Much has been said about the way COVID-19 has changed lives, but University of California, Berkeley professors are now looking forward and trying to predict how the pandemic will impact the future.
Dr. Lee Riley sees four possible scenarios.
The first one is a situation where the different variants continue to spread and keep the pandemic going.
"It’s a race between how quickly we can vaccinate as many people as we can versus how quickly these variants can spread," Riley said.
In his second scenario, COVID-19 becomes a seasonal epidemic like the flu. If that happens, people will need to get vaccinated every year.
"That seems to work with influenza, so we’ll see what happens with this COVID-19 virus," Riley said.
Then there's the possibility that the COVID-19 virus dramatically weakens to become like the common cold. But that scenario would take a very long time, Riley said.
"Some people say that the common cold coronavirus probably entered the human population from cows maybe 200 years ago," Riley said. "That’s a long time. So, it took a long time for this virus, if at the time when it first entered the human population it behaved like the COVID-19 virus."
Finally, the best, most optimistic case would be what Riley said happened with the SARS virus in 2003.
"This virus started, again, in southern China, in Hong Kong, and it spread all over the world, but after six months, it just disappeared," Riley said.
Riley said what happens with the variants, virus and vaccines will ultimately determine which scenario happens.
He stressed that, no matter what, it's still critically important to wear masks and social distance until more people get vaccinated.