3 years into COVID-19, life is 'back to normal' for some, forever changed for others
Three years after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, many people are relishing the freedom to return mask-free to their pre-pandemic activities, while others' lives have been changed forever by the arrival of the virus.
"Travel has been busier than pre-COVID times. It's been insane," said Jennifer Dinardo, a travel expert with Bella Visa Travel in Maidstone.
"People have been saving their pennies and they're ready to go."
People are booking tickets to sunny destinations like Cancun, Florida, Punta Cana, and Cuba, she said.
And inflation doesn't seem to be deterring them.
Vacationers 'paying top dollar'
"I think people are just so pent up they don't care … so they are paying top dollar," she said.
COVID-19 is still a global pandemic, said Dr. Fahad Razak, an epidemiologist and internist at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto. Razak grew up in Windsor and was previously in charge of Ontario's science advisory table.
Vaccination rates in Canada are now low compared with other countries, he said, and fewer people are masking in crowded indoor settings.
"It does indicate that people ... psychologically, have tried to move on," he said.
"And look, I get it. It's been a very, very difficult three years. The only push-back I would give is to say there are clearly still problems."
More people died of COVID in Ontario and Canada in 2022 than in either of the previous two years, Razak said.
It was a challenging winter season in the nation's hospitals, and COVID was partly to blame.
Research from previous pandemics suggests that people become fatigued by public health measures, he said. He'd like to see people gradually adopt what he calls "an adaptive strategy."
That would involve doing things people value such as keeping businesses and schools open and continuing to travel but engaging in "baseline protections," he said. Those include keeping vaccines up to date and masking in crowded indoor settings when the virus is surging.
One advocate for long COVID survivors said after everything she's been through, she still encourages people to wear masks.
Bonnie Campeau's life changed in March 2020 when she caught the virus, despite only having left the house a couple of times while wearing an N95 respirator.
She spent 49 days battling a fever, cough and shortness of breath.
She then developed a racing heart, continued shortness of breath and symptoms of chronic fatigue that would see her sleeping 18 hours a day.
"Now I have neuropathy, arthritis in every inch of my body. I have spondylitis severely down my spine. Like, all sorts of fun stuff," she said.
Campeau was retired before the pandemic, but she said younger people who take part in her support networks for long COVID sufferers are not coping well.
'Exhausted by the constant vigilance'
"They're not used to being disabled," she said.
"They're out of work. They can't work. … They can't pay their mortgages."
People who are immunocompromised are also living a very different lives since the start of the pandemic, said Michelle Burleigh, who runs the Facebook group Immunocompromised People are Not Expendible.
"Hope is dwindling," she said. "We're exhausted by constant vigilance."
"We have to protect our physical health constantly from COVID, and we have to protect our mental health from all of the people who are choosing to ignore that COVID is still happening."
"There are very little protections in place to support immunocompromised people from workplace discrimination, which is forcing people to have to make decisions that may well put them in jeopardy."
People saw their worlds get smaller
One advocate for people with disabilities who is not immunocompromised said she thought it was interesting at the start of the pandemic to watch able bodied people grapple with some of the same realities that some people with physical disabilities have always had to deal with. This includes seeing their worlds become smaller and experiencing grief over being unable to do things.
"Going out for a drink in COVID, the amount of planning we had to do …in terms of, like, would we be able to get in there? Is it too crowded? Not crowded? … What able-bodied people were requested to do or were mandated to do, people with disabilities — that's been our daily life for most of our lives," said Evelina Baczewska.
Baczewska said she is not sure that society has changed radically as a result of people's temporary encounters with a more constrained life, but she believes that there have been modest successes.
"I think that in smaller sorts of pockets where people were already sort of aware or self reflective, I think that, yes, there is that," she said.
She also said employers seem to be showing more concern for employee wellbeing and more openness to employees working from home to accommodate their personal needs, whatever they may be.