The novel coronavirus known as COVID-19 first made its appearance in Wuhan, China at the end of 2019 and quickly spread around the world to become a pandemic. Countries all over the globe closed their borders, shut down businesses and schools, and ordered citizens to stay inside and only go out for the bare essentials. This was done by most governments in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus, stop people from getting sick and dying, and to keep health care systems from being swamped by huge swarms of people in need of intensive medical care.
Now, these lockdowns are taking a psychological and economic toll on people and governments, creating a sense of unease across the world. The question on everyone’s minds is “When will coronavirus end?” Unfortunately, this is a question that scientists and medical professionals are still having difficulty answering. Their problem is that COVID-19 has never before existed so there are too many unknown factors, and even worse, people have no immunity to the virus yet.
Of course scientists have theories about how coronavirus may end, but they do not have all the evidence they need yet to prove them. But with time, new data, and research to back up their theories, they may soon be able to make more than an educated guess about when and how the virus will end.
How will the novel coronavirus end?
In the scientific world, most agree that the end to the COVID-19 pandemic will come when there is herd immunity or a vaccine to the disease. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient number of people in a community have immunity from the pathogen so the pathogen cannot transmit from person to person efficiently. In other words, the chain of contagion is broken, and the pathogen dies out.
So, how can herd immunity be achieved? There are two ways. The first, and best, is through immunization, and the second is through standard exposure to the virus.
From the time of the first known case, researchers and companies have been working hard to come up with an effective vaccine for COVID-19. But the process is complex and one that takes a lot of time. There are reports that a vaccine for COVID-19 could be ready in 2021. That seems like a long time when so many people are dying or getting ill, and when the world economy is taking such a hard hit. But the truth is that under normal circumstances, vaccine development takes a lot longer than the ambitious target set for a COVID-19 vaccine.
The second path to herd immunity is through exposure to the illness. This can only work if humans do actually gain immunity once they have had COVID-19 and no one is certain that this is fact. Research is being done in laboratories all over the world to find out if immunity does occur, how long it lasts, if antibodies are produced, and if they can be used to help people who are sick.
Scientists are also not sure about the exact percentage of the community needed to be exposed to reach herd immunity. Many suggest that 60 percent is an effective amount for COVID-19. As a comparison, herd immunity for diphtheria is reached when 75 percent of the community is exposed. For measles, the percentage is higher, at 91 percent.
The amount of time it would take to reach the target percentage for herd immunity depends on what mitigation measures the community takes. In countries where measures are stricter, it would take longer, but with less loss of life. With lighter restrictions, a community would reach the herd immunity threshold faster, but with more deaths.
Another factor that may influence whether COVID-19 ends might be weather, or more specifically, temperature. With regular influenza, outbreaks generally occur in the fall and taper off in late spring when it begins to warm up. So far scientists do not know if COVID-19 will end with warmer summer weather.
Despite the disheartening news, scientists and medical professionals remain optimistic that this novel coronavirus pandemic will come to an end. Time will tell how mitigation measures affect the process of herd immunity and if it is enough until a vaccine is ready to go.
Try to be patient as scientists and experts across the country and globe conduct research and try to come up with viable solutions to this crisis. It’s difficult to manage the many facets of this pandemic, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Keep up to date with federal, local and state government orders regarding stay at home orders. For more detailed information regarding prevention, testing, and treatment, visit the CDC’s official website. If you are concerned that you are ill or have been exposed to someone with coronavirus, contact your physician immediately via a video appointment to discuss your concerns.