BETHLEHEM, Pa. - Countless questions remain during this pandemic. How long will we have to stay home? And how will officials determine when it's safe to go back to our normal lives?

WFMZ's Josh Rultenberg took those questions and more to a local expert​.

"Epidemics develop over time and it can either go quickly or slowly," says Dr. Halcyon Skinner.

Dr. Skinner is the Associate Dean for Research at Lehigh University's College of Health. He has a PhD in epidemiology from Johns Hopkins University and has been working in the field for 25 years.

He says determining how long we will have to stay off the streets depends on the number of new cases that pop up each day.

"It's going up by about 35% every day. At some point, that should level off," Skinner says.

Health officials say a publicly available COVID-19 vaccine is a year off. So is it true that in the meantime, all we can do is stay in?

"Until a vaccine is available, that's really the only option we have," says Skinner. "Right now, we're buying time that will allow us to get personal protective equipment out to hospitals to replenish stocks of necessary equipment and supplies that will allow us to pursue clinical trials of potential treatment options."

But until then, are we fighting the disease or postponing the inevitable? Dr. Skinner says it's both.

"The fewer people that are sick at the same time really the better off we're gonna be in terms of taking care of folks and maintaining some level of function in our economy and our society," says Skinner.

New York has the most cases in the U.S. Governor Andrew Cuomo has brought up the idea of the most at-risk staying quarantined while everyone else continues with everyday life. Dr. Skinner says he's not a big fan of the idea.

"I would be very concerned that the healthcare providers that would be interacting with folks that are at high-risk would be a potential route of transmission into an isolated environment like that," Skinner says.

What if we stop social distancing before a vaccine comes out? Could the virus rebound?

"If there were still active cases in the population then they could become infected and could see a rebound in a number of cases," says Skinner.

For now, Dr. Skinner says the federal government is stalling for time.

"We're also allowing ourselves the opportunity to not become sick," Skinner says.

Health officials say we have seen people infected with COVID-19 recover from the virus. However, could they become sick again? Dr. Skinner says not likely because recovering would mean your body has what it takes to fight off the virus.

"What we don't really know right now is what the timetable is for that recovery and immune response. It's potentially true that you could be recovered of symptoms and still be shedding virus that could cause infection of somebody else," says Skinner.

For now, it is recommended that anyone who feels sick should self-quarantine for two weeks, because Dr. Skinner says that is what doctors have seen with patients so far. He also admits the virus has mutated since it was first discovered in China.

"But none of those have been linked to any clinical consequences," he says. "There hasn't been any indication that the virus is changing in a way that would influence its infectivity or severity."

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