More than a year has gone by since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many people are understandably asking for clarification in regards to if and when the pandemic will end and when life will go back to normal.
The answer to these questions depends on a number of factors. This page will provide a comprehensive overview of the various factors surrounding a return to normalcy after COVID-19, including the current number of cases and the trends in the rise and fall of case numbers, herd immunity, COVID-19 mutations, and more.
The New York Times provides an interactive map (subscription required) of daily COVID-19 case numbers across the country. The CDC also offers a free resource for viewing daily numbers and overall trends in case numbers.
The first cases of COVID-19 in the US were reported in January 2020. COVID cases began to climb until reaching a peak around early January 2021 and have been decreasing since, staying below 20,000 new cases per day as of May 29, 2021.
Although case numbers are on the decline, tens of thousands of cases are still being reported each and every day. Herd immunity, which is achieved when the majority of the population gains immunity to a disease, can help to minimize the number of cases and work towards ending the pandemic. There are two ways to achieve herd immunity: natural immunity and artificial immunity (i.e. via vaccines).
Natural immunity is immunity acquired after someone is infected with a virus or other microorganism and their body is able to develop immunological memory–i.e. immunological cells are created to help our body “remember” how to fight the virus or microorganism in future infections.
Many experts are reluctant to rely on natural immunity to achieve herd immunity. For one, we are still learning about the long-term duration of natural immunity. If natural immunity lasts for less time than anticipated, we may see another rise in the number of cases. Additionally, achieving herd immunity through natural immunity means that a significant portion of the population will have to become infected with COVID-19, then recover from it within a relatively short period of time (i.e. within the duration of natural immunity to avoid reinfection). Considering the side effects of COVID-19, vaccines have generally been viewed as the best way to achieve herd immunity and have life go back to normal in whatever way possible. Knowing “When will life go back to normal?” will largely depend on immunity through vaccines.
While one can gain natural immunity following one’s immune response to an infection, artificial immunity is immunity gained from vaccines. Even though, depending on the type of vaccine, the mechanisms of gaining artificial immunity differ, the end result of vaccination is the same—we can develop immunity and gain immunological memory, without making us sick. For those who believe getting COVID-19 is an acceptable risk to gain natural immunity, the CDC states, “…the risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19 far outweighs any benefits of natural immunity.”
Information about vaccine effectiveness can be viewed here.
Vaccines have value across populations as it is easier to measure artificial immunity than natural immunity. This is because there are records of those who have been vaccinated, but not everyone who has been infected with COVID-19 has reported their infection–especially in the instance of asymptomatic individuals. For this reason, public health officials more commonly look at the percent of the population that’s vaccinated in a given location when deciding whether or not to alter the current restrictions in place.
More and more Americans are getting vaccinated for COVID-19 every single day. After granting emergency authorization for the first COVID-19 vaccine in December 2020, the FDA has now granted emergency authorization to three different vaccines. These vaccine manufacturers have since ramped up vaccine production.
President Joe Biden has launched an initiative to get 70% of adult Americans vaccinated with at least one dose of the vaccine by July 4th. Current vaccination numbers vary greatly by state. For example, close to 50% of adult Americans living in Maine are fully vaccinated, whereas just over 25% of adult Americans living in Mississippi are fully vaccinated.
As of June 2, 2021, more than 296 million vaccines have been administered in the United States with more than 136 million people (around 42% of the population) being fully vaccinated. While that figure seems far away from the 70% figure, this goal seems more attainable when you look at how many Americans have received at least one shot – over 168 million Americans (around 50.8% of the nation’s population) as of June 2, 2021.
While the hope was that we could get enough people vaccinated to achieve herd immunity, there are a few barriers to working towards the end of the pandemic.
Some experts caution against getting our hopes up regarding herd immunity. 1 in 5 Americans say they won’t get the vaccine. With this many people not wanting to get the vaccine, we may not get close enough to reaching herd immunity. As Anthony Fauci stated, “You’ve got to think of a vaccine as a tool to be able to get a pandemic to no longer be a pandemic, but to be something that’s well-controlled.” We may get closer to this goal when children under the age of 18 are able to get the vaccine, but at the moment, only one vaccine is approved for children aged 12 to 18. More studies are needed to test the efficacy and safety of COVID-19 vaccines for children under 12 years old.
COVID-19 variants add another complication to reaching herd immunity. More information on variants can be found here.
Health experts are also discussing lifestyle changes from the pandemic that will remain, such as wearing face masks seasonally. While we may never go back to exactly how things were before the pandemic, we can hope to resume most activities and customs as before with some potential additions to protect our communities.
On May 13, 2021, the CDC announced that fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear a mask or maintain social distancing in most group settings, even if some members of the group have not been vaccinated. Exceptions include travel on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation. More information from the CDC can be viewed here.
The CDC still recommends that those who have not been vaccinated wear masks. However, since the CDC is a federal agency, it does not have the authority to repeal or modify state and country mask mandates. Therefore, depending on where you live, you may or may not see these new recommendations in the near future as we strive towards our new normal.
Overall, answering the question “When will life go back to normal?” will depend primarily on three questions:
How quickly can we achieve herd immunity as a nation (i.e. via vaccination and/or natural immunity)?
How effective are the vaccinations against new variants of COVID-19?
What are the COVID-19 restrictions mandated by the lawmakers in your area?
To end the pandemic and return to normalcy is a goal that is possible for this summer, but not guaranteed. Dr. Fauci, chief medical advisor to the President and the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has hesitated to make any concrete statements on when things might go back to normal, though he does say that life will in fact go back to normal, or at least a new normal, eventually. If you are looking to receive a vaccine, schedule your vaccination today.
Curative Inc. and its subsidiary, Curative Management Services LLC, engage with medical entities that provide vaccination services.