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US may have to endure social distancing until 2022 if no vaccine is quickly found, scientists predict

Harvard School of Public Health's Yonatan Grad explains how his team reached the conclusion that Americans will have the potential need for social distancing measures until 2022.

Posted: Apr 15, 2020 6:10 PM
Updated: Apr 15, 2020 6:10 PM

This may be the new normal for quite a while.

The US may have to endure social distancing measures -- such as stay-at-home orders and school closures -- until 2022, researchers projected on Tuesday.

That is, unless a vaccine or better therapeutics becomes available, or we increase our critical care capacity. In other words, 2022 is one scenario of many.

That's according to researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, who published their findings in the journal Science on Tuesday. Those findings directly contradict research being touted by the White House that suggests the pandemic may stop this summer.

The team at the Harvard School of Public Health used what's known about Covid-19 and other coronaviruses to create possible scenarios of the current pandemic.

"Intermittent distancing may be required into 2022 unless critical care capacity is increased substantially or a treatment or vaccine becomes available," they wrote in their report. "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."

The Harvard team's projections also indicate that the virus would come roaring back fairly quickly once restrictions were lifted.

"If intermittent distancing is the approach that's chosen, it may be necessary to do it for several years, which is obviously a very long time," Dr. Marc Lipsitch, an author on the study and an epidemiology professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, told reporters.

Another important factor: Whether people become immune to the new coronavirus after they have been infected. That's not yet known.

Potential challenges include finding a reliable test to determine who has antibodies for the coronavirus, establishing the level of immunity conferred by previous infection and how long it lasts, and the capacity of overstretched health systems to carry out reliable, widespread antibody tests in the general population.

There's also the difficult social questions around immunity certificates, which have been floated as a possibility in the UK. Would they create a kind of two-tier society, where those who have them can return to a more normal life, while others remain locked down?

The study researchers say they are aware that such prolonged distancing, even if intermittent, would likely have "profoundly negative economic, social, and educational consequences."

They hope their research will help identify likely trajectories of the epidemic under alternative approaches, identify complementary ways to fight it, and to spur further thinking about ways to get the pandemic under control.

Though coronavirus cases in the US have been soaring, social distancing appears to be effective.

Social distancing is "one of the most powerful weapons" against COVID-19, said Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"If we can just maximize that social distancing, we can limit this virus's ability," he said earlier this month.

States across the country have issued stay-at-home orders, allowing only for essential errands or tasks.

Penalties for breaking the order vary by state. In Maine, the penalty for breaking the order can be up to six months in jail and up to a $1,000 fine.

In Florida, a pastor was arrested last month for continuing to hold large services and is charged with unlawful assembly and violation of public health emergency rules, both second-degree misdemeanors.

This week, states on the East and West coasts announced they are forming their own regional pacts to work together on how to reopen after the stay-at-home orders.

New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Rhode Island and Massachusetts each plan to name a public health and economic official to a regional working group.

West Coast states of California, Washington and Oregon also announced they are joining forces in a plan to begin incremental release of stay-at-home orders.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 312969

Reported Deaths: 3637
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin661641115
Ramsey27766505
Anoka22149228
Dakota22015190
Washington13999115
Stearns13733116
St. Louis8747112
Scott846255
Wright775843
Olmsted665634
Sherburne587641
Clay498457
Carver474213
Blue Earth414116
Rice412836
Kandiyohi408122
Crow Wing359634
Otter Tail314322
Chisago311611
Nobles308730
Benton299451
Winona276930
Mower261623
Douglas260337
Polk256324
Morrison231629
Lyon218711
Beltrami217117
McLeod212812
Becker205415
Goodhue203228
Steele19497
Isanti190617
Itasca190423
Carlton185816
Todd181214
Nicollet162525
Mille Lacs153631
Freeborn15336
Le Sueur147011
Cass143710
Brown141315
Waseca139211
Pine13658
Meeker12879
Roseau11964
Hubbard114925
Martin113320
Wabasha10561
Redwood94619
Chippewa8877
Cottonwood8664
Renville86527
Dodge8600
Watonwan8544
Wadena8016
Sibley7934
Rock7779
Aitkin76730
Pipestone72518
Fillmore6990
Houston6984
Yellow Medicine64812
Pennington6478
Kanabec61913
Murray5873
Swift5838
Faribault5612
Pope5391
Clearwater5248
Stevens5103
Marshall4979
Unassigned49359
Jackson4881
Lake4226
Koochiching3926
Wilkin3895
Lac qui Parle3773
Lincoln3591
Norman3497
Big Stone3182
Mahnomen2964
Grant2796
Kittson2248
Red Lake2133
Traverse1481
Lake of the Woods1001
Cook720

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 227398

Reported Deaths: 2368
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk33642336
Linn14352165
Scott1124986
Black Hawk10893135
Woodbury10372126
Johnson955336
Dubuque923291
Story678822
Dallas637257
Pottawattamie631970
Sioux370325
Webster358535
Cerro Gordo357144
Marshall348546
Clinton331344
Buena Vista305414
Des Moines291520
Muscatine289268
Warren281914
Plymouth276042
Wapello255772
Jones232313
Jasper217944
Marion205320
Lee203917
Carroll198422
Bremer195212
Henry18307
Crawford174616
Benton170619
Tama154340
Jackson144613
Delaware144221
Washington141314
Dickinson139210
Boone137011
Mahaska126827
Wright12456
Clay11784
Buchanan117010
Hardin115810
Page11374
Hamilton11199
Clayton11175
Cedar108413
Harrison107729
Kossuth10667
Calhoun10617
Floyd105016
Mills10487
Fayette103910
Lyon10338
Butler10216
Poweshiek99313
Winneshiek97613
Iowa95812
Winnebago93023
Hancock8677
Grundy86311
Louisa86216
Sac8608
Chickasaw8574
Cherokee8484
Allamakee81811
Cass81623
Mitchell7984
Appanoose79312
Humboldt7715
Union7706
Shelby76511
Emmet76424
Guthrie75415
Franklin73921
Jefferson7142
Madison6864
Unassigned6690
Palo Alto6554
Keokuk5997
Howard5599
Pocahontas5584
Greene5250
Osceola5241
Ida48913
Clarke4874
Davis4709
Taylor4653
Montgomery46311
Monroe44412
Adair4418
Monona4352
Worth3630
Fremont3583
Van Buren3585
Lucas3256
Decatur3170
Wayne3007
Audubon2962
Ringgold2112
Adams1702
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