Researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health projected that the social measures applied in the United States during the coronavirus crisis, such as stay-at-home orders and school closures, could be extended until 2022.
Their findings, in the journal Science on Tuesday, contradict research provided by the White House that suggests the pandemic may stop in the short term.
An event that could reverse this scenario would be an imminent discovery of a vaccine.
To develop the projection of this possible scenario, the scientific team collected all the available information on the behavior of the coronavirus.
“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 research projections also warn that once restrictive measures are lifted, a resurgence of infection could take place.
“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 worrying circumstance regarding the development of the pandemic is that it is still not known whether infected people acquire immunity.
A number of problems remain to be solved. First, a reliable test is required to determine who has antibodies for the coronavirus. Next, it is necessary to establish the level of immunity acquired from a previous infection and how long it might last. Finally, there must be guarantees for the operation of adequate and accessible health facilities.
The Harvard team says they are aware that prolonged distancing, even if intermittent, would likely have “profoundly negative economic, social, and educational consequences.”
So far, despite the overwhelming impact of COVID-19 in the United States, social distancing has proven to be an effective strategy to mitigate its propagation.
Robert Redfield, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that social distancing is “one of the most powerful weapons” against COVID-19. “If we can just maximize that social distancing, we can limit this virus’s ability,” he said earlier this month.
The Harvard research team hopes that their projections will help identify the likely trajectories of the virus. They also hope to identify complementary ways to control and fight this pandemic.