When Will the Pandemic End? Answers From an Epidemiologist

Remember thinking COVID-19 might disrupt our lives for a few weeks? Seems like a distant memory as we enter the eighth month of a pandemic with no end in sight. Seriously, when will the pandemic end?

In the second episode of the Well+Good YouTube series Need To Know, Sophia Bush sat down with Jessica Malaty Rivera, MS, a microbiologist and infectious disease epidemiologist, to help us get a better understanding of how long the pandemic will last. As expected, the answer isn't so clear.

"It really depends on you," says Rivera. "It depends on the choices that you make today, it depends on the choices that you make in the coming weeks and the coming months. What we really need to see is disease transmission go down. Right now we're averaging about 40,000 cases a day about 1,000 deaths per day [in the United States], that is super high, and we need to be seeing those cases well under 10,000 at the very minimum for us to be seeing a meaningful slowing down of the disease."

While there are many things to be concerned about in the coming months, Rivers says mutation of the virus and the impact that could have on the efficacy of vaccines isn't one of them.

Experts In This Article
  • Jessica Malaty Rivera, MS, Jessica Malaty Rivera, MS is an infectious disease epidemiologist and microbiologist. She is the science communication lead at The COVID Tracking Project.

"Viruses mutating is a completely natural process of how viral transmission works," she says. "And you can think about it like a tiny typo, and a lot of times those typos are very insignificant. The virus is actually mutating at a very slow pace so that should calm people's concerns about the virus becoming so different that potentially vaccine research would be outpaced by the changing virus. It's like watching a cactus grow—it's very very slow."

Rest assured that it may be a while before we return to normal life, we won't be wearing masks forever.

"We will not be in masks forever but for as long as we have high disease transmission we're going to be in masks," says Rivera. "And I think masks are actually going to probably help make flu season more tolerable. I will likely anticipate masks until a vaccine is available and probably through vaccination to make sure that enough people are actually becoming vaccinated and stopping the spread of the disease."

Aside from wearing masks, we can also help manage this virus by voting.

"I have believed from day one that pandemics are inherently political because viruses don't care about national borders, they don't care about state borders. And it crossed from one hemisphere to another because of that," says Rivera. "We need a vote in November in a way that is pro-science. We need to vote in a way that is thinking about the future of our planet, and the future of our health, and the future of our kids' health."

To learn more about the longevity of the coronavirus and how to separate COVID-19 fact from fiction, watch the full video above.

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