People sit on designated areas to ensure social distancing inside a light rapid transit train in Palembang, Indonesia, on March 20, 2020, amid concerns of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although no one yet knows what the future holds for COVID-19, most experts seem to agree that it isn’t going away anytime soon. Indeed, a new report estimates that the pandemic will likely last about two years.
The report, from researchers at the University of Minnesota, draws on information from eight previous flu pandemics going back to the 1700s, and incorporates data from the current COVID-19 pandemic.
The authors note that the new coronavirus, called SARS-CoV-2, is not a type of influenza, but it shares some similarities with pandemic flu viruses — both are respiratory viruses to which the population has little to no previous immunity, and both can spread when people don’t have symptoms. Still, the virus causing COVID-19 appears to spread more easily than the flu, and asymptomatic transmission may account for a greater proportion of COVID-19’s spread, compared with the flu.
Given how easily SARS-CoV-2 spreads, about 60% to 70% of the population may need to be immune in order to achieve “herd immunity” and bring a stop to the pandemic, the authors said. This will take time, since a relatively small fraction of the U.S. population seems to have been infected so far (although infection rates vary by location), according to studies looking at antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 in blood samples.
The report then outlines three potential scenarios for how the COVID-19 pandemic could play out.