As a matter of epidemiology, there’s no clear-cut criterion that determines a pandemic to be over. “You can’t sign a treaty with a virus, so we have to settle for a kind of cease-fire,” says Stephen Morse, an epidemiologist at Columbia University. One intuitive endpoint is full-on eradication, meaning that the coronavirus no longer circulates in humans or animals, but that outcome is quite unlikely, in part because of how easily the virus could continue to reach still-susceptible groups of people.
The way people process the end of the pandemic could have to do with how abruptly their life changes after it. One theory for how people mentally perceive transitions from one event to another is that they notice when their expectations of what will happen next start to get upended “like the disorientation you feel when a movie abruptly shifts to a new setting” says Lance Rips, a psychology professor at Northwestern University.
Most theorists believe that the pandemic will “fade” and eventually we will notice it is totally gone. There won’t be a “pandemic light switch” that is flipped, and everything goes back to “normal.” Some theorists believe it could be 2022 before we enjoy life somewhat as we knew it pre-pandemic.
We can’t change what is happening, but we can stay the course, stay strong, stay well, mask up, and stay tuned!