When Will the Coronavirus Quarantine End? Here's What Experts Say

Will it be weeks, months, or years before we return to "normal?" Here's what those in the know say.

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One of the more uncertain elements of the COVID-19 pandemic is the question of how long self-quarantining will last. Currently, 45 of the 50 states have stay-at-home orders in place. And in those states, "When is this going to be over?" is the oft-heard refrain similar to kids in the backseat of a long car ride asking, "Are we there yet?" But unfortunately, it's difficult to reach a consensus as to when the quarantine will end, even among experts.

The biggest issue in answering this question is the lack of data. Medical researchers, epidemiologists, economists, and administrative officials are working feverishly to look at every angle of the coronavirus outbreak. How the COVID-19 virus spreads so rapidly, who is most vulnerable, and what criteria should be prioritized are all questions that will be examined as decisions are made to end stay-at-home orders.

Since the data and research is still in such a fluid state, expert opinions vary on the topic of how to begin to recover from this public health and economic disaster. In fact, those are the two specific considerations informing when and how we'll be able to return to some sense of normalcy. There are a couple camps hotly debating these questions: Do we safeguard everyone by ostensibly continuing a national lockdown, but throw the U.S. (and, likely global) economy into another great depression? Or do we seek to aggressively try to restart the economy, but potentially risk a resurgence of the deadly COVID-19 contagion?

Despite those disputes, the one thing many do agree on is that it's very unlikely that there will be a sudden "opening up" of businesses or a quick return to the way things were before this global pandemic started. The term most use is "the new normal," meaning the opening up of more businesses and ceasing of stay-at-home orders, but a continued following of effective guidelines that include social distancing and wearing masks or facial coverings.

President Donald Trump has described his role as a "cheerleader" for the nation in which he leads during this crisis, and he's kept a keen eye on the stock market. While he has ultimately listened to the advice of his science-based advisors, like Anthony Fauci, MD, and Deborah Birx, MD, his political rhetoric of late has verged more towards an eagerness to "open up the economy," as if by some presidential fiat.

But the White House has left the decisions in regards to stay-at-home orders to state governors. While there is no question that the president of the United States is the commander in chief, the authority to require businesses to close in a public health crisis is what is known as a "police power," and it is reserved for state officials, not the federal government, according to the U.S. Constitution.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo indirectly addressed this brewing controversy during his daily coronavirus press conference on Apr. 13. "When is it over? I have this conversation a hundred times a day," Cuomo said, before noting that a sudden end to this crisis won't be black and white. "It's not going to be we flip a switch and everybody comes out of their house and gets in their car and waves and hugs," he said. "There is going to be no epiphany. There is not going to be where the headline says 'Hallelujah, It Is Over.'"

Cuomo then explained that what is more likely to happen is the report of resolution and abatement of the coronavirus pandemic over time. In his esteem at least, Cuomo said New Yorkers have accomplished the first and most important goal of controlling COVID-19. "We are controlling the spread," he said. "You look at those numbers and you know what it says. We are controlling the spread."

In an interview with CNN's Poppy Harlow on Monday morning, Leana Wen, MD, the former Baltimore Health Commissioner, laid out specific metrics that we need to hit before "re-opening" can begin without risking public health. "We shouldn't be talking about a timeline as much as we should be talking about metrics and capabilities, including the number of tests that can be made widely available," she said. "The public health infrastructure needed to be able to identify individuals who test positive and trace their contacts, and the health care infrastructure overall to treat people and not be rationing resources all the time."

"So while there is hope and optimism, we should also be looking at what more needs to be done and what are the steps that we urgently have to take as a country in order to get there," Wen concluded.

What does that mean? It means that we will slowly be able to emerge from this dystopian world when we can continue the control and abatement of the COVID-19 contagion, and monitor its spread via nationwide testing and temperature taking.

So, the worst might be just behind us, but the return to movie-going and dinners out still seems to be some time away.

And for more coronavirus FAQs, check out 13 Common Coronavirus Questions—Answered by Experts.

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