More cases of COVID-19 are likely to be identified in the United States and around the world in coming days. While some still think this is just another unfounded scare, things are likely to get considerably worse and last far longer than most expect.
A lot of what follows is little more than educated speculation; best guesses based on initial evidence of a disease that is new to mankind.
Like the population of the Americas when viral diseases such as smallpox, measles and the flu first landed on these shores in 1492, they had no immunity, no knowledge of the diseases. They had no way to prepare and the results were devastating.
Estimates say 90-percent of those populations, around 55-million people, died. Those who survived were so weakened as societies they are still trying to recover.
CDC expects that widespread transmission of COVID-19 in the United States will occur. In the coming months, scientists say, most of the U.S. population will be exposed to this virus.
Likewise in populations around the world.
Widespread transmission of COVID-19 could translate into large numbers of people needing medical care at the same time. The people we rely on to cope will themselves become ill. Many will die.
Public health and healthcare systems may become overloaded with elevated rates of hospitalizations and deaths.
Other critical infrastructure, such as law enforcement, emergency medical services and sectors of the transportation industry may also be affected.
Healthcare providers and hospitals may be overwhelmed.
At this time, there is no vaccine to protect against COVID-19 and no medications approved to treat it. Non-pharmaceutical intervention, social distancing, hand washing, etc., is the most important response strategy to try to delay the spread of the virus and reduce the impact of disease.
COVID-19 cases could increase exponentially over the next few weeks, causing a sharp decrease in healthcare and emergency workers available to cope with the crisis as they fight infection. Over time, those who recover, now mostly immune to novel coronavirus, will be able to return to work to help others through the crisis.
Many of the essential goods we rely on could get scarce or unavailable, many of the services we rely on could break down as more and more fall ill.
Because it's new and no one is immune to it yet, the only effective remedy is social distancing; staying far away enough from each other that the virus can't travel from human to human. But social distancing isn't fool-proof, as this is a hearty bug; it can remain infective in the air and on surfaces for a considerable length of time.
Instead of a quick battle, many experts predict that we are in for a long seige, as it will take an estimated year to 18 months to develop an effective vaccine.
By then, most of hummanity will likely become infected. Those who survive will develop a measure of immunity.
As people recover in greater numbers, they will be able to return to work and care for those still fighting the infection without fear, but it will be weeks yet before enough are immune to be able to bring significant help.
Some say a complete shutdown; everybody staying home and those diagnosed with COVID-19 isolated in quarantine would halt the spread of novel coronavirus in about a month, tough but doable. But most experts now disagree.
Even if we were able to stop transmission entirely on Monday, for four weeks — if every person in every country in the world simultaneously isolated themselves until April 20 — it still wouldn't be enough to stop the virus.
People who caught the virus yesterday would still be infectious by the time the shutdown lifted, and the virus is transmittable even without symptoms.
By all known about the virus at this point, this is a pandemic that will be around for awhile, that will bring many significant and lasting changes to all our lives.
Let us hope that the majority of us are able to cling to our better natures, that the helpers don't stop helping and that we continue to see ourselves as neighbors, not adversaries.