A new study looks to understand the future of how COVID-19 will spread in the “postpandemic period,” and just how long we’ll need social distancing measures.
The study, authored by five researchers from the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases and the Department of Epidemiology at Harvard’s School of Public Health, was published on ScienceMag.org on Tuesday.
The various models implemented by the study present a range of possible outcomes, including a scenario where the outbreak completely ends in 2022, with some social distancing measures relaxed “by early-to-mid-2021.”
An improved outlook will be largely dependent on “new therapeutics, vaccines, or other interventions such as contact tracing and quarantine.”
“In the absence of such interventions, surveillance and intermittent distancing … may need to be maintained into 2022,” it estimates.
That being so, the study also points out that any social distancing measures extending into 2022 “present a substantial social and economic burden.” It lists a handful of “urgent priorities” we’ll need to focus on if we’re to avoid that future.
Ensuring adequate care for the critically ill
Increasing critical care capacity
Medical treatments and vaccines
Serological testing to “understand the extent and duration of immunity”
“Widespread surveillance” to mitigate any possible resurgences in the future
The study also looks into how the virus might spread seasonally in the months and years ahead, predicting that we could very well see regularly recurring winter outbreaks. Additionally, even after the pandemic is completely under control this year, it warns that we could see a resurgence “as late as 2024.”
While it acknowledges that SARS — the closest genetic relative to coronavirus — was largely eradicated by “intensive public health measures,” most public health officials “consider this scenario unlikely.”