A Guide To Covid-19 Reopening Phases For Businesses

In order to help businesses determine when it is safe to open up, the federal government developed a 3-tier phase system to guide businesses in the reopening process. Although states may have their own guidelines in addition to the federal rules, all states must meet the federal minimum requirements. But what do these reopening phases for businesses mean for owners?

Phase Criteria

In order to better understand each phase, you should first familiarize yourself with how the phases are determined.

Risk of Transmission

States are classified based upon the risk of contracting the virus. In order to reach a less restricted phase, states must demonstrate downward trajectories of the following within a 14-day period, including:

  • Reports of influenza-related illnesses
  • Covid-19 symptoms
  • Confirmed Covid-19 cases/positive tests


The ability of states to address Covid-19 outbreaks is another aspect scrutinized to determine which phase is appropriate. These include:

  • Resources and preparedness to test people for Covid-19
  • The ability to perform effective contact tracing to notify those exposed and have them self-isolate to prevent further
  • outbreaks
  • Health care capacity – the ability of local hospitals and health care providers to treat surges of patients in need of intensive care
  • Ability of states to independently supply medical professionals with the required personal protective equipment (PPE)

Protecting citizens

The federal government further requires states to develop and implement strategies to keep essential workers safe. Standards reviewed include:

  • Communication efforts with citizens to educate them regarding safety and health protocols (ie, social distancing)
  • Ability to monitor and address virus outbreaks
  • Measures taken to protect workers and users of essential services, (ie, mass transit)

The 3 reopening phases for businesses

Now that we understand what the criteria are, we can review the phases themselves.

Phase 1 – the most restrictive phase

  • Vulnerable populations (including seniors and those with preexisting conditions) must shelter in place
  • Socialization with groups large than 10 is prohibited, and all individuals must socially distance in public areas
  • Schools and bars remain closed, and remote work should be used where possible
  • Non-essential travel should be avoided
  • Large venues and gyms must abide by strict social distancing and enhanced sanitation standards

Phase 2

  • Shelter in place continues for vulnerable populations
  • Socialization restrictions are relaxed to 50 people or less; social distancing guidelines remain in place
  • Schools and bars may reopen; bars must follow capped occupancy guidelines
  • Non-essential travel may resume
  • Large venues may relax social distancing guidelines

Phase 3 – the least restrictive phase

  • Vulnerable populations may re-enter public areas while following social distancing guidelines
  • Crowds should be avoided, even by those who are not vulnerable
  • Workplaces may resume operations with full staff
  • Social distancing and capped occupancy guidelines for businesses can be relaxed

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