Does “learning to live with COVID” mean coming back to life like in 2019? Here’s what the experts say

Ontarians have recently started hearing from their top health and government officials talking about “learning to live with COVID-19,” but that doesn’t mean an immediate return to life like it did in 2019 and the Authorities should refine their message, experts say.

Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, now uses the phrase, as do Toronto’s top doctor, Ontario’s Minister of Health and Premier Doug Ford.

Shifting from the overriding message of “stay at home” to “learn to live with it” is going to be difficult for many people, said Dr. Anna Banerji, a professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health.

“We all have collective trauma — the whole world has, to some degree, collective trauma — over the past few years,” she said.

“I think it’s going to be a test for people. People are terrified of getting it. And a lot of people are doing all the right things.”

For some, the message represents a welcome transition, but it should be done gradually because the health system is still struggling, she said.

“Maybe it’s not so much the government saying, ‘You have to take these steps to keep society safe. I think it’s probably going to turn into ‘What are your risks? Who’s around you?’

Justin Presseau, co-chair of the Ontario Science Table’s Behavioral Science Task Force, said he’s personally not a fan of the “learning to live with the virus” narrative.

“We have all already been living with this virus for over two years and many people have already made many sacrifices and/or losses as part of living with the virus,” he said.

“Given past messaging on how to stay safe, I would like to see a more nuanced shift in support and communication about how we continue to work together as a community to protect ourselves and our most vulnerable. , until the end of the current Omicron phase towards what we hope is heading more towards a return to normal.”

Raywat Deonandan, an epidemiologist and associate professor at the University of Ottawa, said the use of the term “learning to live with COVID” is problematic because it has been the “rallying cry” of COVID minimizers over the past two last years.

“I think what people are hearing is surrender, and that’s not what they should be hearing,” he said.

Rather, it’s an acceptance that COVID-19 will continue to circulate to some extent for the foreseeable future, but people shouldn’t necessarily be terrified, Deonandan said.

“That doesn’t mean we open the doors and throw in all the mitigation tools,” he said.

This means gradually lifting the measures, superimposed on “the magic of vaccination”, while recognizing that some people will still contract COVID-19, and that some will get sick and die, but hopefully in such small numbers that it is no longer newsworthy, Deonandan said. .

“I think part of the message should be that we shouldn’t be afraid,” he said.

“In fact, we should never have been afraid for ourselves. We should always be afraid for people who cannot protect themselves and for the healthcare system.”

Individual risk has become extremely low for fully vaccinated and boosted people, but it will not be zero, Deonandan said.

“We reduce it as much as possible, and we overlay that risk with appropriate comparators like is the risk equivalent to crossing the street? Is that equivalent to eating raw food? dinner who you know has the flu?”

There are also different considerations for people who have young children who cannot yet be vaccinated, and those who are at higher risk or who live with someone in this category, Deonandan noted.

Moore, when asked last week to expand on his “learning to live with COVID” comments, said Omicron is so contagious it’s hard to control, and the province now has a well-immunized population with access to effective COVID-19 treatments.

It’s time for society to have a discussion about how many public health measures to legally maintain or simply recommend, while balancing people’s mental, physical, social, economic and educational needs, Moore said.

“We had two years where we were very scared of this virus and the strains changed over time,” he said.

“So as a society, to lessen that fear, it will take time for us to normalize life with this virus.”

Hopefully many of the public health basics emphasized during the pandemic will continue, Moore said, including hand hygiene, physical distancing, staying home when sick and even wearing a face mask. mask, if people want it.

“It will be a journey as a society to get out of this and normalize Omicron and COVID like we normalized all other viruses,” he said, predicting there will likely be an annual COVID-19 vaccine, similar to a flu vaccine.

Dr. Noah Ivers, a family physician at Women’s College Hospital, said when officials talk about learning to live with COVID-19, they should follow that statement by clarifying what they mean.

Certain public health measures will continue to make a big difference, Ivers said, including improved ventilation, improved sick leave policies and people staying home when sick.

“For people who live with certain disabilities, whether physical, mental or related to their immune system, I think it would be really, really reassuring for them to hear that society has learned from this how to help these people. to stay safe in the future. — not that society wants to forget all that and start forgetting them again.”

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on February 6, 2022.

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