AUSTIN (KXAN) — Millions of Americans are wondering when the COVID-19 pandemic will finally be over.
But as time goes on, the question, for some, has morphed from asking when COVID-19 will be beaten to if COVID-19 will be beaten.
A Tuesday piece in the Atlantic posits that it will not be possible to beat coronavirus, but rather the virus will become something people will have to learn to deal with as time goes on, like the flu.
Dr. Jason McLellan, Associate Professor of Molecular Biosciences at the University of Texas Austin, agrees with that theory.
“SARS-CoV-2 will likely stay permanently in the human population. Once everyone is vaccinated or infected, subsequent exposures and infections should be less severe,” says McLellan.
McLellan, whose team has been working on coronavirus research since 2013, says vaccination boosters may be needed regularly, perhaps every other year, in order to live alongside COVID-19.
He says the best-case scenario is that COVID-19 joins the other four coronaviruses that circulate regularly and cause the common cold.
This would mean that once there’s a vaccine, the hope is that COVID-19 would become less severe and “regular” — becoming like any other seasonal virus.
Another comparison experts point to is the H1N1 flu — or swine flu. These kinds of viruses remain active throughout the year but cases spike in the winter.
“I think this virus is with us to the future,” Ruth Karron, a vaccine researcher at Johns Hopkins says. “But so is influenza with us, and for the most part, flu doesn’t shut down our societies. We manage it.”
Timothy Sheahan, virologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, also expressed concerns that SARS-CoV-2 may keep circulating through animal populations and be spread to humans again.
In addition, he says, humans could be creating new “animal reservoirs” for infections by infecting other species of animals who don’t already have the virus.
Why has COVID-19 been particularly fierce in Austin?
McLellan says that because the virus is so easily transmissible, densely populated cities present more opportunities for infection than rural areas.
He says that the city of Austin made some decisions that have contributed to spread.
“Opening up bars in Austin was not a good idea, and there have been large gatherings and parties that have also helped increase transmission,” he says.
COVID-19 in Texas
In Texas, coronavirus data has been tricky to pin down for several reasons, which some worry could be leading policy makers to make decisions — making the state’s approach to stopping the pandemic flimsy.
According to the Texas Tribune, Texas corrected its COVID-19 numbers twice just last week — but health officials say the overall numbers are dependable.
“The overall data are reliable in showing what is happening with COVID-19 in Texas, particularly when taken together,” said Chris Van Deusen, a spokesman for the Texas Department of State Health Services.
“What we collect and publish every day is provisional data that hasn’t yet gone completely through those rigorous checks and is subject to change,” Van Deusen continued. “Because of that, not every piece of data will not be precise 100% of the time, and we don’t expect it to be, but it is accurate enough to let us know what’s happening and guide our response.”
The COVID-19 pandemic could likely have long-term effects on public transportation and in-office/at-home work.
Global Workplace Analytics says that a typical employer can save about $11,000 a year for each person who works from home at least half of the time.
WFH — or working from home — allows businesses to save money on office rental space and accommodations, which could change expectations for in-person employment.
Former Massachusetts Secretary of Education and current Harvard professor Paul Reville says more than anything, the pandemic has revealed problems in education that educators have known of for a very long time.
“… the general public have become more aware than at any time in my memory of the inequities in children’s lives outside of school,” says Reville. “Suddenly we see front-page coverage about food deficits, inadequate access to health and mental health, problems with housing stability, and access to educational technology and internet. Those of us in education know these problems have existed forever.”
At-home and/or virtual learning, Reville says, exposes gaps in access to technology and at-home support for students who are being taught at home.
“In order to learn, children need equal access to health care, food, clean water, stable housing, and out-of-school enrichment opportunities, to name just a few preconditions,” says Reville.
Additionally, curricula could be affected, as educators must now figure out even more engaging lessons and ways to reach students.
Something as simple as touching someone’s shoulder or leaning in closely could change, at least for a little while.
“Tactile touching or whispering in people’s ear will probably disappear for quite a while,” says Cary Cooper, professor of organizational psychology and health at Manchester Business School. “Communications will be slightly more complicated and less nuanced as a consequence. People might misinterpret things as you won’t have the cues you normally would.”
This uncertainty of what is and isn’t okay to do around other people could stick around for a while.
This includes kisses, hugs and especially handshakes — though experts aren’t sure how well non-physical replacements will catch on.
An often-suggested alternative to handshaking is elbow bumping, which UT Austin psychology professor Cristine Legare says, “shows how important touch is — we don’t want to lose that physical connecting.”