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The long haul

After nearly two months of lockdown, all eyes are on Gov. Charlie Baker and his plans for a phased reopening of businesses and institutions.

The closing of nonessential businesses and the stoic acceptance by Massachusetts residents of the governor’s social distancing orders have “flattened the curve” of total hospitalizations across the state and prevented a catastrophic breakdown in emergency care for those stricken with COVID-19. The number of new infections detected each day has been declining since the beginning of the month, but remains above 1,000. The number of deaths has also declined, though a new University of Massachusetts model predicts another 2,000 COVID-19 patients will die by June.

Despite this relatively hopeful news, though, it appears we’re in it for the long haul. With no preventive vaccine and no game-changing treatments for those who become infected, Massachusetts residents and workers are going to have to socially distance, wear face coverings, rigorously disinfect surfaces, and more, for weeks to come. If we’ve learned anything about the virus, we’ve learned that it is uncommonly contagious. Experts say that ignoring its lurking presence will lead to spikes in infection rates and even a return to current restrictions if such precautions are relaxed prematurely.

Is there any way to gracefully exit this lockdown that Harvard and other Massachusetts residents have endured seemingly forever? Maybe. Gov. Baker is about to propose one, a path to normalcy, but it seems unlikely that life in town or the state is going to be the same for a very long time. Until an effective vaccine is widely available, living any kind of  normal life will demand that we accept dramatic changes to the ways we interact—out of grudging respect for this seemingly inexorable disease and respect for the health of our neighbors. But accept them we must. Together.

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