Hugs, handshakes and visits from loved ones are all things we once took for granted. If the past year of the coronavirus pandemic has shown us anything, it’s how much we miss those basic interactions.
Through two waves of the virus, the possibility of a third, and now with vaccinations ramping up, many have wondered when our current reality will return to normal.
“We want to create that collective protection,” said University of Saskatchewan epidemiologist, Nazeem Muhajarine. “We in epidemiology call it herd immunity.”
Muhajarine said herd immunity will start to take shape once at least 35 per cent of the population receives those first COVID-19 vaccine shots.
Still, he said full herd immunity will not be possible until that number reaches around 80 per cent.
“We still have some ways to go,” Muhajarine said. “I think going to a football game of 30-thousand people, 40-thousand people in a big stadium — I think that is almost a year off from this summer.”
He said right now the biggest challenge is the COVID-19 variants and whether the vaccines will continue to be effective, describing it as a ‘cat-and-mouse game’.
Still, with each needle, the future looks a little brighter. A sign that life as we once knew it will one day return to normal.
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But what about those habits we’ve become accustomed to? Including excessive handwashing, wearing masks and of course those elbow bumps?
“Coronaviruses have been around for a very long time. And this variant, the one that has caused the major pandemic that we’re living through now, will be around and with us, I suspect, for a very long time,” said Pamela Downe, archaeology and anthropology professor at the University of Saskatchewan.
Downe said while some people will proceed with caution, others will have more of a rapid return response.
“I think there certainly will be a sense of relief and that may manifest itself as a sense of liberation … those ties that we had in our everyday lives that were lost. While we were able perhaps to maintain connections with family, with close colleagues at work, we missed those other second-tier kinds of connections,” Downe said.
“I think that is also going to be balanced out with some of the responses that I would characterize as extreme caution, the people who remain really unsure of what the future may hold and the health risks that may accompany it.“
A return to normal won’t come without it’s challenges, Downe added, including the health-related conditions highlighted by the pandemic.
“That would include the opioid crisis, HIV pandemic, the increasing gaps between the haves and the have nots, which lead to further kinds of health problems,” Downe said.
“Then there will be mental health challenges as well. Psychologists estimate that anywhere between 10 to 15 per cent of people will have heightened to a point of clinical anxiety and some obsessive compulsion will be aggravated by that. And these are individual processes and challenges that we face.”
Still, with lurking caution, many hope a friendly handshake or a warm embrace could be just around the corner.