People wear face masks as they wait to cross a street in Montreal, Saturday, March 27, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

People wear face masks as they wait to cross a street in Montreal, Saturday, March 27, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

Path out of pandemic isn’t straightforward, but hope lies ahead: experts

Many epidemiologists believe COVID-19 will become a manageable respiratory infection like the flu

There is a light at the end of the tunnel, COVID-19 experts say, even if it’s hard to see it while more contagious virus variants plunge parts of Canada into the third wave of the pandemic.

And while the route to a post-pandemic world may not be as linear as some may like, there’s still reason for optimism, said Dr. Zain Chagla, medical director of infection control at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton.

“There’s an end goal, there’s a solution, there’s a way we get back to normal without necessarily walloping our health-care system,” he said.

That solution is vaccination, he said, and it’s worth getting excited about despite the the slow pace of the immunization campaign, which has been blamed on supply shortages.

The vaccines likely won’t get rid of COVID-19 entirely, Chagla said, but the death rate is falling, as is the number of people who have become seriously ill, though case counts are rising.

“I think we’re probably going to see this start drying out in the community,” he said. “I don’t think the vaccines are ever gonna eradicate it off the face of the Earth. They’re just gonna make this much more manageable with our day to day lives.”

Many epidemiologists believe COVID-19 will become a manageable respiratory infection like the flu, posing a small threat but largely manageable through vaccination.

It can be hard to know exactly when a pandemic has ended, said Heather MacDougall, a professor of the history of public health at the University of Waterloo.

“Most pandemics, there’s no formal moment when the World Health Organization says it’s over,” she said, noting that instead, regional officials are the ones to make that call, traditionally looking for two incubation cycles with no new infections.

But she said once we get to that point, there’s still much work to be done.

The period following pandemics past typically spurred some form of action, she said.

After the SARS outbreak, there were numerous reports that shed light on the shortcomings of the government’s response, and following the Spanish Flu in 1918 and 1919, the organizations that would become the Public Health Agency of Canada and Public Health Ontario were both founded.

“It’s likely that there will be, again, a similar series of inquiries at provincial and federal levels to examine what went right and what was less successful,” MacDougall said. “And it will be from those that we see whether there is going to be a paradigm shift and major institutional modification and renewal.”

She said it will be up to members of the public to pressure the government to act.

“When governments are looking for areas to cut, and programs to disband, they tend to look for groups like (public health agencies), because normally there isn’t much in the way of public support for them until the event actually happens,” she said. “And afterwards, people have a tendency to revert back to the pre-pandemic form of disinterest in sustained disease prevention.”

The top doctor in one of the nation’s hardest hit regions said he’s hopeful that Canadians won’t lose sight of lessons learned during this pandemic.

The demographics that were most affected by COVID-19 tended to be marginalized groups, such as people of colour and people in lower income brackets, said Dr. Lawrence Loh, medical officer of health in Ontario’s Peel Region.

“It’s telling that the populations that have been hardest hit by the pandemic were the same populations that had challenges with health status, even before the pandemic,” he said.

That speaks to the need to strengthen health-care infrastructure and fight against structural inequities going forward, he said.

And beyond the systemic issues, people will also have to grapple with the personal, said Renée El-Gabalawy, director of the Health, Anxiety and Trauma Lab at the University of Manitoba.

The number of people experiencing stress, anxiety and depression has increased during the pandemic, and it’s unlikely that those people will just bounce back once they’re able to see friends and family again, El-Gabalawy said.

“We’ve had to change the way we act and navigate in the world, and those kinds of things get conditioned over time,” she said. “After a situation like this ends, you’re still left with those conditioned responses.”

She said that’s played out — and been studied — before, following mass traumas such as hurricane Katrina and the 9/11 attacks.

But she said the story of mental health during the pandemic isn’t all bad.

