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

Marchers supporting Indian farmers rallied in Surrey last month, from Bear Creek Park to Holland Park along King George Boulevard. (File photo: Tom Zillich)
Surrey MP says mayor’s motion to support Indian farmers is his to make

“He has his own sovereignty, right,” Sukh Dhaliwal says

Lord Tweedsmuir’s Tremmel States-Jones jumps a player and the goal line to score a touchdown against the Kelowna Owls in 2019. The face of high school football, along with a majority of other high school sports, could significantly change if a new governance proposal is passed at the B.C. School Sports AGM May 1. (Photo: Malin Jordan)
Power struggle: New governance model proposed for B.C. high school sports

Most commissions against new model; BCSS and its board in favour

Researchers say residents should leave sleeping bats alone while they exit hibernation. (Cathy Koot photo)
Spring ‘signal’ brings White Rock, Surrey bats out of hibernation

Community Bat Programs of BC says it’s best to leave sleeping bats alone

(Photo: Creative Outlet)
YOUR MONEY: Tax tips for a complicated tax season involving CERB and more

With April 30 tax deadline, ‘it is important to understand the tax implications (benefits) will have’

The Delta Police Department’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Unit: (from left) Const. Joel Thirsk, analyst Jody Johnson and Staff Sgt. Sukh Sidhu. (Delta Police Department photo)
Delta police respond to rising number of hate crimes

Police have received 15 reports so far in 2021, compared to 12 in all of 2020

A woman wears a protective face covering to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 as she walks past the emergency entrance of Vancouver General Hospital in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Top doctor warns B.C.’s daily cases could reach 3,000 as COVID hospitalizations surge

There are more than 400 people in hospital, with 125 of them in ICU

The father of Aaliyah Rosa planted a tree and laid a plaque in her memory in 2018. (Langley Advance Times files)
Final witness will extend Langley child murder trial into May or June

Lengthy trial began last autumn with COVID and other factors forcing it to take longer than expected

The corner of 96th Avenue and Glover Road in Fort Langley now has traffic signals, and new “touchless” signal activation buttons. (Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance Times)
Busy Fort Langley intersection gets ‘touchless’ crosswalk signals

The new traffic light started operation in April

A crossing guard stops traffic as students wearing face masks to curb the spread of COVID-19 arrive at Ecole Woodward Hill Elementary School, in Surrey, B.C., on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. A number of schools in the Fraser Health region, including Woodward Hill, have reported cases of the B.1.7.7 COVID-19 variant first detected in the U.K. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
COVID-infected students in Lower Mainland schools transmitting to 1 to 2 others: data

Eight to 13 per cent of COVID cases among students in the Lower Mainland were acquired in schools, B.C. says

Dr. Bonnie Henry – in a B.C. health order that went into effect April 12 – granted WorkSafe inspectors the power to enforce workplace closures with COVID-19 spread. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
24 workplace closures being enforced in Fraser Health under new COVID-19 order

WorkSafe inspectors the power to enforce closures if COVID-19 has spread to 3 or more employees

Maple Ridge Fire and Rescue were conducting training operations at Gold Creek Falls when a firefighter broke their leg. (Eileen Robinson photo - Special to The News)
Firefighter suffers broken leg during swift water rescue practice in Golden Ears park

A training exercise at Maple Ridge waterfall on Wedesday results in mishap

Norm Scott, president of Royal Canadian Legion Branch # 91, is disappointed the Legion does not qualify for COVID financial assistance from the provincial government. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C.’s pandemic aid package passing Legion branches by

Federal non-profit status stymies provincial assistance eligibility

Latest modelling by public health shows cases generated by COVID-19 infections into places where it can spread quickly. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
Industrial sites, pubs, restaurants driving COVID-19 spread in B.C.

Infection risk higher in offices, retail, warehouses, farms

Most Read