As some states look toward relaxing restrictions and social distancing measures, such as stay-at-home orders, new projections suggest social distancing may need to continue through 2022. Researchers predict that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, will return every winter, and that prolonged or intermittent social distancing strategies could limit the strain on health care systems.
Dr. Gregory Poland, a Mayo Clinic COVID-19 expert, predicts that the COVID-19 pandemic will change many aspects of U.S. culture in the future, including the need to always practice social distancing measures.
“I think that’s going to become inevitable. I think we very well may become a culture, at least in the wintertime when there are so many respiratory viruses circulating, that we’ll be more like Asian cultures, where they more readily wear masks when outdoors. I think we’ll take more seriously in clinics and hospitals, and nursing homes, the respiratory diseases that circulate every year, and which lead to hospitalizations and deaths ― influenza being the exemplar,” says Dr. Poland, who is the director of Mayo Clinic’s Vaccine Research Group.
He also sees this pandemic changing the future of health care delivery.
“There’s a lot we can do with telehealth, telemedicine. We don’t necessarily need to bring everybody in, expose them to some of the potential dangers of that, in order to advise them as to what the next course of treatment or the next diagnostic test may be.”
As work to develop a vaccine for COVID-19 continues, Dr. Poland hopes that this pandemic shines light on the importance of vaccines to prevent illness.
“As we develop vaccines against these respiratory diseases, I hope we’ll take vaccination more seriously. When you think about influenza, people over the age of 65 account for 90% of the deaths due to flu; yet, maybe we get 50%–60% of them to take the flu vaccine. This may energize the whole enterprise of vaccines as a way of preventing diseases,” says Dr. Poland.