Business United States

United States and Europe preparing to reopen amidst COVID-19

After weeks of shutdown, countries are preparing to reopen. Restaurant servers will have to wear masks, shops will have stricter capacity limits, and you still won’t be able to party at nightclubs for a while. But is it too soon? 85 percent of the population is still at risk, and reopening could threaten a second wave of infections. Plus, learn the phrasal verb “die out.”

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  • Two of the world’s big economies are preparing to open—haltingly

    Hi there, thanks for joining us for Plain English Lesson 259. I’m Jeff; JR is the producer; and you can find the complete lesson online at PlainEnglish.com/259.

    Coming up today: The US and Europe are looking to re-open their economies. Here’s what the re-opening plan might look like. In the second half of today’s audio lesson, you’ll learn what it means to “die out.” The video lesson online is about the opposite of “at least.” You’ve probably heard that expression, “at least.” But it has an opposite, and that is the subject of the video lesson at PlainEnglish.com/259.


    World economies look to reopen

    The United States and Europe are in the early stages of reopening after a monthslong shutdown due to the coronavirus. It won’t be easy. The biggest fear is a second wave of the coronavirus. Testing is sporadic now, but most large studies show that at most fifteen percent of the population has immunity to the virus. As bad as the epidemic has been, 85 percent of people are still at risk of catching it. That means that any reopening plan must carefully consider ways to restart the economy while minimizing the risk of a second wave of infections. And they must do it without complete information.

    The head of Italy’s manufacturing trade association summarized it this way: “We are moving,” he said, “toward the reopening of economic activities through a chaotic succession of uncertain and contradictory measures.”

    Uncertain and contradictory is right. But economies are starting to feel the tremendous cost of the shutdown: people out of work, small businesses struggling to pay their rent, factories idled, and huge government outlays.

    Reopening plans generally come in stages. In the first stage, white collar workers would continue to work from home. Manufacturing would restart in the first wave. Employers would be encouraged to use technology to maintain a safe distance between workers where possible. Some service-based businesses would reopen, but with restrictions.

    What types of restrictions? Restaurants, for example, could operate at a lower capacity than before—with all servers wearing masks. Shops could have stricter capacity limits; the smallest ones would open first. Hairdressers might only accommodate people by appointment—and you enter when it’s your turn. Gyms would operate at a reduced capacity, and with extra sanitation measures. No bars and nightclubs would be open. Non-essential travel would continue to be discouraged. Vulnerable populations like seniors and those with health conditions should continue to stay at home. Face masks would be required in many public areas, including on public transportation.

    Then, it’s time to wait and see. Public health agencies will monitor the statistics—pore over them, even!—to see if there is an increase in the virus’s spread. If not, they can move to a second phase. In the second phase, the restrictions loosen a bit more. You can travel for non-essential purposes. If you have an office job, you should continue to telework as much as possible, but offices might open at reduced capacity—so work-from-home might continue part time. Social distancing guidelines for places like movie theaters will remain in place, but they will be relaxed a bit. Schools, youth groups, and churches can start to operate as normally. This might be where sporting events can restart, but seniors should continue to practice as much social distancing as possible. Visits to nursing homes and retirement communities would continue to be restricted.

    And then the final phase is the one that approaches normal, with higher capacity events returning only after the virus’s transmission has been significantly slowed. The key is to get to an R-value of less than one. That means each infected person infects less than one more infected person, on average; under that condition, the virus would die out eventually.

    But all this is still theoretical, as the first countries in Europe are only starting to open up now. All eyes will be on Austria, which was one of the first countries to shut down and is one of the first to experiment with re-opening. In the US, individual state governors are the ones with the authority to reopen the economies. Texas and Georgia, two large southern states, were the first to begin re-opening businesses, while other populous states like California, New York, and Illinois kept restrictions in place.

    Some people say that it’s too soon to start re-opening the economies, and they may have a point. But one of the advantages of reopening in a disjointed manner is that if the decision is made to reopen too early and there is a second wave, it only affects a small area—and other places can study it and avoid making the same mistakes. Individual countries in Europe—and states in America—are affected differently, so the areas with a lower incidence can emerge first. More populous areas can watch the stats from those places and make more-informed decisions later on.


    No easy answers, that’s for sure.

    On Monday, I told you about the new site organization. Instead of putting all of the lesson resources on one single huge page, we’re going to split things up. The main topic will be on one page, the expression on another, the video on another, and so on. There are a few other components I want to share with you.

    Those of you who are on our e-mail list know that we send out a summary of each lesson and we also send out two additional bonuses just for being on the list. Those are, an explanation of one additional word or phrase from the lesson; and links to two English-language articles about the main topic.

    Over the years, people have asked me, can I access the links and the bonus words from previous episodes? And I have always said “no,” because, well, they weren’t stored anywhere. But I know that so many of you listen to the old lessons. We have new people discovering Plain English every day. And they go back and listen to the old lessons and they have no way of getting access to those resources—the links to further reading and the bonus word.

    So, we are putting those on the new web site. At first, we put them up going back to lesson 179. Eventually, we will get them up for all the old lessons going back to number one. And we’re re-naming the bonus word. I’ve never been happy calling it a “bonus word.” I was just never happy with the name. So this is going to be called “Learn the Lingo.” Lingo is short for, like, slang or informal speech. And these words often are more informal type words, phrases, or expressions—they’re not essential to know, so we don’t talk too much about them, but they’re good to know.

    All that is coming with the new site on June 1. Learn the Lingo—the extra informal word or phrase from each lesson—plus the links to related articles in English, for all episodes in the future, plus episodes from 179 to the present. And that is my present to you because both of those features will be free.

