The U.S. may have to endure another two years of social distancing.
According to a modeling study published in the journal Science, Harvard researchers found these precautionary measures could be necessary until 2022 to prevent another coronavirus outbreak. Epidemiologists used computer models that created a range of possible scenarios of the pandemic's course over the next five years. These simulations included variables like the duration of immunity after exposure, the seasonality of the virus, as well as the capacity for intensive testing and tracing.
"Intermittent distancing may be required into 2022 unless critical care capacity is increased substantially or a treatment or vaccine becomes available," the peer-reviewed study read. "Even in the event of apparent elimination, SARS-CoV-2 surveillance should be maintained since a resurgence in contagion could be possible as late as 2024."
Researchers acknowledged that prolonged social distancing—continuous or intermittent—will have a negative impact on most areas of society, particularly when it comes to the economy and education; however, the report emphasized researchers were not pushing for any particular policy, but simply point out that there could be catastrophic consequences if social distancing measures are not sustained before a vaccine is developed.
"Our goal in modeling such policies is not to endorse them but to identify likely trajectories of the epidemic under alternative approaches," they wrote. "We do not take a position on the advisability of these scenarios given the economic burden that sustained distancing may impose, but we note the potentially catastrophic burden on the healthcare system that is predicted if distancing is poorly effective and-or not sustained for long enough."
Dr. Anthony Fauci, a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, has also theorized that some forms of social distancing will be needed even after the pandemic run its course. During an interview with Scott Thuman this month, Fauci said Americans should avoid shaking hands ... forever.
"As a society, just forget about shaking hands," Fauci told Thuman, Sinclair Broadcast Group's chief political correspondent. "We don't need to shake hands. We've got to break that custom. Because as a matter of fact, that is one of the major ways you can transmit a respiratory-borne illness."