How will the coronavirus lockout end?

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The coronavirus cannot keep us stuck in our homes forever.

Someday our children will go back to school, we will go back to work and families and friends will come together again for birthdays, holidays, weddings and funerals.

We’ll see movies in theaters, get drunk in crowded bars, and recklessly cry out in crowded sports stadiums – the droplets will be damned.

But how are we going to get from here to there? What will returning to normal life look like? How will we ever trust the invisible enemy coronavirus so that we don’t get infected every time?

As with most things related to the coronavirus, there are still many unknowns.

This virus has only been circulating in the human population for about four months. Scientists learn more every day about how it spreads, how it makes us sick, and how we can protect ourselves from infection in the first place.

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No one can say for sure exactly what our return to normal will look like, or how long will it take to get there, but experts can make educated guesses.

In California, public health officials have said that social distancing policies will likely remain in place for months, and warn that lifting tight rules too soon could worsen the health crisis.

They also warn that cases of coronavirus are likely to increase when home orders are relaxed.

Julie Swann, head of the Fitts department of industrial and systems engineering at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, said she expects strict home-stay orders to be lifted before a vaccine is found. – an effort that could take at least another year.

“If we increase the capacity of our hospitals to care for sick people, speed up the tests to find out who is sick and who has recovered, and if there is treatment that shortens the hospital stay, then we we may not need to be as drastic. as we are now, “she said.

Swann and other public health experts have told The Times what a safe transition from our strange reality of coronaviruses to the normal life we ​​crave might look like.

How will public health officials decide when to loosen home stay restrictions?

Public health officials will want to see a drastic reduction in the number of new coronavirus infections confirmed every day before they start to ease the current restrictions, scientists have said.

However, before it can be certain that a drop has actually occurred, the testing capacity must increase considerably.

“In many states, testing capacity is still far below demand, so the number of confirmed cases reported will likely be far below actual numbers,” said Pinar Keskinocak, director of the Georgia Tech Center for Health and Humanitarian Systems in Atlanta.

Once the generalized tests are in place, officials can better understand how many new cases there really are, where they are and whether we are indeed in a downward trend, she said.

At what level will new daily cases have to be low for restrictions to be relaxed?

In California, home to nearly 40 million people, restrictions on staying at home should not be relaxed until the number of new cases in the state is less than 10, said Chunhuei chi, director of the Center for Global Health at Oregon State University in Corvallis.

“Then the state could do something like Taiwan is doing now – not go back to regular activity entirely, but keep a high level of regular activity while being cautious,” he said.

Schools and businesses in Taiwan are still open, but people are required to wear masks on public transportation and inside closed areas like schools and shopping malls. Indoor gatherings must not exceed 100 people and outdoor gatherings cannot exceed 500 people.

So there’s no way things can get back to normal all of a sudden?

A safe return to normal life will be gradual.

Once there has been a significant drop in new cases, local governments will be able to slowly reopen schools, shops and restaurants, said Chi.

However, shops and restaurants may be required to reduce the maximum number of people they serve at a time so that customers can stay a safe distance from each other.

Swann said that we will likely be living in a hybrid reality for several months – not entirely locked in, but not entirely normal.

“We can expect some services to open, but not all,” she said. “We are entering a new world. “

Are we going to wear masks for a long time?

“Absolutely,” said Swann. “The masks may become the new seat belts.”

The main advantage of masks is not to protect the wearer from the disease, but to prevent asymptomatic people from accidentally transmitting the disease.

“I think we will see a greater percentage of Americans wearing a mask even after the acute phase of this crisis,” she said.

Chi nodded.

“People should wear masks until we are sure there is no longer a community-wide spread of this virus,” he said.

He noted that new research suggests that up to 30% of people infected with the coronavirus are asymptomatic, while 40 to 50% have mild symptoms that they may mistake for influenza.

“You don’t know who is infected because he looks healthy and normal,” he said. “This is the most delicate part of this virus, and that is why wearing a mask is even more critical. “

Once the restrictions are relaxed, will we be asked to shelter again on site?

It largely depends on when the restrictions are lifted.

“If we resume normal life too soon, the chances of seeing a second wave are higher,” said Keskinocak.

Cases are expected to increase after the restrictions are relaxed, said Chi.

However, local health authorities may be able to manage them by carefully monitoring everyone with whom an infected person comes into contact, testing the virus for them and quarantining them if they are sick.

“If the government is following meticulously, testing and quarantining people, then it is always safe to meet a friend for a drink,” he said.

Does this pandemic end only with a vaccine?

Not necessarily.

Ultimately, pandemics end when a sufficient percentage of the population is immune to a disease, either because it has already been and has recovered, or because it is receiving treatment. that makes her immune – like a vaccine.

However, our former lives could largely resume before this happened.

“The availability of effective treatment – which would reduce not only symptoms but also the risk of complications – would certainly help to return to normal,” said Keskinocak.

Treatment would free hospital beds and ventilators and reduce pressure on health workers.

“The combination of the widespread availability of diagnostic and serological tests as well as effective treatments would help us slowly return to normal,” said Keskinocak.

Chi agreed that life should return to normal before a vaccine is found.

“Most experts predict that it will take between eight and 12 months to get a vaccine,” he said. “We shouldn’t have to wait that long. “



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