A modeling study on the new coronavirus warns that intermittent periods of social distancing may need to persist into 2022 in the United States to keep the surge of people severely sickened by Covid-19 from overwhelming the health care system. The research, published Tuesday in the journal Science, looked at a range of scenarios for how the SARS-CoV-2 virus will spread over the next five years. Those scenarios included variables like whether people who are infected develop short-term immunity — less than a year — or longer-term protection. But, overall, the research concludes it is unlikely that life will return any time soon to the way it was before the virus’ emergence.
The researchers, from Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, acknowledge the economic fallout from the response to the virus has been profound.
The authors suggest a number of factors will play a major role in how the disease’s trajectory plays out over the coming years — if transmission subsides in summer and resurges in winter, if there is some immunity induced by infection and how long it lasts, and whether people get any cross-protective immunity from having been infected with related human coronaviruses that cause common colds.
The researchers suggest it is unlikely SARS-CoV-2 will be eliminated, as was the related virus that caused the 2002-2003 SARS outbreak. Options their models envisage are cyclical upswings of cases, either in an annual, biennial or sporadic fashion.
Most Americans are following social distancing guidelines. Original estimates for compliance were put at around 50%, but in the end, “compliance to the message has been in excess of 90%”