By Pauline Kerr
For the past several months, many of us have been waiting for that magic potion that will make COVID-19 disappear – poof! – never to be seen again.
Vaccines are not magic. Those of us who have been immunized are still wearing masks and distancing. That return to normal is not going to happen anytime soon. What we can expect is a gradual return to normal-ish.
We will be able to go shopping, after washing our hands and masking up, for example.
Difficult though it is to believe, COVID-19 sanitation measures used by those entering today’s grocery stores are far beyond what was used in hospital operating rooms only a few generations ago. One wonders what a nurse or doctor from Florence Nightengale’s day would have thought had they seen a modern counterpart geared up like someone from outer space.
Nightengale, who is credited with founding modern nursing, died in 1910. She transformed hospitals from places of last resort, where straw was strewn on the floors to soak up blood, and the unfortunates who went there were cared for by untrained individuals of questionable character and filthy hands, to what they are today – places where lives are saved, thanks to incredibly skilled and highly respected health-care professionals. Bless them all, they have got us through a deadly pandemic.
What vaccines will do is gradually reduce the stress on our hospitals to the point where Nightengale’s modern sisters and brothers might get by with just masks and gowns sometimes instead of space suits, and even better, take some desperately needed vacation time.
Small businesses that have been closed for much of the past year will reopen – we hope – and shoppers will return – the business owners hope.
Children will go back to school – real, in-person school, parents will return to the physical office, and the family dog will resume napping on the couch until someone gets home to take him for a walk.
At least, that is what would happen in an ideal world. As we have discovered, reality is often far from ideal.
We hope the teens who have dropped off the educational radar will get the help they need to resume their education, just as we hope the ones who lost out on sports scholarships and other opportunities will find new doors opening for them.
We hope the parents who put their careers on hold while they stayed home with their children are able to capitalize on the economic growth spurt that will surely follow the pandemic.
But life will not be returning to what it was before. We will not awaken one morning a month from now, or even a year from now, to find COVID-19 has gone, and we can flip the switch from pandemic mode to normal.
This is not necessarily a bad thing. We have seen the fault lines in our health-care system, especially with long-term care and with the shortage of nurses. Turning back the clock would be a disaster even if it were possible.
We have seen the importance of universal access to high-speed internet, the pitfalls in out-of-control house prices, and which workers are essential to our way of life.
We have a much greater understanding of we need to do to make our communities stronger and more resilient, so that we can weather the next pandemic. There will be one, of that we have no doubt.
We saw the ease with which a new virus got a foothold and took over the world, jumping from a marketplace on the other side of the world to local nursing homes in a few short weeks.
Like hand sanitizer and masks in grocery stores, we can easily envision a future in which a period of quarantine is a routine part of international travel.
The retail world of our normal-ish future will have both an in-person presence – we like social aspects of shopping – as well as a virtual one. Even during a lockdown, kids outgrow clothes and shoes.
From the point of view of a lockdown, a normal-ish future sounds great – bring it on!