After weeks of coronavirus quarantine, shelter-in-place and stay-at-home orders, it’s no wonder that millions of people are looking for an end in sight. This question of when life can go back to normal has escaped countless lips as countries, states and cities shift to indoor living to help slow the spread of COVID-19. Some of us are getting restless, imagining the people we’ll hug, parties we’ll throw and places we’ll travel.
Not so fast. As the first signs of easing are starting to play out around the world, it’s good to remember this is new territory for everyone and there’s much we still don’t know about the long-term behavior of this particular coronavirus strain.
Different governments and agencies are sure to have their own cadence for reintegrating and going back to business as usual, including taking a phased approach that slowly relaxes some measures while keeping an eye out for spikes in new coronavirus cases.
“The worst that can happen is that we make a misstep and let our emotions get ahead of the facts, and we have to go through this again,” said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo during his April 11 daily press conference.
One thing’s for sure — your lifestyle won’t return to “normal” all at once. While we won’t know for certain what will or won’t be allowed until those measures arrive, there are some common-sense codes that we don’t see going away any time soon.
Social distancing measures exist for a reason, and that’s to slow the spread of viral transmission from people who come into close contact. Hosting a party at home or crowding into a bar when they reopen will jam people together in a room, giving any lingering coronavirus on an asymptomatic host the prime opportunity to infect others, who then could pass it along.
“I will just remind the American people again. This is a highly contagious virus,” Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said in an April 15 briefing. “Social gatherings, coming together, is always a chance that an asymptomatic person can spread the virus unknowingly … But for all of you that are out there that would like to join together and just have that dinner party for 20 — don’t do it yet.”
Of course you’ll continue to practice common hygiene, but remember that relaxed restrictions won’t necessarily mean that the coronavirus outbreak is over, even after a vaccine eventually arrives. There may be economic reasons for schools and businesses to reopen, while the virus continues to spread, albeit at slower rates than today.
Remember that the goal of stay at home orders and thorough handwashing is to keep hospitals from being overwhelmed with patients in critical condition and minimize your risk for acquiring life-threatening symptoms.
Hopefully, the good hand-washing habits you’ve acquired during this time will stick around, including longer, more thorough washing, and more frequently after coming into contact with people and common surfaces.
There’s nothing I’d rather do when quarantine ends than rush out and give the senior citizens and immunocompromised friends in my life a big, warm hug. But that might not be the best move for them. Quarantine measures are likely to loosen before the vaccine arrives that will help protect people most at risk if they do acquire COVID-19.
Though early vaccine testing is underway, an approved vaccine is still thought to be a year out, at the very least. That doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t see your loved ones for a full year.
Antibody testing is a promising method in development right now that could be able to tell you if you’ve already been exposed to the coronavirus. Unfortunately, we’re not at the stage where this test — which isn’t yet available — can confirm immunity.
For people who are in high-risk groups, keeping a healthy distance may still be the best way to keep them safe. That’s something you and your family will need to carefully evaluate.
I’ve already started a mental list of every place in the world I want to visit once restrictions lift. And I’ve already revised it to local gems, like a hiking trail and the beach, activities that are off the menu where I live. Like me, you’ll have to have a little patience.
While I expect that hotel and airfare prices will be enticingly cheap when nonessential travel is first deemed acceptable again, it does well to remember intermingling is nearly impossible to avoid in airports and airplanes (though not because of the ventilation system, according to the WHO), which is one major reason flights have been canceled and international travel effectively banned in many countries.
The international movement of people contributed to the coronavirus reaching pandemic proportions so quickly, through person-to-person transmission like coughing and sneezing. If a recurrence were to happen, the last thing you want is the stress of finding yourself quarantined in an unfamiliar country, without a clear or quick way home.
Not to be the bearer of bad news, but as a global society, we can’t say for certain what will happen next — if a sudden surge in new coronavirus cases will make it necessary to reinstitute quarantine measures, as has happened in Singapore and Hong Kong, or, worse, if a new strain emerges.
When the time comes, the smart thing to do is remain cautiously optimistic about regaining your freedom to move, but remain realistic that we don’t know what the future holds. So keep those homemade face masks handy.
For more resources about the coronavirus pandemic, here are five ways to cope with coronavirus stress, eight of the biggest coronavirus myths that just aren’t true and what we know about the effects of coronavirus on your pets.
First published on April 16, 2020 at 4:00 a.m. PT.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.