The dust has settled on our diseased world. Things are not normal, of course, but the delirium of the early months of the pandemic has been almost completely replaced by an ambient uneasiness towards a danger that is still very real but seems a little more distant, and the usual symptoms of any long stay indoors: boredom, despondency, a suspicion your dirty dishes may be reproducing asexually.
A lot of the regulations and ordered shut downs from the initial wave of infections relaxed over the summer too. Alberta is pretty far into Stage 2 of the government’s “Relaunch Strategy,” which means significant portions of your regular routine like going to the gym or library are viable, and you can even have a drink on patios all over the city again something I’ve learned is very important to people for some reason. The restrictions that are still in place are now fairly easy to navigate just by virtue of being well-known.
In the relative calm, it’s not hard to get the sense that we are on our way out of this. You’ve been social distancing for five months now and your friends are starting to ask you to casually hang out again — pretty good timing since you’ve watched The Matrix’ sequels so many times they’re starting to make sense. School is back in session! That’s a step towards normal, right? There was a lot of turbulence, but now that things are smoother, it seems all we have to do is sit back and await the soft landing — maybe in a month or two, maybe after this semester, but it looks like it’s right on the horizon.
It’s much farther away than it looks.
The reopening of businesses, first of all, seems to have less to do with an accurate assessment of public health and more with placating an economy so apparently fragile that it threatens to crumble to the ground if not enough people take part in $4 happy hour margarita specials for more than a few evenings in a row. People returning to their jobs and shopping habits corresponded with Alberta gaining the lead in most COVID-19 cases per capita of any province about one month later, according to the federal government’s data. While the province has only widened its lead since then, the pattern has appeared to a lesser extent everywhere else too. Ontario reopened around the same time and saw a similar spike. Manitoba jumped up to number two on the list quite recently, after re-opening non-essential retail stores and a number of services on July 25.
The start of the school year is almost certainly going to bring another bump. While university is mostly online, it has apparently been decided that shoving 30 hyperactive germ-spreading machines into elementary school classrooms is a fine thing to do. This wasn’t decided by health experts or teachers, however, many of whom are saying it is practically impossible to maintain social distancing inside schools, and would be equally impossible to properly react to infections among the age group least likely to be symptomatic according to Ontario’s public health according to an article published in Nature, and therefore least detectable.
These surges of infections — and even a lesser surge if it can’t be traced back to known patients risks thrusting us backwards into a full shutdown once again. In fact, it already happened in Montreal, where a state of emergency was declared by the municipal government for a second time on Aug. 22 following an outbreak that was only slightly larger than anything Edmonton has seen so far.
We are poised for a cycle of opening up, people getting comfortable, and having to close again for who knows how long. Researchers at Harvard (mainly examining the United States, which is admittedly in worse shape than we are) predict such a cycle appearing anywhere that tries to reopen without waiting for the virus to stagnate completely, and say it could last as late as 2022.
This is not going to be comforting to the many of you who have already exhausted all the YouTube search results for “macrame wall decoration tutorial,” but you’ll just have to find a hobby with a higher skill ceiling. The virus, and everything we have to do to avoid it, is here to stay.