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

Mabel Todd, 83, of the Nak’azdli First Nation, leads a group of family members and advocates of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls as they walk along the so-called Highway of Tears in Witset. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
Province, feds fund full cell service along ‘Highway of Tears’ following years of advocacy

A ‘critical milestone in helping prevent future tragedies’ after at least 10 Indigenous women murdered, missing along the route

Dianna Plouffe, right, with Mayor Gladys Atrill in front of Town Hall following the announcement she will be the new CAO> (Facebook photo)
Director of corporate services named Smithers CAO

Dianna Plouffe replaces Alan Harris who is retiring at the end of April

Photo collage of loved ones lost to substance use and overdose. (Photo courtesy Moms Stop The Harm)
B.C. overdose deaths still rising 5 years after public health emergency declared

Moms Stop the Harm calls on B.C. to provide safe supply in response to deadly illicit drug use

Volunteer Robbie McKnight works the screening table at the Coast Mountain College COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Smithers. (Deb Meissner photo)
UPDATE Smithers clinic expands vaccine eligibility to ages 55+

Community members born in 1966 or earlier can now register and will be notified when they can book

Pembina Prince Rupert Terminal shipped its first vessel full of liquefied petroleum gas on April 9, just less than three years after breaking ground at the re-purposed pulp mill site on Watson Island.
Pembina ships first vessel of LPG out of Prince Rupert

More than $12 million spent to repurpose Watson Island for the LPG export facility

A man wears a protective face covering to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 as he walks past the emergency entrance of Vancouver General Hospital in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
COVID-19 spike in B.C. could overwhelm B.C. hospitals: modelling group

There are 397 people are in hospital due to the virus, surpassing a previous high of 374 seen in December

A deep cut on a humpback whale is shown in this recent handout photo in the Vancouver area. A conservation organization is warning boaters to be extra careful to prevent further harm to an injured humpback whale swimming in the Vancouver area. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Ocean Wise, Vanessa Prigollini *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Boaters urged to use caution around hurt humpback off Vancouver

Ocean Wise says watchers first noticed the wound 3 days ago and believe it was caused by a vessel strike

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Ron Rauch and his wife Audrey are photographed at their home in Victoria, Friday, March 5, 2021. Their daughter Lisa Rauch died on Christmas Day 2019 when a tactical officer with the Victoria Police Department shot her in the back of the head with plastic bullets after barricading herself in a room that was on fire. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. families push for changes as special committee examines provincial Police Act

Solicitor General Mike Farnworth acknowledged the need to update the legislation last year

Major-General Dany Fortin, left, looks on as Minister of Public Services and Procurement Anita Anand provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic, in Ottawa, Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020. The Public Health Agency of Canada has set aside up to $5 billion to pay for COVID-19 vaccines. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada negotiating contracts to secure COVID-19 booster shots for next year: Anand

Most of Canada’s current vaccine suppliers are already testing new versions against variants

Demonstrators at the legislature on April 14 called on the province to decriminalize drug possession and provide widespread access to regulated safe supply across B.C. (Jake Romphf/News Staff)
Rally calls for decriminalization, safe supply on 5th anniversary of overdose emergency declaration

From 2016 to the end of February, 7,072 British Columbians died due to overdose

(Government of Canada)
Liberal MP caught stark naked during House of Commons video conference

William Amos, in Quebec, appeared on the screens of his fellow members of Parliament completely naked

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, Feb. 1, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count jumps to 1,168 Wednesday, nearly 400 in hospital

Now 120 coronavirus patients in intensive care, six more deaths

Most Read