Social distancing may be needed, on and off, until 2022: Harvard study

FILE - Signs reminding everyone to observe social distancing are shown. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Are you getting accustomed to keeping at least six feet of space between yourself and other people to help stop the spread of coronavirus?

Good. Because you may need to keep doing it, on and off, until 2022.

At least that’s what some scientists at Harvard University said Tuesday.

“Intermittent distancing may be required into 2022 unless critical care capacity is increased substantially or a treatment or vaccine becomes available," the researchers wrote.

A lot also will depend on what happens in the coming months, Bloomberg News reported. For example, will the spread change significantly as the seasons change? And will immunity take hold after people become infected?

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In their study, the Harvard researchers used computer models to predict what’s ahead for COVID-19. One possibility is that aggressive mitigation measures could help stop the spread, as happened with SARS in 2003, the Bloomberg report said.

But the more likely scenario, they said, is that social distancing will be needed on an intermittent basis, as the virus comes and goes, like the common flu, until a vaccine or other treatment is developed.

That assessment seemed to align with what Dr. Anthony Fauci, a member of President Trump's Coronavirus Task Force, said earlier this month.

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“Unless we get this globally under control there’s a very good chance that it will assume a seasonal nature,” Fauci told CBS’s “Face the Nation” on April 5.

That would mean a slower return to “normal” life than many people may have been expecting.

“People haven’t understood that this isn’t about the next couple of weeks. This is about the next two years,” Michael Osterholm, an infectious-disease epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota, told The Atlantic.

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