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Coronavirus social distancing may be needed until 2022: Harvard researchers

Coronavirus outbreak

Some degree of social distancing may still be needed in the US until 2022 to prevent large outbreaks of coronavirus, according to a group of Harvard disease experts.

Researchers from Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health made the unsettling prediction Tuesday in the journal Science.

The group looked at various computer models to simulate how the virus might spread over the next five years.

The models considered whether the virus was seasonal, how long immunity might last for recovered patients, and the “intensity and timing of control measures,” — and based on the growing number of cases around the globe, researchers said it’s unlikely that the virus will be eliminated soon, according to the report.

Social distancing may be needed from time to time to lessen the burden on hospitals if the virus sticks around, the report said.

“Under current critical care capacities, however, the overall duration of the SARS-CoV-2 epidemic could last into 2022, requiring social distancing measures to be in place between 25% and 75% of that time,” researchers said.

Researchers found that too-strict social distancing could actually drag things out by slowing the formation of herd immunity. In one scenario that assumed 20 weeks of strict control measures and extensive social distancing, a resurgence followed the lifting of control measures that was nearly as bad as the peak of an uncontrolled epidemic.

“The social distancing was so effective that virtually no population immunity was built,” researchers wrote.

There was a resurgence when the control measures were lifted under each model, and researchers don’t endorse one path, they said.

“We do not take a position on the advisability of these scenarios given the economic burden that sustained distancing may impose, but we note the potentially catastrophic burden on the healthcare system that is predicted if distancing is poorly effective and-or not sustained for long enough,” researchers wrote.


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