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WTF is Yellow Phase, Philly?

Alex Hillman News Item

Alex Hillman

5 minute read

Folks are asking when businesses they love and need are going to re-open, which I take a positive sign about things to come. But if you’re like me - a citizen or a business owner - and feel confused about what that Philly’s “Yellow Phase” actually means, you’re not alone.

In the last few days, dozens of people in our community and beyond have been asking, “how is this different from…whatever phase we’ve been in?”

My take? This phase system is confusing, deceptive, and missing a LOT of critical guidance. 

I’m gonna try to clear up the vague and confusing parts about the phases, and more specifically, share what it means for reopening Indy Hall’s coworking space. 

First: I am NOT a public health expert

I’m a citizen, a community member, and a business owner. 

I’ve had to do a lot of research on my own, including talks with public health experts in the region.

Every decision I’m making, and the information I’m sharing, is through the lens of health and safety; not just of our members, but of everyone who our contact may impact. 

There is also much to life outside of work. How we socialize, exercise, and even how we protest against racism and police violence in our country.

Pandemic precautions are important in these environments too, but this post’s particular take on “Yellow Phase” is focused on work.

If any public health or epidemiology folks can weigh in on my take here, I welcome more expert voices in this conversation. @ or DM me on twitter or email me directly.

Second: Public Health experts emphasize that there are no guarantees

Personally, this is the scariest part of this whole experience. You can do everything right and follow the guidelines to mitigate risk. But the phases and any guidance inside of them are just that…guidance. 

You must make your own decisions based on your personal situation, whether that is as a business owner or informed citizen. 

I’m not sugar-coating or fudging any of the recos I’ve received so far. 

As always, I’m optimizing for health and safety. 

Business can be rebuilt. Lives cannot.

So. Let’s talk Yellow Phase.

As we know, for the last 2.5 months, the Philadelphia region was in a state ordered “stay-at-home” to flatten the curve of virus transmission and avoid overwhelming our medical system. 

During the RED phase, only life-sustaining businesses could choose to be open, if they followed the necessary safety guidelines. 

During the YELLOW phase, more businesses and locations can choose to open while following these guidelines. But the city (and state and CDC) also strongly suggest to minimize contact however possible.

This choice also recommends changes that may need to be made to any shared environment, including reconfiguring the space to allow for physical distance and removing shared items. 

Personally, I find the guidelines to be frustratingly vague, and feel like we’re being forced across a chasm from heavy-handed government restrictions to “make your own call, just try not to kill anybody.” There are problems with both ends of the spectrum, but my real frustration is how unprepared the government has left us. 

So while specific applications of the guidelines vary depending on industry, every expert I’ve talked to agree on the same basic framework:

  • being indoors with other people…
  • outside of your “regular group”…
  • for extended extended periods of time… still categorically medium to high risk and should be avoided whenever possible to avoid contracting the virus or asymptomatically spreading it to others.

So while Yellow Phase guidelines do allow businesses to reopen and some people to return to work, if your workplace means you will spend time indoors with people who are outside of your work/peer group, strong safety precautions are still necessary. 

Strong safety precautions include ensuring that everyone correctly uses PPE (non-medical face masks), along with distance and additional cleaning/sanitizing of hands and shared surfaces. People must stay home if they are not feeling well. 

The key here: your safety precautions are only as good as everyone in your group’s participation.

What is a “regular group”?

“Regular group” is relative and somewhat ambiguous, but I’m thinking about it as “circles of trust.” 

These circles consist of folks who you are already in contact with – people you live with, people you work with – who you have reason to trust are practicing good pandemic hygiene.

And remember, being high-risk isn’t just about age or ethnicity. You can’t always know who has a compromised or weakened immune system. Someone on your team or in your community could look perfectly healthy and be high risk for this virus. 

Or, since this is America, they could be uninsured. 

These decisions are still very, very hard

Like I said earlier, I’m frustrated that we are jumping from government-mandated decisions straight to “okay, now you try it” when lives are at stake.

The government isn’t any smarter than we are, but they have ~3 months of experience processing the information to at least try to understand the risks. 

Now we are allowed to make those decisions ourselves…but in an environment where so many people are either confused about or downright disagree on what information is relevant, or truthful. 

This is a mess, and I’m stressed the fuck out. 

Since the government guidelines treat large sweeping business categories as the same when their risk factors vary widely down to the individual business or environment, I’m working on a draft of a “risk matrix” type tool to help people (business owners, workers, and customers) make more informed choices about reopening offices and returning to work. 

Even with that…this situation still sucks. Folks think “green phase” is going to be a return to normal, which it isn’t. We’re going to have to work together to figure this out and keep our communities and neighbors safe, especially those who are most vulnerable or disproportionately impacted by the virus. 

Again, if any public health or epidemiology folks can weigh in, I welcome more expert voices in this conversation. @ or DM me on twitter or email me directly.