    Die out

    Another phrasal verb for you today—to die out. A while back, we talked about “die down.” Today, it’s “die out.” When something dies out, it become less and less prevalent, less and less common, and eventually disappears. That’s the key to “die down,” it’s lower and lower, less and less, and then nothing at all. If something dies out, it’s gone in the end.

    Right now, an infected person passes the coronavirus to more than one other person—that guarantees that the virus will continue to spread, especially since so few people have immunity. But if two people on average only spread it to one additional person, then the virus will naturally die out. Fewer and fewer people will get it in the future; and then it will die out and disappear completely.

    What are some things that can die out? A tradition can die out, if people stop practicing it. A language can die out—if it’s a rare language and younger people don’t learn it anymore, a language can die out. A species can die out, if it loses its habitat or if it’s hunted or if there are too many predators. A species can die out, meaning that it goes extinct. An individual person cannot “die out,” but population can die out. A tribe can die out. A culture can die out. A fire can die out. You might have a fire in your fireplace. You stop putting new logs on the fire early in the evening, and then by ten or eleven that night, the fire dies out.

    I did a search for “die out” and found mostly coronavirus-related examples. But here are a few other examples. Fast fashion is falling out of favor. Fast fashion is the trend toward making very cheap clothing quickly to catch fleeting trends. The quality is low and the garments are often discarded after a season or two because it just doesn’t last. People liked it for the low prices. But I read that many consumers are starting to turn away from fast fashion. They recognize that it has a high environmental impact and that it’s not really cheap if you have to keep buying new clothes. Instead, they are buying more secondhand clothes and donating clothes that they’re not using anymore. Some people think the trend of fast fashion may be about to die out.

    Here’s a funny example. A mainframe computer system is a big, bulky system of computers used to run big business applications. Today, much of that is done in the cloud. But in the days before the internet, big corporations would run their businesses on mainframes. These would have all their accounting data, sales data, inventory information, supplier information—all the data a big corporation would generate and process would be done on a mainframe computer.

    Some big companies still rely on mainframes. It has just been too expensive and arduous to transition to the cloud. They will eventually, but those mainframes are still hanging on in some big companies. Eventually, though, the mainframes will die out. One day—we may never know what day exactly, but one day—the last mainframe computer will be shut off and that era of computing will have officially died out. We’re not there yet, but that day is coming. In the meantime, the workers who know how to program and maintain those systems are dying out. I don’t mean that the workers are literally dying on the job: they’re retiring. And nobody graduates from Stanford or MIT or Caltech and decides to go into mainframe computing. So the skill set is dying out; as older workers retire, no younger workers have these skills—or have the desire to develop them.

    JR’s song of the week

    The song of the week is “Only You” by Yazoo. JR selected this song because it appears in the first episode of the new mini-series called “Normal People.” I have read the book by Sally Rooney; it’s a great book and I was so excited to see it was made into a mini-series. I told JR about it and the very same night I told him, he had watched the first episode and he loved it. So now I’m looking forward to trying it out. That’s on Hulu here in the US, but look for it where you are. “Normal People” is the name of the show. And the song that appears is a vintage 80s pop song, “Only You” by Yazoo.


    That is all for today. If you’re in Austria, as I know a number of you are, or Georgia—some of you are there, too—then be careful out there. The world is watching! Let’s hope this is the beginning of the end. It has been a wild few months, that’s for sure.

    And we will be back here as always on Monday. We are getting closer and closer to the launch of our new web site, and if you want more information on how that’s going to work, head to PlainEnglish.com/new and we’ll make sure you get the inside track on all the exciting changes coming your way. PlainEnglish.com/new. See you next time!

  • Note to listeners: The interactive transcripts are now part of our Plain English Plus+ membership. Not ready to join Plus+ just yet? You can access only the interactive translations with a membership to Plain English Lite. If you’re curious what the transcripts look like, see a sample episode here. Already a member? Log in now.

  • Note to listeners: The interactive transcripts are now part of our Plain English Plus+ membership. Not ready to join Plus+ just yet? You can access only the interactive translations with a membership to Plain English Lite. If you’re curious what the transcripts look like, see a sample episode here. Already a member? Log in now.

  • Note to listeners: The interactive transcripts are now part of our Plain English Plus+ membership. Not ready to join Plus+ just yet? You can access only the interactive translations with a membership to Plain English Lite. If you’re curious what the transcripts look like, see a sample episode here. Already a member? Log in now.

  • Note to listeners: The interactive transcripts are now part of our Plain English Plus+ membership. Not ready to join Plus+ just yet? You can access only the interactive translations with a membership to Plain English Lite. If you’re curious what the transcripts look like, see a sample episode here. Already a member? Log in now.

  • Note to listeners: The interactive transcripts are now part of our Plain English Plus+ membership. Not ready to join Plus+ just yet? You can access only the interactive translations with a membership to Plain English Lite. If you’re curious what the transcripts look like, see a sample episode here. Already a member? Log in now.

  • Note to listeners: The interactive transcripts are now part of our Plain English Plus+ membership. Not ready to join Plus+ just yet? You can access only the interactive translations with a membership to Plain English Lite. If you’re curious what the transcripts look like, see a sample episode here. Already a member? Log in now.

  • Note to listeners: The interactive transcripts are now part of our Plain English Plus+ membership. Not ready to join Plus+ just yet? You can access only the interactive translations with a membership to Plain English Lite. If you’re curious what the transcripts look like, see a sample episode here. Already a member? Log in now.

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