When is the return to normalcy? Chicago infectious disease expert discusses future with COVID-19

Medical Watch
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SARS-COV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, may wane once a vaccine is available. But that doesn’t mean a return to normal.

Some new habits may stick around while we struggle through the summer, but are brighter days ahead?

“I think summer 2025 in Chicago is going to look a lot more like summer 2019,” said University of Chicago Medicine infectious disease specialist Dr. Emily Landon said. “To be perfectly honest with you, this should be behind us by then.”

Landon said in the next year or two, she hopes people will be able to go into crowds.

“I hope that people will want to wear masks in their daily lives that may not fall away as quickly as you might imagine,” Dr. Landon said. “I think we’ll be able to start having wedding and be able to worship in churches the way that we want to and be able to go to movies and go to live music performances.”

But what about another outbreak? Dr. Landon said environmental changes are a major factor.

The root cause of the pandemic has yet to be determined. The virus likely traveled from a bat, a known coronavirus carrier, to another animal before infecting a human.

The first SARS outbreak and MERS took a similar route.

“New viruses and new bacterial infections and old infections resorting are certainly a part of having a more populous world and a part of encroaching upon more habitats and more contact between humans and animals,” Dr. Landon said. “That is not something we can get rid of by saying ‘oh my God, it’s so gross that people eat soup that has bats in it.’ I don’t think that is the real problem. This will not be the last of the coronaviruses that jump from animal to human.”

To prepare for another virus, Dr. Landon said PPE production must ramp up.

“We still don’t have a stockpile of supplies that would allow us to get through another massive surge in most places,” Dr. Landon said. “And the areas where you are seeing really high case counts, you are hearing reports of being asked to reuse disposable masks and asked to rewear other disposable PPE.”

Another critical factor is containment.

“When it comes to something that can harm another person, we can’t keep that private. It’s just not right,” Dr. Landon said. “Our public health system and contact tracing system is not about trying to figure out where you picked up COVID. It’s about trying to make sure that no more people, get exposed than have to get exposed.”

Many of the changes to the way healthcare is delivered during the pandemic will remain. Telemedicine is here to stay.

“We’ve been trying to move forward on being able to have tele-visits with patients for years and there have been a lot of technological hurdles, a lot of regulatory hurdles, and I think what we’re finding is that actually, it’s not that hard. People really like it, patients like it, doctors like it,” Dr. Landon said.

While it seems like we are moving forward, Dr. Landon expressed concern about current numbers. She said she fears we’re heading back to where we were in the spring and that will delay our return to normalcy.

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