A return to ‘normal’: How long will the pandemic last?

American consumers are crowding back into stores, restaurants and other places of business as states ease pandemic-related restrictions that strangled the economy for months. But a full return to normal isn’t likely to happen until November 2021, according to Ezekiel (Zeke) Emanuel, vice provost for global initiatives and chair of the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy and Wharton professor of health care management.

Posted sign partially obscured by window bars that reads: Our store will be closed from 3/27 to…care and stay healthy.

“That’s your date,” Emanuel says. “I’m generally a very optimistic guy, and I’m being realistic here.”

Until then, he says, corporate employees should continue to work from home as much as possible, because enclosed spaces and prolonged exposure to other people increase the likelihood of transmission. In the case of frontline workers and others who cannot work remotely, including employees at retail stores, a detailed protocol should be implemented to protect both workers and customers – such as mandatory masks, plexiglass dividers, and regular sanitizing of hands and surfaces.

Emanuel, who has advocated for a safe reopening of the economy, says strict adherence to non-pharmacological interventions work better than haphazard compliance with them, and it has been challenging to get everyone to comply. In fact, states like Arizona, Florida and Texas have seen infections skyrocket since they relaxed lockdown measures.

“I think it’s almost inevitable we’re going to have a second wave that pops up in October or November [of this year], when we’re all going inside. That worries me a lot,” he says. “Adhering to strict measures doesn’t seem possible in the U.S.”

Read more at Knowledge@Wharton.