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President Trump has upped his 15-day period for social distancing through the end of April. But ultimately, officials can’t place an exact date on how long social distancing practices put in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus will be necessary.
Social distancing will remain necessary until the virus has passed its peak and there are no new cases or deaths, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, an infectious disease expert on the White House coronavirus task force. Then it will be possible to "relax" those practices, he said.
Developing a vaccine will be a “game-changer," Fauci said during a news conference with the president Wednesday.
“The ultimate solution to a virus that might keep coming back would be a vaccine,” he said.
Researchers have warned that the virus can be spread by seemingly healthy people showing no symptoms. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned about carriers without symptoms spreading the disease and highlighted the importance of social distancing.
Those efforts to develop a vaccine are “on target,” Fauci said, but it could still be a year or 18 months away. Fauci didn’t dismiss the possibility of the coronavirus returning for another season, but said that the hope is that the health care system will be better prepared with tests to quickly identify and isolate people who are infected with the virus.
Dr. Deborah Birx, also an infectious disease expert working on the task force, said she has been in talks with university scientists who are working to develop simple tests for rapid use in order to better protect health care workers.
“We have the most brilliant scientists in the world,” she said.
In the meantime, the virus has killed more than 4,600 people in the United States. There were more than 209,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the the United States as of Wednesday evening. On Tuesday, the White House task force said models have projected that the pandemic could kill between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans.
President Trump, who had previously compared the virus to the annual flu season, said that the “severity” of the pandemic had caused him to speak about it more seriously.
“It’s going to be vicious over a period of time,” he said.