The Imperial College COVID-19 Response Team has released a report modeling the possible outcomes in terms of how bad and when the COVID-19 outbreak will hit. For me, this is the key point (boldface mine):
Given that mitigation is unlikely to be a viable option without overwhelming healthcare systems, suppression is likely necessary in countries able to implement the intensive controls required. Our projections show that to be able to reduce R to close to 1 or below, a combination of case isolation, social distancing of the entire population and either household quarantine or school and university closure are required (Figure 3, Table 4). Measures are assumed to be in place for a 5-month duration. Not accounting for the potential adverse effect on ICU capacity due to absenteeism, school and university closure is predicted to be more effective in achieving suppression [than] household quarantine. All four interventions combined are predicted to have the largest effect on transmission (Table 4). Such an intensive policy is predicted to result in a reduction in critical care requirements from a peak approximately 3 weeks after the interventions are introduced and a decline thereafter while the intervention policies remain in place. While there are many uncertainties in policy effectiveness, such a combined strategy is the most likely one to ensure that critical care bed requirements would remain within surge capacity.
The way we live now is going to go on for months. The alternative scenario they model is ‘adaptive’, which is cycling between relaxation and tightening of restrictions. That keeps things under control. Either way, it’s going to be a long year. And we need a vaccine, and, if barring that, then a good prophylactic treatment.