Whatever the end of the pandemic might look like, the United States is nowhere close to it at the moment; week after week, hundreds of thousands of Americans continue to test positive for COVID-19, and several thousand die from it. But when the threat of the pandemic does eventually subside, the process will likely be gradual and incremental. “I don’t think there’s going to be, all of a sudden, one day when we can all go make out with people at the grocery store,” [said epidemiologist] Julia Marcus.
One intuitive end point is full-on eradication—meaning that the coronavirus no longer circulates in humans or animals—but that outcome is quite unlikely, in part because of how easily the virus could continue to reach still-susceptible groups of people anywhere on Earth even well into the future.
This suggests a different definition of the end of the pandemic, one based not on case counts or governors’ directives but on people’s individual experiences. Under this definition, the pandemic ends in one person’s head at a time. And as Marcus noted, “the pandemic has already ended for some people: There are people who feel that this was never a thing. There are people who decided it’s no longer a thing.” More of these premature mental endings—and more accurate endings later on—will arrive, but not all at once.