No ‘temporary disruption’: Coronavirus threatens to change our lives forever

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Social distancing. Credit: Chip Somodevilla
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We all want things to go back to normal quickly. But what most of us have probably not yet realized—yet will soon—is that things won’t go back to normal after a few weeks, or even a few months. Some things never will.

As long as someone in the world has the virus, breakouts can and will keep recurring without stringent controls to contain them. In a report [March 16], researchers at Imperial College London proposed a way of doing this: impose more extreme social distancing measures every time admissions to intensive care units (ICUs) start to spike, and relax them each time admissions fall.

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Under this model, the researchers conclude, social distancing and school closures would need to be in force some two-thirds of the time—roughly two months on and one month off—until a vaccine is available, which will take at least 18 months (if it works at all).

And what if we decided to be brutal: set the threshold number of ICU admissions for triggering social distancing much higher, accepting that many more patients would die? Turns out it makes little difference.

This isn’t a temporary disruption. It’s the start of a completely different way of life.

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