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US health officials quietly release more reopening guidance

NEW YORK – U.S. health officials have quietly released more reopening guidance that was created more than a month ago but initially shelved.

As with other recently released guidance, religious organizations were not included. Instead, the document has advice for childcare facilities, schools, day camps, mass transit systems, restaurants, bars and other businesses and organizations that have workers at high risk of becoming sick from the coronavirus.

The guidance discusses different steps organizations can take as they reopen from closures aimed at stopping the virus's spread. On Sunday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention placed the information in a 20-page appendix to a document previously posted on its website.

For example, the CDC suggests restaurants might transition from take-out only to reopening dining rooms with customers spaced six feet apart.

Mass transit systems might shift from serving only essential workers to opening up to the general public with restrictions, such as closing every other row of seats and limits on how many riders can be on a bus or train. In a third step, the system might loosen some of those limitations, but keep tape markers on the ground or take other steps to help passengers stay 6 feet apart.

The pages flesh out six one-page “decision tool" documents — posted by CDC last week — that use traffic signs and other graphics to tell organizations what they should consider before reopening. But it's not a mandate and leaves lots of wiggle room. The phrases “as feasible,” "if feasible," and “where feasible” repeat over and over again.

More than a month ago, CDC gave White House officials a more detailed version of decision tools and additional pages of guidance.

Those early versions of the documents included detailed information for churches wanting to restart in-person services, with suggestions including maintaining distance between parishioners and limiting the size of gatherings.

The White House initially shelved all the guidance, though news organizations including The Associated Press obtained copies. Since then, the White House authorized release of some of the information. But the faith-related guidance was taken out after the White House raised concerns about the recommended restrictions.

On Wednesday, White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany said there was no need for a splashy announcement about the guidance being posted because much of the information “was already out there.” She said initial draft guidance received “constructive criticism” and refinement during an internal government review before it was released.

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AP reporters Jill Colvin in Washington, D.C., and Jason Dearen in Gainesville, Florida, contributed to this report.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.