COVID-19 will circulate for decades, experts predict

COVID-19 will likely persist for decades, even after a vaccine is created and widely disseminated, experts told The Washington Post. 

Many vaccine, epidemiology and disaster planning experts said they believe COVID-19 will become an endemic disease similar to HIV or chickenpox. Four other types of coronaviruses already circulate the globe and cause the common cold. Some experts predict SARS-CoV-2 will become the fifth, eventually posing milder health risks as immunity increases.

"This virus is here to stay," Sarah Cobey, PhD, an epidemiologist and evolutionary biologist at the University of Chicago, told the Post. "The question is, how do we live with it safely?"

Experts said leaders must start thinking about long-term solutions for COVID-19, instead of focusing on short-term crisis management. They said the first priority should be developing more sophisticated testing and data management strategies for the virus. 

COVID-19 may also require lasting changes to many aspects of everyday life, according to the experts. For example, cities may want to implement automatic doors and touch-free crosswalk buttons to promote hand hygiene, according to Dr. Eleanor Murray, an epidemiologist at Boston University. Families may need to get routine COVID-19 tests before visiting elderly loved ones, and employers may need to abandon open floor plans for cubicles.

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