Reopening schools and businesses on a county-by-county basis the best way to restore the economy: study


Published May 21, 2020 at 9:39 pm


Having the Provincial Government control when businesses and schools in cities throughout all of Ontario can open and close at the same time may not be the best response to the pandemic.

A recent study from University of Waterloo Professor Chris Bauch, in collaboration with University of Guelph Professor Madhur Anand, and postdoctoral fellow Vadim Karatayev, has found that giving individual cities the autonomy to decide when open and close independently based on standardized guidelines is the quickest and safest way of restoring the Canadian economy.

According to the findings, allowing schools and businesses to open on a county-by-county basis when the number of active COVID-19 cases falls below 4.5 per 100,000 would result in 38 per cent fewer person-days of closure.

Additionally, focusing on local openings would result in 75 per cent fewer cases than opening the entire province at once, and coordination of testing rates would reduce infection by 20 per cent.

“Monitoring cases at the province level obscures local differences: some places are COVID-19 hot spots while others have few cases,” Bauch said.

“Hence, in order to achieve the same public health goals, the province-wide guidelines would need to be even stricter than county-level guidelines, on account of those hotspots that can reseed other locations with new infections,” he continued. “This means more days of workplace and school closures as well as more cases under the province level approach unless the province-wide guidelines are very strict.”

Moreover, these results remained constant even when the potential for residents to travel between countries was factored into the equation.

“Ontario’s phased approach to reopening the economy after observing a decline in province-wide cases over a period of weeks, and their other criteria, is sensible,” Bauch said. “But some health units in Ontario are experiencing a rise in community-acquired infections and are not ready to reopen their workplaces, while other health units are seeing very few cases per capita.”

“Our findings suggest that developing guidelines at the level of individual counties, districts, and municipalities might be safer and quicker, as long as testing and other physical distancing efforts continue,” he continued. “However, if counties do not coordinate their criteria for reopening, or use different testing rates, the benefits of the county-by-county approach are weaker.”

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