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How long until social distancing and the coronavirus outbreak end?

We are only a couple weeks into social distancing, self-quarantining, and trying to flatten the curve, and people are already antsy to get back to normal life. With a COVID-19 vaccine still over a year out, enough people – 60 to 80 percent – will need to catch the virus to slow its spread. But the costs, both human and otherwise, will be devastating. Plus, learn the English phrase “stuck with.”

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  • How long is this going to last?

    Hi everyone, I’m Jeff and thanks for joining us for Plain English lesson 249. JR is the producer. Remember that you can find this full lesson at PlainEnglish.com/249.

    Coming up today: we’re just a couple of weeks in, and a lot of people are starting to wonder, just how long is this going to last? When can we expect things to get back to normal? In the second half of today’s audio lesson, we’ll talk about what it means to be “stuck with” an option. And in the video lesson, we talk about how to use the word “given” when you have unchanging options. How to use “given” when something is unchangeable. That’s in the video lesson at PlainEnglish.com/249.


    How long will social distancing be necessary?

    The social distancing and self-quarantining have spread from China to large parts of Europe, North America, then South America, and now southeast Asia. The virus has infected people in 190 countries. It has overwhelmed the health systems of Italy and Spain. It has caused shops to close, restaurant workers to lose their tips, office workers to work from home, trains to run empty, and school classrooms to move online. It has caused physical symptoms for hundreds of thousands of people and of course it has caused a grave loss of life. When, you might be asking, is this going to end?

    The answer is easy and difficult at the same time. The easy answer is that this will end when a large portion of the population has immunity. Once between sixty and eighty percent of a population has immunity to a disease, then it stops spreading quickly: that situation is called “herd immunity.” It will still infect new people, but its spread will be slow and its symptoms manageable. We will all be able to go back to work and school.

    The problem is getting to that sixty to eighty percent immunity level. There are only two ways to get there: either we all catch it or we get a vaccine. Neither option is an easy answer.

    Let’s start with the vaccine. As we mentioned back in Lesson 230, the process of developing a vaccine is a long one. Optimistic estimates are a year. A proper vaccine needs to be developed, then tested for safety, then tested on large populations for effectiveness. This is all not to mention the enormous challenge of manufacturing enough doses of the vaccine and then distributing them to the population. It could take a year to develop the vaccine, and then many more months to manufacture and distribute it.

    In the absence of a vaccine, what’s left? The other, grim option is to let the virus run its course through the population. When most people catch the virus, their bodies develop antibodies that fight it. They get sick the first time, but the antibodies will protect them if they ever encounter it again. It’s not a fun way to develop immunity, but it works. Ask anyone who had the chicken pox as a child: it works similarly.

    Immunity like this would come at a tremendous human cost. Even if only a small percentage of people die after catching the virus, that still means millions of people would have to die for the world to develop herd immunity.

    Given those two choices, a vaccine would be preferable. But in the meantime, we’re stuck with the second option: developing herd immunity. The question now is, how can we make this as painless as possible. Current efforts at social distancing are an effort to “flatten the curve.” That is an acknowledgement that a lot of people will still get the virus, but it will move through the population more slowly and allow hospitals to cope more easily with the volume of patients getting sick at any one time.

    The downside to social distancing is that, well, the virus spreads more slowly and we develop our immunity more slowly. So we have to live in this altered universe for longer.

    Let’s go back to the question I opened the lesson with: when is this going to end? It is possible that, as the virus moves through a greater and greater percentage of the population, and as testing becomes more available, that governments will gradually be able to loosen the controls on daily life.

    A person who has had the virus will, for the most part, not be able to catch it again and spread it. So if you suffered through the symptoms and recovered, you’re not going to spread it to a lot of other people. Who knows—you may have had the virus and not even known it. Governments may decide that they can relax social distancing rules for people who have developed immunity to the virus.

    We also don’t know how the virus affects different types of people. The simple fact is, all the statistics on this virus are flawed because so few tests have been administered. Large-scale testing would tell us, how many people have developed immunity in a population? Out of those people, how many suffered symptoms? With knowledge like that, selective relaxation of social distancing and quarantine guidelines might be in order.

    Maybe we get restaurants, but only with room to sit down at tables spaced apart. Maybe offices re-open but only at fifty percent capacity, and no more sharing desks. Maybe sports leagues start up again, but without large crowds.

    When is this going to happen? Probably not soon. It all depends on how quickly large-scale testing can happen, how sensibly governments respond, and how quickly a vaccine might be developed. When this first started, it seemed like the quarantine and social distancing might last a few months. Now, it’s starting to look like some degree of social distancing is going to be here for quite some time.


    Here’s a quick reminder that we’re going to be doing live events on Zoom to support you during these times of social distancing. If you’d like to be a part of those, you should do two things. First, make sure to get on our email list at PlainEnglish.com/mail. Any time we post a new event, we’ll tell those of you on the e-mail list first. And we’ll be having events that are only open to e-mail subscribers. Those are the targeted country events.

    If you’d like the browse the larger events we have scheduled, you can do so on the web site. We set up a special page on PlainEnglish.com just to showcase these events. Go to PlainEnglish.com/live for the latest schedule and to register. Registration is free. JR and I would love to see you by video call, so check out the schedule at PlainEnglish.com/live.

