The New (and Improved) Normal

By Heather Hunter

After over two months of being restricted, we are anxious to get back to normal; however, it may never go back to the way it was. Some lifestyle changes are likely to be on-going and we will have to adjust to a radical behaviour shift. In some ways, that may be a good thing.

Lessons small and large have been learned. I can no longer mall crawl and buy things I don’t really need. During my time isolating indoors, I have been decluttering my cupboards and closets. Ah, the burden of possessions! Like so many others, I have bags and boxes of items to donate, most of which will end up in a dump here or overseas. With my new COVID perspective, I understand needs and wants are very different things. Hoarding stuff is a form of gluttony.

Reminded by the gruesome daily statistics in news reports, we no longer take our health for granted. Greeting each other with perfunctory hugs and kisses is now taboo and respecting the 2 metre personal space of others is the norm. Our new habit of keeping our distance will help to prevent transmission of the seasonal flu, colds and other viral infections as well COVID-19.

Families are happily talking and laughing as they stroll around the block, greeting neighbours and strangers at a distance with more warmth than ever. Taking solitary walks, with no reason to rush, we tend to observe our surroundings more: emerging plants in gardens, fallen trees in the woods, squirrels chittering overhead, the rat-t-tat-tat of a woodpecker. Walking can be a meditative, even spiritual experience.

With so many safety measures in place, we can no longer act spontaneously. Without instant gratification, we are acquiring patience. Pleasure is found in little things like a good book and a home-cooked meal. Nevertheless, protesters carry signs and shout that government imposed restraints are a threat to democracy. Conspiracy theorists who create disillusionment and fear while advocating mass resistance on-line are nothing less than domestic terrorists. Without ever having experienced totalitarian oppression, they do not understand the difference between freedom and license. Their sense of entitlement is narcissistic. In a civilized society evolved beyond survival of the fittest, the common good takes priority over individual freedom. Thankfully, the vast majority of the population get it and so obey the rules.

People are discovering their own creative abilities, trying things beyond their comfort zones, building, cooking, sewing and using technology that once scared them. Teachers quickly developed new on-line learning platforms to keep their students engaged. Parents are communicating more with teachers and spending time teaching their kids. Children are benefiting from this one-on-one attention.

Many millennials have thought it normal to live beyond their means and on credit. Saving for a rainy day like previous generations did became an antiquated concept. Hopefully economic uncertainty will serve as a wake-up call. “A penny saved is a penny earned”. Government assistance cannot be depended upon forever. We have already bequeathed an astronomical debt-load to our children.

The hardest lesson we have learned was at the expense of our most vulnerable citizens in Long Term Care Homes. Deplorable conditions neglected for far too long have led to an inordinate number of deaths in this sector of the population. This is a national disgrace! The staff of nursing homes who have been begging the government for proper funding for decades are finally being heard. Exploitation and greed in private, for-profit residences have been called-out. The PSW’s who continue working despite personal risk are both victims and heroes. Hopefully, in the future, their services will be fairly compensated and their working conditions improved. Only then will the aging population live in dignity and comfort for their natural lifespan.

Canada is emerging from this crisis with a stronger identity, separate and distinct from the United States. When foreign supplies of PPE and ventilators were interrupted or withheld, domestic manufacturers retooled with amazing speed. With the fear of food shortages, the need for local processing plants has become obvious. With plans for less dependence on foreign goods in the future, Canadians already feel a greater sense of empowerment and independence.

With reduced travel and manufacturing, evidence shows dramatic improvement in the world’s air and water quality. With less shipping and quieter oceans, lower stress hormones have been recorded in marine mammals. Voila! The earth can heal itself much faster than ever imagined. Those who believed that environmental protection measures were too little too late are feeling more hopeful. People are seeing their efforts were not in vain.

Public places have more stringent cleaning practices which will reduce transmission of all sorts of viruses. Air Canada announced it will have fewer passengers on flights to provide more room in economy class. Travellers who are used to sitting cheek by jowl with sniffling strangers welcome this change in spite of additional costs. UV robots could be used to disinfect hotels and offices as well as hospitals, offering protection to cleaning staff and the general public. Using UV light technology, PPE can be recycled.

Virtual and tele-medical care enable patients to confer with doctors without leaving the safety of their homes thus not spreading germs in doctors’ offices or ER’s. This Interim care could become the wiser, more convenient alternative to many office visits.

The most exciting advent in the new normal is international scientific collaboration in a virtually connected world. The brightest and best scientists are sharing research on virus therapies, diagnostics and vaccines which can be applied to other diseases like leprosy, HIV and malaria. Vaccine development is a worldwide effort; thus, the pace has increased.

This global pandemic may be the defining event of our time. Could it be a blessing in disguise? Science has the power to unite the world that politics and religion have divided. Nations are joining forces against a mutual enemy that knows no borders. Have scientists demonstrated to world leaders that humanity’s survival depends on cooperation rather competition and conflict?

In the words of Teresa Tam, Canada’s Chief Medical Officer, “Go science!”