It’s the million dollar question everyone asks about COVID-19: When will life return to normal? And will the school be open this fall?
The reality, however, depends a lot on how “normal” is defined. And, if enough Americans dare to try it this summer, it may not be as depressing as you think.
Experts say fall could become the season of a “new normal” in which the world slowly reopens and people will reconnect, but with masks, routine tests and possibly even vaccination cards that allow them to enter. to cinemas or restaurants.
“It will be so gradual that we probably won’t even notice it,” said Howard Markel, a medical historian at the University of Michigan and a pediatrician. “It’s not a light switch or like V-Day, like it’s over, you know, we won! It’s not like that.”
So what could derail it all? Infectious disease experts agree that at least 70-85% of the country needs to become immune to starve the virus. Markel said he favors 90% with a virus this stealthy.
“It all depends on how many people roll up their sleeves and get vaccinated,” Markel told ABC News. “So that’s my fear, that’s what keeps me awake at night.”
Here’s what health experts say could happen this year:
Spring will be a time of uncertainty and possibly more deaths
The country is paralyzed by the virus. Even with the seven-day national average down 74% in a matter of weeks, the United States still averages 64,000 new cases per day. That average is on par with last fall, just before the cases broke out in the holiday season.
That stalled progress means the country is poised to enter spring break travel season, proms, family vacations, and neighborhood gatherings with already high viral transmission, while a new, more transmissible variant is expected. originated in Great Britain to become the most important. dominant strain of virus in mid-March.
Health experts warn that states like Texas and Mississippi will now reopen and remove mask mandates, there could be one last heartbreaking spike in new cases, followed weeks later by hospitalizations and deaths, just as the nation is on the cusp of mass vaccinations. .
“I know the idea of loosening up on mask wear and getting back to everyday activities is appealing. But we haven’t gotten to that point yet,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “We have seen this movie before. When prevention measures, such as mask mandates, are reversed, the cases increase.”
Fingers crossed, summer becomes mass vaccination season
“I think it’s a huge company,” Simone Wildes, an infectious disease physician at South Shore Health in Massachusetts and a medical contributor to ABC News, said of the mass vaccination launch.
“But if we can do it in June, July … we could have a decent summer. But it really depends on how things play out in the coming months,” he said.
Markel also predicted that by early July, almost all “firsts to accept” the vaccine will have received an injection. At that point, much of the nation could slowly expand its “group”.
Markel said he still wouldn’t recommend making an advance deposit on a non-refundable beach house with extended family this summer.
“Be flexible that if you know that people are not vaccinated, if there is an increase in the number of cases, particularly with the variants, we can cancel those plans,” Wildes said. “There is nothing wrong with making tentative plans, but I think we need to be aware of where things are at that particular point.”
Depending on how many Americans get vaccinated, fall could become the ‘new normal’
Dr. Anthony Fauci said Thursday that he now thinks that by “fall, mid-fall, early winter” everyone could go back to work, the kids will be in school, and the indoor cafeteria might be humming once more.
His prediction follows an announcement by the White House that a vaccine maker, Johnson & Johnson, could speed up its supply. But it would still take the summer months to implement the vaccines.
“By the time we fall into the implementation of the vaccine program, something will noticeably be seen in the direction of getting back to normal and it is very likely that we will achieve it by the end of the year,” said Fauci, the country’s leading infectious disease expert. and President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser.
Dr. William Schaffner, professor of Preventive Medicine and Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, said he now prefers to put “normal” in quotes because life would likely look very different. Online business meetings, for example, could become more common than crowded conference rooms “if possible.
“Masks should be one of the last things to go away,” Schaffner said. “They are a nuisance, they are dumb, but they are so effective, so easy and so cheap. They would not be the first things I take off, they would be the last.”
But if enough people are vaccinated, he agreed that schools and colleges should be able to open low-risk this fall and the United States could see a brighter Thanksgiving.
“My expectation is that we will be in this ‘new normal’ in late summer and fall, and we can all, I hope, give thanks on Thanksgiving, in a more conventional way, sitting around the table with our family, friends. , relatives, without masks and give thanks and rejoice that we have overcome this terrible pandemic and survive, “said Schaffner.
Still, all the experts interviewed by ABC News described a kind of cautious “wait and see” approach. Vaccine hesitancy among some Americans remains a concern. And if viral transmission in other countries remains high, the virus could mutate so that it disappears. depending on the effectiveness of the vaccines, which could put even vaccinated people at risk.
“We could go back to some of the things that we’re used to, but to say we’re going to be back to normal is not going to be the same,” Wildes said.
“I think even hugging people is going to be difficult for me,” she added later.
When it’s all over, no matter many months or years from now, Markel, who has spent 30 years studying pandemics, is sure of one thing: “We will forget it completely.”
“We will go on our merry way,” he said. “I’m telling you, I’ve studied a lot of pandemics. That’s the end. It’s like amnesia. And that’s what worries me.”