Coronavirus pandemic could last over 18 months, according to a federal plan

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The coronavirus pandemic could last over 18 months, according to a 100-page federal government response plan recently shared with The New York Times.

The next year and a half could include "multiple waves of illness," according to the document. "The spread and severity of COVID-19 will be difficult to forecast and characterize." 

What's more, increasing COVID-19 cases in the U.S. will mean more hospitalizations among at-risk people, which could strain the health care system, they wrote. The document, dated March 13, is marked as "unclassified" but "for Official Use Only," and "Not For Public Distribution or Release." 

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In the document, officials explore responses that the government could take in response to the outbreak, including steps already taken such as shutting down schools and invoking the Defense Production Act of 1950, a law dating back to the Korean War that authorizes action to force industry to increase production of crucial equipment and supplies.

On Wednesday (March 18), President Donald Trump announced he was invoking the Defense Production Act, and two days later said he had put it into effect, according to The Washington Post.

The plan also predicts that product shortages will occur "impacting health care, emergency services, and other elements of critical infrastructure." What's more, state and local governments, critical infrastructure and communication channels "will be stressed and potentially less reliable," the plan read. 

Another report published on Monday (March 16) by the Imperial College of London gave another grim forecast that pushed both the U.K. and the U.S. into action: Uncontrolled spread of the virus could cause up to 510,000 deaths in Britain and up to 2.2 million deaths in the U.S., according to The New York Times.

"Whilst our understanding of infectious diseases and their prevention is now very different compared to in 1918 [the year an H1N1 influenza called the Spanish flu caused a global pandemic], most of the countries across the world face the same challenge today with COVID-19, a virus with comparable lethality to H1N1 influenza in 1918," they wrote. To combat the current pandemic, the report focuses on two major strategies: "suppression," in which steps are taken to reduce the spread of the virus; and "mitigation," in which the final spread isn't decreased but it is slowed down.

Their results suggested that population-wide social distancing would have the largest impact, and in combination with other interventions, such as home isolation of people who have COVID-19 and school closures, has the potential to rapidly reduce spread, they wrote.

"To avoid a rebound in transmission, these policies will need to be maintained until large stocks of vaccine are available to immunize the population," which could be 18 months or more, according to the Imperial College of London report. 

Originally published on Live Science.

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Yasemin Saplakoglu
Staff Writer

Yasemin is a staff writer at Live Science, covering health, neuroscience and biology. Her work has appeared in Scientific American, Science and the San Jose Mercury News. She has a bachelor's degree in biomedical engineering from the University of Connecticut and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.