A nheath-care worker waits for patients at a COVID-19 test clinic in Montreal, on Friday, December 11, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

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

TORONTO — 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.

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

Just Posted

Red Deer Rebels forward Ethan Rowland battles with Medicine Hat Tigers forward Brett Kemp during WHL action at the Centrium Saturday night. (Photo by ROB WALLATOR/Red Deer Rebels)
Tigers claw back, hand Rebels 11th straight loss

Tigers 5 Rebels 2 The same old issues continue to plague the… Continue reading

There were six additional deaths across Alberta reported over the past 24 hours, bringing the death toll to 1,926 since the beginning of the pandemic. (File photo)
AstraZeneca vaccine is ready to be used at a homeless shelter in Romford, east London, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Frank Augstein
AstraZeneca-linked blood clot confirmed in Alberta

A case of an AstraZeneca-linked blood clot has been confirmed in Alberta,… Continue reading

The Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools Board of Trustees selected the name St. Lorenzo Ruiz Middle School to be built in the north end of Red Deer. (Photo Courtesy of  Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools)
Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools raises about $8,720 for Terry Fox Foundation

Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools raised about $8,720 for the Terry Fox… Continue reading

A nurse gets a swab ready at a temporary COVID-19 test clinic in Montreal, on Friday, May 15, 2020. Health Canada has reversed course on home test kits for COVID-19, saying it will now review applications for such devices. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Alberta declines Ontario’s request to send health-care workers

Alberta is “not in a position” to send health-care workers out of… Continue reading

Red Deer Public Schools will not pilot the new draft curriculum at its elementary schools. (File photo contributed by Red Deer Public Schools)
UPDATED: Red Deer Public Schools says no to piloting new curriculum

Alberta Teachers’ Association support school boards

Ontario Premier Doug Ford points on a COVID-19 caseload projection model graph during a press conference at Queen's Park, in Toronto, Friday, April 16, 2021. Ontario was set to backtrack on controversial new police powers to enforce stay-at-home orders implemented in the battle against COVID-19.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Ford backtracks on new police COVID-19 powers amid intense backlash

TORONTO — Furious criticism of new anti-pandemic powers that allow police in… Continue reading

The official program for the National Commemorative Ceremony in honour of Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh, sits on an empty pew prior to the ceremony at Christ Church Cathedral in Ottawa on Saturday, April 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Prince Philip remembered as ‘a man of great service’ during Canada’s memorial service

Canada’s commemorative ceremony in honour of the late Prince Philip offered a… Continue reading

CF Montreal head coach Wilfried Nancy speaks to his players during the team's practice Tuesday, March 16, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
CF Montreal puts on a show, defeating Toronto FC 4-2 in MLS season opener

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — CF Montreal, carving open Toronto FC’s defence, cruised… Continue reading

Demonstrators using umbrellas as shields approach a point in a perimeter security fence during a protest over the fatal shooting of Daunte Wright during traffic stop, outside the Brooklyn Center Police Department, Friday, April 16, 2021, in Brooklyn Center, Minn. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Journalists allege police harassment at Minnesota protests

Some journalists covering protests over the police fatal shooting of Daunte Wright,… Continue reading

A container ship is docked in the Port of Montreal, Wednesday, February 17, 2021 in Montreal.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Montreal dockworkers begin weekend strikes as talks drag on

MONTREAL — Dockworkers at the Port of Montreal kicked off a series… Continue reading

Brad Dahr, 53, is facing numerous charges. (Photo contributed by Alberta RCMP)
Alberta man charged for alleged sexual offences against children

An Edmonton man has been charged for alleged sexual offences against children… Continue reading

A person walks past a COVID-19 mural designed by artist Emily May Rose on a rainy day during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Monday, April 12, 2021. Employment lawyers say flouting COVID-19 public health orders when off the job or coming into work while knowingly sick could warrant discipline in the workplace. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Risky pandemic behaviour off the clock could mean workplace discipline: lawyers

CALGARY — Employment lawyers say flouting COVID-19 public health orders when off… Continue reading

Vials containing Russia's Sputnik V vaccine for COVID-19 are seen at the San Marino State Hospital, in San Marino, Friday, April 9, 2021.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Antonio Calanni
China, Russia using their COVID-19 vaccines to gain political influence

OTTAWA — China and Russia have been using their locally produced COVID-19… Continue reading

Most Read