in the state, with those areas hit the hardest remaining under stricter lockdowns.  These include states like California, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Tennessee and Washington.  A few states have been much more conservative in their approach, with their stay-at-home orders not expiring until early June, including Virginia, Pennsylvania and specifically New Jersey, which is observing the strictest statewide lockdown with very limited business reopenings. 

In those states where there is variation in reopening by region, there exist plans for phased reopenings in which each region must meet certain guidelines, such as new case rates and new hospitalization rates below certain thresholds and percent hospital bed availability, before being able to proceed to the next phase of re-opening.  Not only have states been impacted differently by COVID-19, but regions within individual states have as well, depending on factors such as density of population, testing availability, and burden on the healthcare system in that area.  Thus, it is common for different regions within the same state to be in different phases of re-opening at a given time.  For example, Illinois has been broken down into several health regions, based on the Illinois Department of Public Health’s divisions, and each region can move forward or backward through the state’s five phases.

Depending on your industry, your business may be permitted to return to work according to local and state guidelines.  Make sure to consult the CDC’s resources for businesses to ensure that you are following appropriate guidance to keep your employees and your customers healthy and safe.

Navigating the return to the workplace is a complex, multidimensional challenge.  In addition to the above recommendations, Vitality has put together an Employer Toolkit to help support our clients and help you in your planning.  As always, Vitality is here for you.  We are all in this together.


Lianne Jacobs, Product Analyst, has a master’s degree in public health from Yale University. She is the only indoor cycling instructor who can’t ride a bike. She enjoys traveling the world, laughing at her own jokes, and tricking her husband into eating baked goods made with hidden vegetables.

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