Picture this: a world beyond the pandemic.

Perhaps this optimism is unearned and a little premature with the unceasing daily barrage of COVID-19 news and recent surges of the Delta variant, even in countries that had previously been successful at containing the virus, and even more concerning in the face of stubborn anti-vaxxers, government antics, and perhaps our own exhaustion and declining mental health.

But even if the virus becomes an endemic cold virus in the global population and never leaves us – which, despite your inward sigh at the suggestion, is a distinct possibility – there nevertheless will be a day where the imminent danger will pass and the restrictions that we have so fervently loathed yet carefully abided by will be a topic of reminiscent conversation among old friends at a dinner table or a story for our children.

That day is something to look forward to. It is essential that we allow ourselves to see an end to the pandemic, even if that end is one that gradually unravels rather than abruptly reveals itself. For lack of any “light at the end of the tunnel” can cause even the most jovial to become lost in the darkness. And so, as cliché as it may sound, it is essential that we have hope. So turn your frown upside down 🙂

In light of this hope, we interviewed students in our department about what they’re looking forward to when the threat of COVID-19 becomes a distant memory. (The students interviewed have chosen to remain anonymous, so their answers have been amalgamated into a single voice.)

Q: What are you looking forward to once the pandemic is over?

As sarcastic as it may sound, the response was quick and unapologetic: Student and Easton seminars. Having a designated time and space to mingle with peers, professors, and staff on a weekly basis helped keep the department connected and feel alive. It was a way to have productive discussions about immunology while also catching up with friends and colleagues over watered down coffee and refrigerated cookies (I can personally attest to this as well).

Another abundant response was to be able to see people smile. Behind a computer screen, we lack body language, mannerisms, and charisma. Even a virtual presence is optional with the ability to attend meetings without a camera or microphone switched on. In person, smiles are hidden behind masks and never seen. We hope you haven’t forgotten how!

What about eating freely in restaurants? It is absolutely valid to still be unwilling to eat indoors despite being allowed to under current public health guidelines, and for those that are comfortable, some restaurants have yet to open indoor dining within their walls. Being able to eat at your favourite places without these concerns is a sentiment shared by many.

woman in white shirt eating

Q: Is there anything you would miss about the pandemic?

“Being able to hide behind your mask!”

“Oh, and rolling out of bed for Zoom meetings.”

Q: What is your first post-pandemic travel destination?

“LA! Florida! Hawaii!”

“Anywhere hosting a live concert or musical festival.”

“Travelling to science conferences… not on Zoom. Does that count?”

Q: Are there any pandemic habits that you’ll keep?

“Sleeping in.” Which is totally valid – many of our sleeping schedules have been irreversibly damaged (my own included).

Sanitizing and washing your hands incessantly will be a keeper for many. Those who weren’t germophobic before have certainly become germaphobes, and those who already were have reached new heights of germaphobia.

Wearing masks. I know, we just talked about being able to see each other smile – I don’t mean wearing masks all the time, but in certain settings or contexts – like in the wintertime or on public transport. Some students had a history of getting sick with a cold or flu every year in previous years, but did not in 2020 and credited wearing masks to curbing the spread of the usual culprits of seasonal illness in addition to COVID-19.

Q: Did you have any noteworthy Netflix binges during quarantine?

Notable Netflix binges included Dark, which was “very confusing” and explained as “imagine Inception was 30 episodes”, said one enthusiastic student; Designated Survivor, which apparently could be binged and starred “the guy from 24”, said another.

Q: Any attempts at quarantine haircuts?

Yes. Most were allegedly disastrous, except for those lucky enough to have access to a skilled partner or roommate.

There you have it folks! This was what our students had to say. Let this be a time capsule for us to one day laugh and marvel at, and a reminder of that light at the end of the tunnel that has always been unwavering from the start. Near or far, that light was always and will always be there.

But perhaps it is not only reaching the light that will bring joy, but also moving toward it. And we are well on our way.

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Anthony Wong & Salma Sheikh-Mohamed

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