The COVID-19 lockdowns may start to phase out fairly soon, but some events will need to stay closed for quite some time. According to a panel of five public health experts assembled by The New York Times over the weekend, huge events like concerts, industry conferences, and sporting events with packed stadiums need to stay closed until the fall of 2021.

Step by step

Zeke Emanuel, director of the Healthcare Transformation Institute at the University of Pennsylvania, said the economy needs to be restarted in stages. Less-crowded gatherings such as office work in cubicles can be relaunched fairly quickly, but the same isn't true for more crowded events.

"Larger gatherings -- conferences, concerts, sporting events -- when people say they're going to reschedule this conference or graduation event for October 2020, I have no idea how they think that's a plausible possibility," Emanuel said. "Realistically we're talking fall 2021 at the earliest."

Photo of a theater marquee showing 3 ways to stay safe in the coronavirus era: Social distance, wash hands, clean surfaces.

Image source: Getty Images.

The schedule will depend on the disease's progress but also on how quickly the world can produce fast and accurate COVID-19 testing kits. We will probably see a few false starts in the meantime, where certain events open up to public attendance too quickly, sparking another wave of rapidly spreading infections. Finding the right balance will be a procedure of trial and error, and it will take more than a year to restart your local mass-audience events.

Emanuel's estimate is bad news for a plethora of businesses, starting with Ticketmaster parent Live Nation (NYSE:LYV). No concerts for 18 months will leave the company fighting for its corporate life. Broadcasters like NBC owner Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) and ESPN parent Walt Disney (NYSE:DIS) will also suffer, and these companies also operate major theme parks Universal Studios and Disney World, respectively, which also should open later.