Advertisement

Harvard researchers: Social distancing could remain until 2021 or 2022

Two research papers, including one done by the Harvard Chan School of Public Health, suggest the public may need to keep elements of social distancing, until 2021 or even 2022.

Advertisement

Scientists in Massachusetts are doing some critical research on the future of the pandemic.

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, social distancing has become our guiding principal toward getting to a "new normal." But now two research papers, including one done by the Harvard Chan School of Public Health, suggest the public may need to keep elements of social distancing, until 2021 or even 2022.

“And in the absence of treatment or vaccine, it could take up to 12 to 18 months to build enough immunity in the population to free us from that,” said Dr. Stephen Kissler, postdoctoral researcher at Harvard Chan School of Public Health.

Kissler was surprised by his team at Harvard's findings, especially by the length of time the model showed social distancing would be required to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed.

“It won't necessarily be this widespread social disruption-social distancing, but I could imagine that people will get a lot more familiar with wearing masks, with sort of keeping their distance from each other in public especially during the winter months,” Kissler said.

The other paper done by researchers at the University of Minnesota looked at three possible scenarios for the future of the pandemic:

Advertisement

No. 1: An initial wave of cases, followed by peaks and valleys over one to two years.

No. 2: A larger fall peak, similar to what took place during the Spanish flu.

No. 3: A peak in cases now, followed by a slow burn.

“The best case in the sense that that would be the fastest way that we could get to herd immunity,” Kissler said. “If the vaccine development is really much slower than we hope it is, then I think there is a chance that this virus could keep circulating during the winter time — either every year or every other year — until we do have a vaccine.”

The herd immunity threshold in the Harvard study when the virus would stop spreading is 55%.