Big unknowns about virus complicate getting back to normal

A man wears a protective mask while waiting for a bus in Detroit, Wednesday, April 8, 2020. As of mid April 2020, it's not yet clear how often people can spread the COVID-19 coronavirus without showing symptoms. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
A man wears a protective mask while waiting for a bus in Detroit, Wednesday, April 8, 2020. As of mid April 2020, it's not yet clear how often people can spread the COVID-19 coronavirus without showing symptoms. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

WASHINGTON – Reopening the U.S. economy is complicated by some troubling scientific questions about the new coronavirus that go beyond the logistics of whether enough tests are available.

In an ideal world, we’d get vaccinated and then get back to normal. But, despite unprecedented efforts, no vaccine will be ready any time soon.

“We're all going to be wearing masks for a while,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, infectious diseases chief at Massachusetts General Hospital, predicted during a podcast with the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Three big unknowns top the worry list:

WHO’S CONTAGIOUS?

“The really unknown in this, to be completely transparent,” is asymptomatic spread, said Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus task force coordinator.

From the beginning, authorities have rightly told people to stay home if they’re sick. But according to Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health, somewhere between 25% and half of infected people might not show symptoms.

That means there’s no way to tell if you’re standing next to someone who’s contagious in the checkout line.