Will the coronavirus ever disappear? Will face masks become a thing of the past? While it's no guarantee, the near future looks more like winter months will be a sign of the impending cold, flu, and COVID-19 season.
With vaccine distribution in full swing around the world, many people are hopeful that we can tame this deadly disease so it's unable to cause life-threatening harm. But the antibodies that protect us against COVID-19 infection fade over time. This makes vaccination an unlikely permanent defense.
It's difficult to predict what will happen, but COVID-19 could become an illness like the flu — something that flares up seasonally, and that many people, unfortunately, experience more than once in their lives.
Is the Coronavirus Here to Stay?
Health experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci believe the coronavirus will become an endemic disease. Essentially, this means it will occur frequently and predictably in specific regions, similar to what the common cold does in North America. On the bright side, officials also think that it will circulate at lower levels and produce much milder symptoms, making it much more manageable than the iteration we've encountered this pandemic.
Fauci is far from the only one who doubts we'll ever eradicate COVID-19. Scientific journal Nature recently polled more than 100 immunologists, virologists, and infectious disease researchers. Approximately 89% believed that the coronavirus would become endemic in the future.
Dr. Amesh Adalja is a Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security senior scholar as well as an Infectious Diseases Society of America spokesperson. He concurs with the results of this poll. "I've never thought it would go away. This is an efficiently spreading respiratory virus that comes from a family of viruses, of which four others cause 25% of our common colds," he explained in an interview with TODAY. "It’s established itself in the human population."
Like other health experts, Adalja is optimistic about some aspects of our future with the coronavirus. For example, while we will still have cases and issues with it, he thinks that it will never take human lives at the current rate it's doing. This means it's unlikely to cause another public emergency like it has for the past year.
COVID-19 Will Likely Coincide With Cold and Flu Season
Since other coronavirus strains and mutations peak in colder months, this one will likely join in on cold and flu season. You may be wondering, why didn't the U.S. experience this seasonality in 2020? With the virus spreading so fast and so little immunity developed to it, warmer weather in the summer months didn't impact transmission rates.
In the near future, experts think that people will receive an annual COVID-19 vaccine like we do with the flu shot. If so, it's likely something we'll have to do for the next several years in order to adequately deal with variations in the disease. "This virus is showing an incredible ability to mutate, to change, to adapt, in a sense, to everything we’re putting against it," explained Dr. Richard Besser, former acting director of the CDC, in an interview with NBC News.
It's difficult to speculate what will happen with COVID-19 vaccines since the virus is so different from the flu. Even if they're found to be less effective against the South African and Brazilian variants, they could still help to prevent severe infections. Or it could also be possible that one vaccine update is needed before the virus stabilizes and doesn't require any future updates.
What'll Happen to COVID-19 Protection Measures?
With so much uncertainty about the future, what will happen to coronavirus protection protocols like face masks, social distancing, and testing centers? Well, COVID-19 testing will become a routine part of our everyday lives, meaning that we'll go to a doctor's clinic to get it done instead of a dedicated testing site.
While mask mandates will stop, many Americans will likely still don face coverings during the winter months. Besides COVID-19, mask-wearing and other coronavirus protocols have virtually eliminated the 2020-2021 flu season. This benefit alone will cause many people to still wear face masks in the future.
Social distancing restrictions for gyms, restaurants, bars, and other businesses will be lifted once vulnerable populations have received the COVID-19 vaccine. Hospital staff will no longer have to worry about being inundated by an influx of coronavirus patients.
Many adaptations that were implemented during the pandemic, such as more emphasis on sanitation, more efficient air filtration systems, and telemedicine, are here to stay. We'll also see several other societal changes in the near future as a result of this pandemic.
While it's probably the COVID-19 will be around much longer than any of us want, the good news is that it will likely come in a much more manageable format — one that isn't as deadly and doesn't disrupt our lives as much as this pandemic has. We don't know about you, but we couldn't be more excited about the future.
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