It’s been over a year since my office shut down. Over a year since I went to a bar, a fitness class, a movie theater, a concert, a Knicks game, or to the many other public events that were once centerpieces of my social life.

But there’s finally, finally a finish line in sight. There are three safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines authorized and available in the US — and at least 90 percent of all adults will be eligible to receive one by April 19th. If our current vaccination pace continues, 75 percent of adults will have at least one dose by early summer. Reader, I am dying to get back to my favorite activities, and I can tell that people around me are, too.

But according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, vaccinated people aren’t out of the woods yet. The agency’s current guidelines still severely limit some activities that are a big part of many people’s “normal” and some people’s livelihoods: theaters, concerts, bars, sporting events, and the like.

Now, I know concerts aren’t more important than public health, and I’m happy to follow expert advice for as long as needed to stop the spread of COVID-19. But that hasn’t stopped me from wondering “when?” When can our pre-pandemic lives resume, without distancing, capacity limits, quarantines, and other restrictions? When can I go clubbing again?

Lately, there’s been a lot of great writing about what vaccinated people should and shouldn’t do right now. But that didn’t help me get a clear picture of what the future might hold. So I spoke to seven experts, who have all been involved in studying or treating COVID-19, about a slightly different question. I asked them: What signs are we waiting for? When will we know that we can get back to “normal”?

Those are difficult questions to answer because there are a lot of uncertain variables, and the situation is changing rapidly. The US is averaging over 3 million doses per day, and some states are already dropping their pandemic restrictions — but COVID-19 cases are still on the rise, and officials are worried about an upcoming surge. To understand what our “normality” goalposts are, it’s important to first understand what those unknowns are and why the CDC is asking people to keep being patient after they get their shot.

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