I'm an Infectious Disease Doctor. Here's When We'll be Back to Normal.
You've lived through a number of global health emergencies, including swine flu in 2009, the poliovirus and Ebola in 2014, the Zika virus in 2016 and Ebola again in 2019, "yet none of these have devastated or disrupted our lives in a way that can be compared to the current COVID-19 pandemic," GP clinical lead at Treated.com Dr. Daniel Atkinson points out to Eat This, Not That! Health.
With most of the world still in the throes of the virus, the question on everyone's mind is when life is going to go back to "normal"—and what that even means. While so much is unknown, and according to Dr. Atkinson—and most other health experts—"a return to 'normality' will not come quickly," here's when you can expect life to start feeling recognizable again. Read on, and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had Coronavirus.
Things Can't Be Norma-lish Until We Have a Vaccine
While it's impossible to put a date on when life will really return to normal, Jaimie Meyer, MD, a Yale Medicine infectious disease doctor and assistant professor of medicine at Yale School of Medicine, doesn't think it will be until we have a vaccine.
"The reason why a vaccine will drive normalcy is that it is really only with a vaccine that we can be assured of protection against future infection. Even someone who has been sick with COVID-19 and recovered may not have sufficient antibodies to protect them from future re-infection. This is an important area of active investigation."
Even Once There is a Vaccine, it Has to be Distributed
Once a vaccine is developed, it is going to take awhile to get everyone the vaccine. "Even when we have a vaccine, developing it on a mass scale and distributing it to the entire world will be an issue to be addressed in itself, at the time," Dr. Atkinson points out.
We Should Social Distance Until There is a Vaccine
Even where lockdowns are relaxed, social distancing should be practiced, says Dr. Atkinson—even when things start to reopen. "This means not socializing in pubs or restaurants, not being able to work for certain job types, maintaining distance while shopping and during other activities," he says. Although some politicians may disagree, the doctor feels: "Until a vaccine is developed and made widely available, this is the new normal."
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The First Step Toward "Normal" is Improved Testing
While all governments are tailoring their approaches to the virus, Dr. Atkinson points that out improving our testing capabilities needs to be one of our priorities. "Finding out who is infected and where infection rates are highest will help us focus our efforts and resources," he explains. "We should also consider how we're going to handle this information once it's available. It's all very well identifying hot spots or outbreaks but if people can't or won't comply with restrictions to limit the spread of disease then we have to question whether testing is really as useful as we'd hoped."
Restrictions Will Ease in Certain Cities
In the meantime, we can likely approach normal-ish in the next few months, as rates of new cases, hospitalizations, and COVID-related deaths fall in some states, Dr. Meyer points out. "This may mean being able to leave our homes but still practice social distancing—so, for example, attending restaurants with reservations, hair salons with appointments, and perhaps small gatherings."
Parks Might Keep Opening
Based on various data points across the country, parks will continue to open. "I think sanction wise (as far as parks are concerned) that may be a state/city/county subject based on data points," says Brandon Lawrence, MD, an Arizona ER doctor. Some may open as early as May, while others will likely open in the following months.
Antibody Protection Could Make Life More Normal—But is Still Being Studies
If we do find that antibodies are protective against reinfection and are able to test for them in an evidence-based way, we may be able to do more and edge toward normality—perhaps with certificates of immunity.
It May Take a While for Our Mental Health to Recover
Emotionally, it is going to take all of us a long time to get back to normal. "We may also never be pre-COVID 'normal' in some ways because we are all experiencing a collective trauma," points out Dr. Meyer. "That post-traumatic stress may impact us for years to come."
"Rushing Things" Will Set Us Back
The most important thing to keep in mind, that until we have a vaccine, we aren't ready to return to normal. "The biggest mistake from a public health perspective, however, would be to rush back to normal before this pandemic is ready for it," Dr. Meyer reminds us.
And, There Could be Another Wave
Dr. Atkinson points out that if some countries ease their lockdowns too early, and the rate of infection increases, then it's possible lockdowns will have to be enforced again, "as another wave of high infection, and fatality, will become likely"—a.k.a. another peak. "It's quite possible that some countries will undergo several lockdown procedures, as the rate of infection fluctuates."
Schools Will Eventually Require the COVID-19 Vaccine
While the COVID-19 vaccine isn't going to be ready as schools reopen in the fall, once it is available it is going to be a necessity for all children. "I have to imagine school will require the COVID vaccine." As for yourself: To get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.