When experts envision the future of the coronavirus, many predict that it will become a seasonal pathogen that won’t be much more than a nuisance for most of us who have been vaccinated or previously exposed to it.
But how long that process takes — and how much damage the virus inflicts in the interim — is still anyone’s guess.
“The most predictable thing about this coronavirus is its unpredictability,” said Howard Markel, a historian of medicine at the University of Michigan, who has studied other pandemics.
However long it takes, the transition to a mild endemic virus is unlikely to be a straight line. Some infectious disease researchers envision a healthier summer — with low circulation of the virus and more people vaccinated — but a more tenuous fall. Other factors, like how long protection provided by vaccines will last, what percentage of people gets them, and whether variants of the virus sap the strength of vaccines, will determine the outcome.
These are not predictions that people fed up with the pandemic will want to hear. But at the same time, some experts are optimistic that the end of this phase — the crisis phase — is within sight, at least in this country, as vaccines reach more people and protect them from the worst outcomes of Covid-19.
The challenge might be recognizing what the “end” looks like. Some experts might mark it when daily deaths fall below a certain threshold or when hospitals are no longer facing crushes of cases. But there won’t be a single moment, like jolting awake from a nightmare, and we won’t be finished for good with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19. Gradually, fewer people will get sick, more activities will be considered safer, and something approaching normalcy will return. [Continue reading…]