    Stuck with

    Today’s expression is to be “stuck with” something. When you’re “stuck with” something, you have to live with it. You don’t have any choice, and it’s usually something unpleasant. The world broadly has two choices when it comes to recovering from coronavirus: either we develop a vaccine, or we develop herd immunity, where we let the virus pass through the population and eventually sixty to eighty percent of us have gotten it.

    Scientists are working around the clock to develop a vaccine. But there just isn’t one available yet, and we don’t know when it will be. Maybe it will be available in a year. Maybe it will be longer. For now, though, we’re stuck with the other option: developing herd immunity. That’s not a good option. For one thing, it means a lot of people are going to get sick and die from this disease. For another, it means social distancing is going to continue for a long time, in one form or another. It’s not a good option, but we’re stuck with it. We don’t have any other choice: at least, not while a vaccine is still under development.

    In my business, I conduct a lot of face-to-face meetings. But as you might expect, that’s not very possible these days. So I’m stuck with Zoom and Skype. I don’t really have a choice. I have to use those tools instead of meeting face to face. I’m stuck with Zoom and Skype for now.

    Here’s another good one. I’m spending a lot more time at home lately and I’m starting to realize that my apartment gets really cold during the day, especially my living room, which has a lot of windows. It’s because there’s cold air coming in the windows. These are older, lower-quality windows that unfortunately let the cold air in. The problem is, replacing the windows is a big project. That is what’s needed, but it’s going to cost a lot of money. I need to save up for this for a while—it’s going to be another year or two before I’ll be able to replace them. For now, I’m stuck with these old windows. I tried putting this clear plastic over them to keep out the cold. That’s not really working. But I’m stuck with these windows for the next couple of years.

    Have you ever paid for something in advance, only to find that you don’t quite like it as much after a little while, but you can’t really change? I bought a printer that worked with my computer at the time. But then I got a new computer, and the printer doesn’t work with the new one—don’t ask me why. But now I’m stuck with this printer that doesn’t work on my new computer. I have to live with a printer that I can only use from my iPad. So if I want to print something, I save it to Dropbox, open it on my iPad, and then print it from there. It’s not ideal. I’m stuck with a printer that doesn’t work with my new computer.

    This is a case where, yes, I do have a choice. I could buy another printer. That is an option. But it’s an unappealing option because the printer is pretty new. I don’t want to be buying yet another brand new printer. When I say I’m stuck with the one I have, I meant that I’m going to suffer through this situation because replacing it isn’t a good option either.

    JR’s song of the week

    The song of the week, selected by JR, is “July” by Noah Cyrus. She is the younger sister of Miley Cyrus, but has a much different style. She has much more of a singer-songwriter style, just her and her guitar in this song. She’s just 20 years old, too, and sounds great in this song. JR’s song of the week is “July” by Noah Cyrus.


    That’s all for today’s lesson. Thanks for joining us. Again, I do sincerely hope you are staying safe. Take care of your kids, look after the older people in your life. These are unsettling times indeed. And if you can’t be face-to-face with the people in your life, make sure to pick up the phone—and not just to text—pick up the phone or schedule a video call.

    And on a lighter note, remember that you can also make new connections and take advantage of the live video calls we’re starting at PlainEnglish.com/live.

  • Note to listeners: The interactive transcripts are now part of our Plain English Plus+ membership. Not ready to join Plus+ just yet? You can access only the interactive translations with a membership to Plain English Lite. If you’re curious what the transcripts look like, see a sample episode here. Already a member? Log in now.

  • Note to listeners: The interactive transcripts are now part of our Plain English Plus+ membership. Not ready to join Plus+ just yet? You can access only the interactive translations with a membership to Plain English Lite. If you’re curious what the transcripts look like, see a sample episode here. Already a member? Log in now.

  • Note to listeners: The interactive transcripts are now part of our Plain English Plus+ membership. Not ready to join Plus+ just yet? You can access only the interactive translations with a membership to Plain English Lite. If you’re curious what the transcripts look like, see a sample episode here. Already a member? Log in now.

  • Note to listeners: The interactive transcripts are now part of our Plain English Plus+ membership. Not ready to join Plus+ just yet? You can access only the interactive translations with a membership to Plain English Lite. If you’re curious what the transcripts look like, see a sample episode here. Already a member? Log in now.

  • Note to listeners: The interactive transcripts are now part of our Plain English Plus+ membership. Not ready to join Plus+ just yet? You can access only the interactive translations with a membership to Plain English Lite. If you’re curious what the transcripts look like, see a sample episode here. Already a member? Log in now.

  • Note to listeners: The interactive transcripts are now part of our Plain English Plus+ membership. Not ready to join Plus+ just yet? You can access only the interactive translations with a membership to Plain English Lite. If you’re curious what the transcripts look like, see a sample episode here. Already a member? Log in now.

  • Note to listeners: The interactive transcripts are now part of our Plain English Plus+ membership. Not ready to join Plus+ just yet? You can access only the interactive translations with a membership to Plain English Lite. If you’re curious what the transcripts look like, see a sample episode here. Already a member? Log in now.

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lnbaratieri

Excellent text. I loved it. Congratulations.