Two months ago, most people around the world were only vaguely aware, if at all aware, that a novel coronavirus was rapidly spreading through Asia. Even as reports began popping up in Europe and North America, there was initially very little worry. Today, the story has changed significantly. COVID-19 has made its way to every continent on the planet, except Antarctica, and has infected approximately 500,000 people globally. 
Governments around the world have taken steps, sometimes dramatic ones, to slow and stop the spread of coronavirus. Today, one in three people around the world are in some kind of quarantine or operating under a shelter-in-place order.  The disruption to regular lifestyles around the world has been staggering. In the United States, closures of various businesses and establishments have resulted in 3,283,000 job loss claims. 
“During the week ending March 21, the increase in initial claims are due to the impacts of the COVID-19 virus,” the U.S. Department of Labor said in a press release. “Nearly every state providing comments cited the COVID-19 virus impacts. States continued to cite services industries broadly, particularly accommodation and food services.”
With major interruptions to the economy and our way of life in general, many have begun wondering how exactly this pandemic will come to an end and when.
Don’t expect it to end any time soon
Coronavirus spreads rapidly but is a virus that can take days to manifest noticeable symptoms and weeks to fully recover from. All measures to slow the spread of the virus, from providing adequate healthcare services to efforts like social distancing and shelter-in-place orders will take time to work. But even with social isolation efforts in place, infection rates in the US may still be sky-high.
According to an analysis from the University of Pennsylvania, even if we reduced the infection rate by 95% by staying home, washing our hands, and avoiding contact with other people, nearly 1 million Americans would need hospitalization and intensive care. 
But that kind of a perfect response is unlikely. Dr. Anthony Fauci, a key adviser to the president, says that “It could be anywhere from four to six weeks to up to three months.”
He added: “But I don’t have great confidence in that range.”
In 2003, countries around the world were able to work in tandem to bring SARS to an end. But COVID-19 has spread faster and further and to more people than SARS did. This scenario is unlikely.
Another possibility is that herd immunity is attained. When the virus infects a host and the host survives, the host then has an immunity to the virus. COVID-19 is evolving very slowly, meaning if you get it once, you are not likely to contract it a second time. Herd immunity happens when so many people have an immunity to the virus that it has trouble getting a foothold anywhere in the world, making larger outbreaks nearly impossible.
Perhaps most ideally is a scenario in which countries are able to crack down on and contain outbreaks as they happen until a vaccine can be produced, allowing the world to be inoculated against the virus without contracting it, as would be the case if we developed a herd immunity. But developing a vaccine can take a long time. COVID-19 is a novel virus, meaning we’ve never seen it before and must start developing a brand new vaccine. And once scientists do develop a vaccine, it may be challenging to mass-produce it for the general public.
Frankly, all of us should plan for COVID-19 to be a major part of life for the next year and possibly beyond. Some models suggest that, even if we’ve largely beaten back the virus, it may periodically explode in different parts of the world and begin spreading again. 
Life after coronavirus
Ever since the first reports of community spread in Europe and then the United States, one thing was made abundantly clear: this will change us forever. It will change who we are as a people, how we think about our world, and how we interact with one another. Cultures where hugging and kissing are common now see their favorite greeting as a danger to life. Even nations where handshaking is common are now moving to other rituals, like bumping elbows.
And then there’s the pain of the experience. One in five Americans have lost their jobs or had their hours impacted by coronavirus.  Lower-income people will be harder hit than anyone else. 49% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck.  32% of Americans have no savings, and 58% of Americans have less than $1,000 saved.  And due to a lack of a national healthcare program, almost half of the country is uninsured or under-insured.  It’s theorized that community spread happened so easily in the United States because so many people were afraid of the potential financial ramifications of seeing a doctor for their symptoms. One U.S. resident reported a nearly $35,000 medical bill from their COVID-19 treatment. 
And then, there’s the emotional trauma from the experience. At its deadliest, coronavirus impacts older adults and people with compromised immune systems. The potential for loss of life among seniors is enormous and devastating. On the other side of this pandemic, many of us will likely be grieving someone.
And then there are the feelings of panic and insecurity that can emotionally scar us deeply and for a long time. The feeling of not being able to get what you need, even if you can afford it, is a deeply disturbing one. And in countries like Italy, those who need care have to be prioritized based on their likelihood of survival due to the scarcity of medical resources.
But this pandemic is not without its silver linings. Incredibly, coronavirus has awoken something in people around the world: the realization that it’s not the rugged individual who thrives, but the communities who know each other, know each others’ needs and support one another through times of crisis. On Facebook, countless mutual aid groups have sprouted, connecting tens of thousands of people to one another. In groups like these, people are able to aid one another and provide basic needs that may be hard to find in the local store.
As the pandemic marches on, it’s becoming clearer and clearer that life is going to be dramatically altered, both from an economic standpoint and a human one. How it’s altered has yet to be seen, but it’s not hard to imagine.
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