In the first installment of a new series “Coronavirus: The Path Forward,” we offer a month-by-month forecast of some key moments in our likely future.

By LISA M. KRIEGER | lkrieger@bayareanewsgroup.com | Bay Area News Group

A promising vaccine, with more to come. Improved tests. Better therapies. A new president with a more vigorous federal strategy and fierce commitment to behaviors that are proven to work: Masks, distancing and small outdoor-only gatherings.

Even in this dark moment, as coronavirus cases surge to even more alarming levels and new lockdowns are imposed, there is a path forward to guide us out of this pandemic, experts say.

What will life look like over the next year? Today, in the first installment of a new series “Coronavirus: The Path Forward,” we offer a month-by-month forecast of some key moments in our likely future, based on research, interviews and some educated guessing. Some are small and personal; others are grand and transformative. To be sure, the details may change, and surprise us. But this road map offers a guide for how we’ll navigate this pandemic — and eventually bounce back.

NOVEMBER

We approach our 250,000th American death. That’s the equivalent of 500 747s crashing on U.S. soil. What’s the big picture? UC Berkeley demographers demographers Ronald Lee and Joshua Goldstein say the virus will shorten this country’s average lifespan in 2020 by about a year. That’s because older people, with fewer remaining years of life, represent the most fatalities, according to their research. But without interventions, they say, we could have lost five years.

Small is beautiful. In anticipation of more intimate Thanksgiving holidays, sales of tiny turkeys and boneless breasts are up, while large 25-pounders sit unsold. Experts urge us to gather together in familiar “pods,” ideally distanced and outdoors, bundled up.

Several major retailers have changed their Black Friday plans to prevent chaos and congestion. Stores like Target, Best Buy, Walmart and Macy’s are instead offering multi-day online discounts. They report huge demand for hot tubs, fire pits and patio heaters.

Expect more good vaccine data. On the heels of Pfizer’s thrilling news earlier this month of a vaccine on the way with 90% efficacy, Moderna will soon announce its own data. Because the companies use the same approach, there’s optimism.

“Either one or two vaccines are likely to be approved for emergency use by the end of this year,” said Sutter Health’s Dr. Jeffrey Silvers at a recent Bay Area Council event.

DECEMBER

The vaccine arrives. But distribution is daunting, because both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require cold storage. The Pfizer vaccine must be stored at minus-94 degrees Fahrenheit; the Moderna vaccine needs minus-4 degrees Fahrenheit.

And there won’t be enough: Combined, the two manufacturers may produce a global supply of 70 million doses by January. If allocation is based on population, that means that fewer than 200,000 Californians might receive the two-dose regimen by the end of the year. Who’s first in line? The National Academy of Medicine recommends “frontline” health workers, then older adults living in nursing homes and people with significant illnesses that put them at high risk of illness or death.

Ski resorts re-open. But they will look different, with more face masks, fewer hot toddies and long spaced-out lift lines. Reservations are recommended, because ticket sales will be capped. The opening date for Kirkwood is Dec. 6; Heavenly, Northstar, Sugar Bowl and Squaw Valley-Alpine Meadows and Big Bear Mountain in Southern California are aiming for late November.

Spirituality is adapting, also. Monterey’s 229-year-old San Carlos Cathedral is inviting people to bring their own chairs to Christmas Eve mass in a large adjacent courtyard. San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral is planning digital holiday services – including a sing-along-at-home evening of favorite holiday carols.

JANUARY

Hospitals are braced for a post-holiday spike in cases. But then: Let’s be done with 2020. All over the U.S., people are skipping New Year’s Eve celebrations. Even NYC’s Times Square will be largely virtual. While the iconic ball will drop, barricades are banning crowds.

What else? Pull up a chair. This is a big month. Let’s start with education.

“We will see schools reopen at all levels after the winter break unless resurgence becomes more serious,” said Troy Flint of the California School Boards Association. “But we’ll see a range of different decisions, based on the community. I would not be surprised if some schools do not come back for the entire year.”

At universities, it’s a mixed picture. Some campuses will try to bring students on campus. Stanford freshmen and sophomores arrive on Jan. 11, if conditions allow. Santa Clara University also will offer some in-person undergraduate classes and limited-capacity on-campus housing. The University of Southern California is adopting a “low-density plan” for bringing students.  At UC Berkeley, the first two weeks will be fully remote but limited in-person instruction will start in February. In contrast, most CSU and community colleges will remain largely online this spring. And many students who lived on campus and studied online in the fall may opt to stay home after the winter holidays, preferring to study there rather than a restrictive dorm.

The month wraps up with the presidential inauguration Jan. 20. How will things change under a President Biden? He’s vowed to push every state governor to implement a mask mandate and has pledged $25 billion in federal funding for vaccines. Also promised: a 100,000-person “contact tracing corps,” a doubling in the number of drive-through test sites and use of the Defense Production Act to replenish depleted stocks of PPEs.

FEBRUARY

It’s been one year since the virus began to spread in the U.S. — and now scientists are tracking its every move. More than 100,000 different genetic sequences have been logged in UC Santa Cruz’s Genome Browser, allowing researchers to find new mutations, link cases and detect transmission patterns, according to David Haussler, director of the UCSC Genomics Institute and professor of biomolecular engineering.

There will be a Super Bowl on Feb. 7, but getting a ticket to one of sports’ most sought-after events should be much harder. The NFL says it might reduce seating at Tampa’s stadium to 20% of capacity.

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