As more and more states begin to lift their Stay-at-Home restrictions, the question of when it will be safe to return to "normal" is still prevalent. While some social distancing guidelines remain firmly in place in places like Los Angeles, states that have attempted to go back to business-as-usual have seen people not terribly eager to leave their homes.
There's also the concern of a possible second wave of coronavirus infections, which have been strongly cautioned against by health officials, as it would become increasingly likely if certain practices faded away too soon. In April, the White House presented a plan for "Opening Up America Again," which came in three distinct phases. This included staggering the end of social distancing based on a "downward trajectory" of COVID-19 cases over a two-week period.
Bojana Berić-Stojšić, MD, PhD, CHES, an ambassador for the United Nations' Society for Public Health Education and director of the master of public health program at Fairleigh Dickinson University, spoke to Good Housekeeping about why such determinations are hard to make. "Each part of the country is going through their own 'mini-epidemic' at their own different pace," they said. "Americans cannot expect to resume normal routines as soon as the month of May." While there's no clear answer, here's a look at what some experts have said about how long things could last.
When Will the Pandemic End?
While there's no definitive answer, most experts have said that the situation should stay as-is for several months. In early April, Ezekiel Emanuel, the vice provost of the University of Pennsylvania and a special adviser to the director-general of the World Health Organization, told ABC News on April 18 that normal routines will be out of reach until a vaccine is developed, or another year-and-a-half.
"The kind of normal where we go traveling, we go to restaurants, we go to concerts, we go to religious services, we go on cruises... until we have a vaccine that protects everyone. That's 18 months, it's not going to be sooner," Emmanual said.
Berić-Stojšić is one of several experts who have stated that an end to social distancing will depend on several factors. One is the reproductive rate of the virus, which isn't always clear due to the lack of testing. Another is how long it takes scientists and other health officials to develop a vaccine or some form of treatment. Finally, there are seasonal changes, although there isn't exactly a consensus on how warmer temperatures will affect the virus itself.
Vaccines and Treatment
As previously mentioned, much of the uncertain timeline is because there isn't an effective treatment. While there have been some possible steps being made in the right direction, Berić-Stojšić explained just how critical these will continue to be in the weeks to come.
"It really depends on the effectiveness of preventive measures, the time needed to have enough people who recovered from the disease to build resistance, the time to produce an effective treatment, and the time for an effective vaccine," she said. "It's difficult to predict the exact time right now, but it will end."
State vs. State
While the Trump administration outlined guidelines, it left all the decision making to individual governors. This naturally led to several different end-dates for various social distancing guidelines and added to the confusion. Upwards of 40 states have lifted such guidelines, though most of those that have continued to ask individuals to continue to wear masks and adhere to the six-foot rule.
Returning to Normal
"I think it will take us another year to be able to breathe freely and return to a well-known routine," Berić-Stojšić said. "Until then, gradually we will return to our familiar circles of people; initially smaller gatherings, then larger… carefully considering information that is generated by scientists and researchers, and following guidelines and policies provided by the local, state, and federal public health practitioners."
In short, there are too many factors to give any definitive answers as to when it's safe for businesses to reopen, as well as when it's safe for customers to walk back through their doors. While there's no absolute consensus just yet, Berić-Stojšić, Dr. Anthony Fauci and others have indicated it could be up to a year or more before coronavirus is contained and life can resume once again.