While some people have struggled, others have found new coping mechanisms, El-Gabalawy said, such as exercising regularly and staying in close touch with friends and family, even from a physical distance.

“If people were able to figure out adaptive coping strategies, they may be able to take those with them as they progress on their life trajectory,” she said.

READ MORE: Canadian Blood Services says donations from those who have had COVID-19 are safe

Nicole Thompson, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

B.C's COVID-19 dashboard shows the peaks and valleys of cases prior to the record daily report of 132 on April 9, 2021. (Dashboard image)
Interior Health has record day of COVID-19 cases

132 cases reported Friday, April 9, more deaths in Vernon hospital outbreak

School District 83 trustees are leaning towards an option in the school district’s Long Range Facilities Plan that favours making Salmon Arm Secondary’s Sullivan campus and Jackson campus (pictured) both Grade 9-12 schools. (Google maps image)
Letter: Two high school option for Salmon Arm will create ‘have, have not’ situation

Writer concerned with E5 option, says transparent talk about implications needed

Left, Elena Bruns (2015 Rapattack Junior recruit/current Rapattack staff) and Leah Nash (2019 Rapattack Junior recruit/current Rapattack staff) in a helicopter on the Eagle Bluff Fire, August 2019. (Kamloops Fire Centre photo)
Salmon Arm students stick with wildfire fighting after junior Rapattack program

Junior Fire Crew program partners with Salmon Arm Secondary, develops students’ love for job

Work began April 6, 2021 on the Trans-Canada Highway downtown corridor project to improve safety and traffic flow, which will see the traffic light at Ross Street relocated to Fourth Street NE. (Martha Wickett - Salmon Arm Observer)
VIDEO: Traffic slow downs to go through May on Salmon Arm highway corridor

Ministry says night work not planned on Highway 1, single lanes to remain as traffic light changed

Genevieve Reynard dances as a video is recorded to be judged at a Kamloops-based dance festival. She earned first and second place honours in a variety of styles. (Shuswap Dance Center/Facebook)
Shuswap Dance Center dancers win big in Kamloops competition

Thirty-five young competitors place in top three in either solo or group number

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
1,262 more COVID-19 infections in B.C. Friday, 9,574 active cases

Province’s mass vaccination reaches one million people

Vernon Secondary School. (Google Maps)
Case of COVID-19 at North Okanagan high school

VSS exposure announced late Friday, April 9

The Royal’s 1951 visit to Revelstoke. (Photo by Revelstoke Museum and Archives #17)
PHOTOS: Prince Philip visited Revelstoke – twice

The prince died April 9 at the age of 99

Nolan's Pharmasave in downtown Vernon received 200 AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines Friday, April 9, 2021. (Brendan Shykora - Morning Star)
AstraZeneca vaccines arrive at Vernon pharmacies

Four pharmacies in the city received doses of the COVID-19 inoculant Friday

The RCMP were called to the Alchemy Studio on Thursday, April 8. (Contributed)
Revelstoke yoga class fined for defying COVID-19 orders

The RCMP were called to the Alchemy Studio on April 8

An East Hill resident had their leaf bags torched in front of their home overnight April 8. Less than two weeks prior their garbage can was lit on fire too. (Taryn Allen photo)
Garbage, leaf fires spark fear in North Okanagan

First an East Hill residents’ trash can, then bagged leaves were lit on fire

Okanagan-based All Are Family Outreach Society, which provides support to those struggling from Armstrong to Kelowna, is in need of a new headquarters after leaving a Winfield church in June 2020. (All Are Family Outreach photo)
Okanagan outreach society in ‘desperate’ need after storage unit break-in

All Are Family Outreach had $4,000 in tools stolen from its donation shipping container

A large illuminated heart was installed on the roof of the Vernon Jubilee Hospital May 1, 2020. (VJH Foundation photo)
Three deaths linked to COVID-19 outbreak in Vernon hospital

Interior Health reports two additional deaths at VJH

Most Read