In March, many states have imposed stay-at-home orders to reduce the spread of COVID-19. As people hunker down in their homes, schools close down, and lives are put at risk, one question may be on many people’s minds: How long is the COVID-19 pandemic going to last?
Unfortunately, these things can be tough to predict. There are many different factors that can influence the timeline of a pandemic, not least of which being the commitment of billions of people to follow guidelines from public health experts. For example, the many people who attended bars on St. Patrick’s Day weekend went directly against recommendations to avoid large, crowded gatherings, potentially worsening or extending the COVID-19 timeline.
As for the short-term predictions, the possibilities are a bit more clear. “Take a deep breath, because we are going to definitely see a lot more cases,” says Preeti Parikh, MD, pediatrician at Mount Sinai Hospital and Chief Medical Officer at HealthiNation.
“One of the reasons is we are now going to be able to do a lot more testing,” says Dr. Parikh. “Doctors’ offices, hospitals, [and] urgent cares are starting to get more access to kits to be able to test people, so when we start testing more people you’re gonna see the number increase.”
It’s important to remember that for the first several weeks of the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States, testing kits were limited, so only those with severe symptoms or a risk of complications were tested. However, around 80 percent of people with COVID-19 have very mild symptoms, and many of them were originally turned down for testing. More kits means less restrictions on who gets tested.
While numbers are expected to increase, the goal is to “level out” the cases. Many people are expected to get infected with the novel coronavirus, but ideally, they won’t all get infected at the same time. This would overwhelm the healthcare system, which has limited supplies, hospital beds, and staff.
As for the future, while it may be tough to predict how long until you can resume your normal routine, it's safe to say it won't be in the immediate future. In a press conference on March 15, 2020, Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, stated that it might take “a matter of several weeks to a few months” for life to get back to normal. “People need to understand that things will get worse before they get better,” says Dr. Fauci.
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