New York City, as taken in Brooklyn by Jessica Bailey days before the pandemic sent the city into lockdown.

For those New Yorkers hoping and praying for a swift end to social distancing (and thus a reprieve from their tiny apartments), please stop reading right now.

A new study published by researchers at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health has found “intermittent distancing may be required into 2022 [in the US] unless critical care capacity is increased substantially or treatment or vaccine becomes available.”

The reason for this is rooted in the fear that once we relax restrictions, the virus could come roaring back. “Even in the event of apparent elimination, SARS-CoV-2 surveillance should be maintained since a resurgence in contagion could be possible as late as 2024,” the report says.

The timeline was determined based on “seasonality, immunity, and cross immunity” for two prior betacoronaviruses and project that “recurrent wintertime outbreaks of [COVID-19] will probably occur after the initial, most severe pandemic wave.”

Embedded in the idea that we need to understand that this pandemic isn’t about the next couple of months but rather its effect on the next couple of years, the Harvard team did note that what social distancing measures actually looked like over this period would require more research into the length of immunity needed. Some scientists have warned living with coronavirus will becomes the new seasonal normal.

The study also noted the “profoundly negative economic, social, and educational consequences” should social distancing be in place for this long. It is just one of many theories – but what would it life look like if proven true? In the UK, there has been talk of issuing immunity certificates. But as CNN noted, “Would they create a kind of two-tier society, where those who have them can return to a more normal life, while others remain locked down?”

It’s a strange world we’re living in. But heads down, we’ll get through it.