A message from Dr. Nel Wieman, FNHA Acting Deputy Chief Medical Officer
Since the very beginning of this long COVID-19 pandemic, which is finally winding down, all of us have been coping with pandemic-related stress on top of the usual pre-pandemic stress.
This includes isolation and disconnection from our friends and family, changes to how we live and work, and of course, anxiety about getting COVID-19. It's been a lot.
Most of us have adapted well. In some ways, now that we are “used to" living the way we do (with pandemic restrictions and public health measures), it may be a challenge to navigate the reopening and recovery phase of BC's Restart Plan. In fact, this, too, will likely trigger some stress!
Some may find it challenging or worrisome to re-engage with family and friends in social situations, especially large indoor gatherings. After spending the past year-and-a-half training your mind to avoid social situations or public places for risk of getting or spreading COVID-19, you may experience anxiety about returning to having freedom of movement. This is a valid concern.
The official public health orders requiring the wearing of masks have been lifted, however masks are still recommended and some businesses still require or strongly encourage people to wear masks when visiting indoor public spaces.
There's still good reason for caution. Although we are in Step 3 of the four-step Restart Plan, we are still seeing daily new cases of COVID-19, although at much lower numbers than previously.
Doctors, including me, are closely watching the vaccination rates in BC. Currently, close to 80 per cent of all eligible people 12 years and older are partially (one shot) vaccinated, and about 45 per cent are fully (two shots) vaccinated. It's important to note that the vaccine is not fully effective until both doses are received. Among First Nations people in the province, fewer (64 per cent) people have received at least one dose than the non-Indigenous population.
Some people may not feel comfortable relaxing the personal safety measures we've all been practicing for the past year and a half—physical distancing, wearing a mask, frequent hand-washing, and reduced socialization—until a higher percentage people in BC are fully vaccinated.
There are valid reasons for people being reluctant to relax these habits just yet, including the concern over vaccine-resistant variants, which make up the greatest proportion of new COVID-19 cases in BC. This can be especially worrisome for those who, despite being vaccinated, have weakened immune systems or live with other chronic health conditions.
But even if COVID-19 were to disappear completely tomorrow, it is to be expected that some people will feel anxiety over “returning to normal." Regaining our previous comfort level about how we do things, engage publicly or socialize will take a bit of time. Let's remember that everyone is different and that we all react to things in different ways – and that's fine!
In some ways, our brains need to “relearn" how to be “normal" again. It's like breaking a new hiking trail—you may need to go over it many times. The key is to “start low and go slow," if that is what makes you most comfortable. You may want to initially visit with a few friends outdoors and gradually build up to attending a larger event.
We also need to show lateral kindness to each other. If someone needs more time to adjust and wants to keep wearing their mask, give them that space and respect their decision. Don't apply pressure, don't make fun of them, and don't discourage their personal preferences.
Our diversity makes us great, and it's because we're all so different that we'll have different reactions to BC “reopening." Some people are joyfully throwing out their masks, while others will want to continue wearing them, perhaps even after the pandemic is over. Above all, let's respect each other's differences and choices.
For more help on adapting to the changes ahead, I recommend this additional reading:
8 Tips for Coping with 'Reopening Anxiety' When You're Living with a Chronic Condition (Healthline article)
Anxious about returning to pre-pandemic life? Here are tips on how to cope (CTV News article)