Even with a vaccine, COVID-19 might be here to stay. Here’s what that means for society

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Credit: LM Otero/AP

It is a daunting proposition — a coronavirus-tinged world without a foreseeable end. But experts in epidemiology, disaster planning and vaccine development say embracing that reality is crucial to the next phase of America’s pandemic response. The long-term nature of covid-19, they say, should serve as a call to arms for the public, a road map for the trillions of dollars Congress is spending and a fixed navigational point for the nation’s current, chaotic state-by-state patchwork strategy.

Communities should be thinking about installing doors that don’t require grasping a handle, and re-engineering traffic signals so pedestrians don’t have to push crosswalk buttons, said Eleanor J. Murray, an epidemiologist at Boston University.

In coming years, robots and automated lines could become ubiquitous in meatpacking plants, which have experienced some of the country’s worst outbreaks. Families may have to make diagnostic tests routine ahead of visits to grandparents. Once-mocked office cubicles of a bygone era may become the rage again, replacing open-floor plans now found at many companies. Paid sick time might become a necessity for jobs of all types. 

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Related article:  Podcast: Science writer Michael Specter on what you should know about the coronavirus, food security and GMOs

More immediately, states should be using this time to craft quick-response systems and protocols. With hundreds of cities and counties reopening, think of each as a mini laboratory yielding valuable data on what will work against the virus in coming years.

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