How will this end?

It’s the question everyone wants an answer to – but no one knows what the answer is. How will this end? Americans cannot remain holed up in their homes forever, but what circumstances will allow society to reopen safely, despite the coronavirus?

In a fascinating and provocative piece in The Boston Globe’s Ideas section on Saturday, Northeastern journalism professor Jeff Howe argues that the only way to eliminate the spread of COVID-19 is by developing herd immunity – achieving a threshold where enough of the population is immune to the virus that it can no longer spread significantly. Without a vaccine, which experts say is at least a year away, Howe says the only way to do that is through exposure.

“It’s easy to forget that if a disease can’t be contained — and it’s too late for that in the COVID-19 pandemic — then there’s only one possible ending to the story: We must collectively develop immunity to the disease,” Howe writes. “In lieu of a vaccine, that means most of us will need to be exposed to the virus, and some unknowably large number of us will die in the process.”

Howe cites research showing that the more successfully Americans “socially distance” now, the more likely the disease will spike later. He argues for “controlled exposure,” periods where some segment of the population – presumably those least at risk – resumes normal activities, alternating with periods of restrictions.

Todd Ellerin, director of infectious diseases at South Shore Hospital, speaking to CommonWealth for a story on the implications of COVID-19 immunity, made a similar observation — that social distancing is at odds with achieving herd immunity. “Social distancing flattens the curve but doesn’t break the chain of transmission,” Ellerin said. “What breaks the chain is immunity, and the way you get immune is you get infected.”

This doesn’t mean Massachusetts is wrong in pursuing social distancing, which is vital to ensure that the health care system does not get overwhelmed, as happened in Italy. “Flattening the curve,” or slowing the spread of disease, means hospitals have time to ramp up capacity, and researchers have more time to develop treatments and potentially a vaccine. Both those things can save lives.

But it remains an open question how society will reopen after social distancing, as long as the coronavirus persists. Some have suggested alternating periods of relaxing then resuming social restrictions. It is likely some industries will open before others – for example, construction work may resume before large concerts can be held. On Monday, several northeast governors, including Gov. Charlie Baker, announced that they have agreed to coordinate re-openings between states.

Baker, asked Monday about reopening Massachusetts, said a lot of work is being done around preconditions for a “soft opening.” “I don’t think anybody thinks you can just flip the switch at any point in the not-so-distant future given the surge is not the same everywhere,” Baker said.

Baker said the state will have to pass its peak of infections; there will need to be safety standards in place for things like social distancing; and the spread will have to be reduced to where one person is unlikely to infect more than one other person.

Baker said a big part of reaching that point will be having enough testing capability to know what percentage of the population has been infected. Baker participated in a call Monday with Vice President Mike Pence and other governors, which was all about testing. “The fundamental notion is we need to do a lot more testing because that’s a big part of surveillance if we’re going to get to the point where we can start thinking about how do we make people believe it’s safe to go back to work, safe to going back to doing the things they did before,” Baker said.

SHIRA SCHOENBERG


BEACON HILL

Massachusetts joins six other northeastern states in a post-pandemic economic compact. (WBUR)

A bill would give extra cash to welfare recipients.during the COVID-19 pandemic. (CommonWealth)

Beacon Hill lawmakers haven’t made much progress in passing a bill to lower the signature requirements for candidates seeking to get on the November ballot. (The Salem News)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Many municipalities are putting in place their own rules — like curfews and mask requirements. (MassLive). Gloucester, for example, is requiring people to wear a face-covering any time they enter a business. (Gloucester Daily Times)

Demand is soaring at Worcester area food pantries and meal programs. (Telegram & Gazette)

The state is directing services from its emergency management agency to hard-hit Chelsea. (Boston Herald)

A former Boston City Hall aide whom the feds unsuccessfully charged with extortion wants the government to pay his $500,000 legal bill. (Boston Herald)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

President Trump’s Monday coronavirus briefing turned into an even zanier spectacle than usual, featuring a campaign-style video he played, and the declaration, “Everything we did was right.” (Washington Post)

South Dakota has emerged as a COVID-19 hot spot after its freshman governor waved off calls to issue a stay-at-home order. (Washington Post)

LIVING WITH CORONAVIRUS

Is Massachusetts in the midst of the COVOID-19 surge? (CommonWealth)

Amazon is putting new grocery-delivery customers on a waitlist. (WGBH)

ELECTIONS

Joan Vennochi asks whether sexual assault allegations only matter when lodged against a Democrat. (Boston Globe)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

For some, unemployment benefits during the pandemic could pay more than working. (MassLive)

Seafood processing workers across SouthCoast are reporting overcrowding and poor sanitation procedures in plants and are demanding better protection against the spread of the coronavirus. (Standard-Times)

What recession? Fidelity Investments is hiring. (Boston Globe)

Cannabis Control Commissioner Kay Doyle will step down May 8. (MassLive)

EDUCATION

Area campuses are pondering the possibility of a fall without students there. (Boston Globe) Harvard University announces hiring and salary freezes. (Harvard Crimson)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Nursing home death watch: The head of a statewide association says one-third of residents likely to contract COVID-19 and 3 percent are likely to die. She calls for more testing, more PPE, and more state aid. (CommonWealth) Nationwide, nursing home deaths top 3,600, up from 450 just 10 days ago.(Associated Press)

A Berkshire Eagle editorial applauds Berkshire Medical Systems for withdrawing a policy that would have required nurses to use sick leave if they contract the COVID-19 virus.

Antibody testing could be key to a return to normalcy, but there are lots of unanswered questions about it. (Boston Globe) CommonWealth explored these issues last week.

ARTS/CULTURE

The Highland Street Foundation cast a lifeline that will ease the impact of COVID-19-related bans for the Whaling Museum of New Bedford and Battleship Cove. (Herald News)

Shutdowns are devastating the arts economy in the Berkshires. (Boston Globe)

TRANSPORTATION

MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board ponders extending the contract of commuter rail operator Keolis through 2024. (CommonWealth)

T notes: Feds ride to the rescue of the T’s fiscal 2020 budget, wiping out a deficit of $231 million and leaving plenty of funds left over for the coming year….Dedicated bus lane to Lechmere to start May 25 and is expected to save riders time…Capital spending to hit $1.5 billion. (CommonWealth)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

While a majority of the Dennis selectmen support a proposed ban on the sale of noncarbonated, nonflavored water in single-use plastic bottles, they will recommend that voters postpone action on it at the annual town meeting. (Cape Cod Times)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Department of Correction officials have announced a fourth death of an inmate at the Massachusetts Treatment Center, which occurred Sunday night. (The Enterprise)

Bennett Walsh, the suspended commissioner of the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, goes to court and blocks a bid to oust him. He claims he is being used as a scapegoat for a COVID-19 outbreak at the facility that has killed 32 vets. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson is posting on Facebook a list of criminal offenses connected to ICE detainees that a federal judge has ordered released, though the list doesn’t distinguish convictions from pending charges. (Boston Herald)

MEDIA

In an interview with the paper’s media reporter Ben Smith, New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet defends the handling of a Times story on the allegation that Joe Biden sexually assaulted an aide in 1993.

PASSINGS

David Cohen, who helped liberate a Nazi concentration camp, and his wife of 78 years Muriel Cohen, die together at 102 and 97. (MassLive)

Bernie Rubin, founder with his wife of the Bernie & Phyl’s furniture stores, died of complications from coronavirus at age 82 in Florida. (Boston Herald)