By Dr. Mallika Marshall

BOSTON (CBS) — More than half a million people in Massachusetts have been infected with COVID-19 and we have lost more than 14,000 lives. Our children have missed out on school time, small businesses have taken a huge hit, and families and friends have been kept apart.

What can we expect in the next three months? 

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As I peer into my crystal ball, let me just say that these predictions assume that all the stars align in terms of widespread vaccination, readily available testing, and public cooperation with mitigation efforts like mask-wearing and social distancing. In the next three months, I think we should expect much of the same of what we’re experiencing now. The push to get people vaccinated will continue to increase, and hopefully, new vaccines will come online like the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, to boost supply. But some forecasts predict that only about 38% of the US  population will be immune by May 1 with almost 600,000 deaths. And we have to keep an eye on those new variants which could spark a new surge in cases as restrictions are relaxed.

What about six months from now?

So we’re talking summer. I expect that vaccines will be widely available to anyone who wants one, and by the summer, we should have good data on how the vaccines perform in children, allowing many kids to get shots. And if cases continue to decline, which naturally tends to happen during warm summer months, we’ll see even more restrictions lifted. I see a return to outdoor dining, perhaps more indoor dining if people are vaccinated. I see fully vaccinated grandparents getting to see their grandkids again. Maybe not hugging them yet but certainly spending time with them. Hopefully, we’ll have new treatments for covid-19. In fact, there are a number of oral, injectable, and inhaled agents being studied to both treat and prevent infection.

Nine months from now?

I predict that all children will return to school in the fall, with or without masks, i’m not sure, but I anticipate life will feel more normal, in general. I envision family gatherings returning in time for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Grandparents being able to hug their grandchildren once again.

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Any predictions for 2022 and beyond?

I think, unfortunately, the virus is here to stay, meaning that we’re going to have to learn to live with it for years. But we’ll be able to keep it at bay through vaccines, treatments, and rapid testing.

Will we need an annual vaccine similar to the annual flu shot?

Maybe. I think it depends on how quickly we can end the pandemic because continued spread leads to continued replication and that leads to more mutations. And I think we may continue to wear masks from time to time if there are local or seasonal outbreaks. So, don’t throw away your reusable ones any time soon.

What if we don’t reach at least 70% of the population vaccinated in 2021?

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We’ll be wearing masks well into 2022 with some reopening but many activities perhaps only available to people who have been vaccinated.

Dr. Mallika Marshall