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Q&A: What is the outlook on COVID in the midst of a surge?

As coronavirus cases spiral out of control in many parts of the country, many health experts have warned that the United States may be in for a dark winter ahead. Concurrently, however, vaccine trial completions offer hope that we have reached the ‘beginning of the end’ of the global pandemic that has killed nearly two million people worldwide, destroyed countless livelihoods, separated friends and family, and changed daily life in ways that may continue for years into the future or longer.

These are the most up-to-date answers to some of the questions we heard the most when asking what Central students want to know about the current state of the COVID-19 pandemic.

When will the vaccines be ready?

Clearly the most pressing question for most regards vaccines. An effective vaccine is, in effect, the only path to the end of the pandemic anytime soon. Pfizer was the first company to receive Food and Drug Administration approval for its vaccine, which was announced December 10. Moderna is expected to have its vaccine approved around December 17. Two other companies, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca, are expected to receive approval in January or February. The distribution will be the much more difficult task, as hundreds of millions of vaccines will need to be deployed around the world in a matter of months. Further complicating the matter, some vaccines require two doses a few weeks apart.

How effective are the vaccines?

So far, Pfizer and Moderna have released data regarding the effectiveness of their vaccines. Both reported that their vaccines were ~95% effective at preventing COVID symptoms in trials, much better than was expected. Even more impressive, Pfizer reported that not a single member of its 30,000-person trial got a severe case of the virus. Dr. Anthony Fauci, a top government infectious disease expert, said that these results were “stunningly impressive.”

How safe are these vaccines?

Multiple agencies in the US and around the world have reviewed extensive safety data and found the vaccines to be very safe. Although some people may experience side effects like headaches, fever, and fatigue for 12 to 24 hours after being vaccinated, this is natural as your body builds antibodies to the virus. Scientists say that the risks associated with getting COVID are far greater than any risks of getting vaccinated.

When can we stop wearing masks?

Although it is difficult to nail down answers to questions like these, experts have ideas. Government officials have said that all Americans who want a vaccine will be able to get one by June 2021. As long as roughly 65% of people are vaccinated, the pandemic will begin to come to an end, as there are enough people who are immune to all but stop the spread. Dr. Fauci speculated that a general sense of “normalcy” may return by late Fall 2021. It may take time before some people feel safe to go in public without a mask, however, and many speculate that it may be well into 2022 before mask-wearers are in the minority again.

When will school go back to normal?

Although it may be possible for students and teachers to get vaccinated in the Spring, don’t expect school to return to fully in-person learning second semester. Although the district could decide to do so, it certainly looks as though the country will be much better off by August when school starts back up again.

What will change as a result of this pandemic?

Although the future of society’s behaviors is always uncertain, many sociologists expect that handshaking may not come back for many years, if ever. Additionally, “work from home” will likely remain much more common. Another effect of the pandemic has been the demise of movie theaters, which may continue, especially with major movie companies now releasing their films for streaming online the same day they go into theaters. Other long-term effects are yet to be seen.

Although the end of the pandemic and life afterwards cannot be perfectly predicted, experts say the best thing you can do right now to see “normalcy” return sooner is to wear a mask, avoid gatherings, and be ready to get vaccinated when it is available.

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