Study looks at chance of social distancing continuing through 2022

Apr 14, 2020, 9:17 AM | Updated: 11:43 am
Social distancing, coronavirus...
A sign posted at a Seattle Costco warehouse. (MyNorthwest photo)
(MyNorthwest photo)

A new study looks to understand the future of how COVID-19 will spread in the “postpandemic period,” and just how long we’ll need social distancing measures.

The study, authored by five researchers from the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases and the Department of Epidemiology at Harvard’s School of Public Health, was published on ScienceMag.org on Tuesday.

Research paper claims social distancing needed for ’18 months or more’

The various models implemented by the study present a range of possible outcomes, including a scenario where the outbreak completely ends in 2022, with some social distancing measures relaxed “by early-to-mid-2021.”

An improved outlook will be largely dependent on “new therapeutics, vaccines, or other interventions such as contact tracing and quarantine.”

“In the absence of such interventions, surveillance and intermittent distancing … may need to be maintained into 2022,” it estimates.

That being so, the study also points out that any social distancing measures extending into 2022 “present a substantial social and economic burden.” It lists a handful of “urgent priorities” we’ll need to focus on if we’re to avoid that future.

That includes:

  • Ensuring adequate care for the critically ill
  • Increasing critical care capacity
  • Medical treatments and vaccines
  • Serological testing to “understand the extent and duration of immunity”
  • “Widespread surveillance” to mitigate any possible resurgences in the future

The study also looks into how the virus might spread seasonally in the months and years ahead, predicting that we could very well see regularly recurring winter outbreaks. Additionally, even after the pandemic is completely under control this year, it warns that we could see a resurgence “as late as 2024.”

While it acknowledges that SARS — the closest genetic relative to coronavirus — was largely eradicated by “intensive public health measures,” most public health officials “consider this scenario unlikely.”

State Superintendent says school closures likely to fall and beyond

“Alternatively, the transmission of (COVID-19) could resemble that of pandemic influenza by circulating seasonally after causing an initial global wave of infection,” the study concludes.

The study closes by noting that its goal is less to endorse social distancing measures years into the future, and more to “identify likely trajectories of the epidemic under alternative approaches … and to spur innovative ideas to expand the list of options to bring the pandemic under long-term control.”

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Study looks at chance of social distancing continuing through 2022