1. One to two months. The experts think this is highly unlikely . . . but if, somehow, COVID-19 turns out to be NOT as serious as it seems to be, we could start getting back to normal in a few months.But even if things aren't back to normal in a few months, at least we'll have a better sense of whether people who get the virus develop an immunity and how long it could last . . . which will give us a clearer picture on the actual timeline.
2. Three to four months. This scenario could happen if we learn that lots of people have gotten the virus, worked through it with minor symptoms, and developed immunity. Then we can isolate clusters or at-risk people as others get back to normal. This scenario will require the U.S. getting up to speed on testing and, possibly, scientists quickly developing a treatment that can help ease symptoms and maybe even prevent some deaths from the virus.
3. Four to 12 months. This scenario is entirely dependent on whether the warm weather in the summer will slow down COVID-19 like it slows down the flu. If so, big crowds are probably still out of the question, but smaller groups might be okay. We would probably need another round of social distancing in the fall, depending on how widespread testing and a vaccine are coming along.
4. 12 to 18 months . . . or longer. It would be, quote, "world record, lightning speed" if a vaccine is ready before next spring . . . and once it's ready, it needs to be produced and administered to 350 million people.
And if there's no vaccine, then life wouldn't really go back to "normal" until we hit a population-level immunity.