Coronavirus: California could begin reopening in a 'matter of weeks,' former FDA chief says

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- To understand what's ahead in the battle against coronavirus, there's no better person to speak with than Dr. Mark McClellan, a leading public health expert at Duke University and a co-author of the "National Coronavirus Response: A Road Map to Reopening" - a 16-page report that outlines step by step how states can safely begin to reopen.

In the report, which many states have used as a blueprint, outlines four phases to reopening. The first phase - "Slowing the Spread" - is the phase we're in now. Phase two, which is about reopening state by state, is the phase we hope to get to soon. But how soon?

"I think a matter of weeks, not far off at all," Dr. McClellan, who is the former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration and currently serves as the director of the Duke Margolis Center for Health Policy at Duke University, told ABC7 News in a one-on-one interview. "It's check off some of these key boxes."

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Those key boxes are the indicators California Governor Gavin Newsom has been talking about, including a sustained decrease in cases over 14 days and the ability to do widespread testing and contact tracing. Dr. McClellan warns against moving too fast into phase two, and says even once we get there, life will remain pretty different.

He said wearing face coverings, frequent hand washing and sanitation, and continued social distancing measures will be part of it.

"You're not going to sit as close to other tables at a restaurant or you're not going to sit as close to other patrons in a movie theater," he explained. "We'll probably see work hours that are staggered. We'll definitely see more people continuing to work from home than was the case before all this started."

What about groups?

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"Maybe at the beginning groups of 4 or 6, maybe 10. Maybe as time goes on maybe larger groups," he explained. "Again, still trying to be careful about keeping some distance. This is not going to be the time of handshakes and hugs, but maybe waves."

"I think we're a ways off from big crowds and sporting events," he added.

While he described phase two as a "very different new normal," on the positive side, he said the second phase does allow people to partake in activities we could not participate in during the initial phase, such as going out to eat.

Still, Dr. McClellan explained that seniors and people with underlying health conditions will need to continue being extra vigilant during this second phase.

So when does life truly start getting back to normal? Dr. McClellan says that more likely comes in phase three, when we have a vaccine and establish protection. After that, phase four, is about preparing for the next pandemic.

"Hopefully that phase will come soon, but it's still a ways off at this standpoint," he said.

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