After more than a year, the once-novel practices of mask wearing, social distancing, and endless hand-washing to slow the spread of COVID-19 have become pretty routine.
With vaccinations gaining steam, the end of the pandemic is finally in sight. But that doesn’t mean we should ditch all of the new health practices we’ve come to take for granted.
Here’s a rundown of the public and personal health measures experts say should stick around post-COVID-19 — and which can go by the wayside.
Whether you’ve been counting to 20 or humming “Happy Birthday” twice in your head, we know by now that one of the best ways to prevent the spread of germs is to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water. This tried-and-true health practice has long been recommended to combat viruses including the flu and common cold, but people didn’t take it as seriously as they have been since the pandemic hit, says Dawn Misra, chair of the department of epidemiology and biostatistics at Michigan State University. “We give this advice a lot, but I suspect that people don’t entirely follow it,” she says, referring to non-pandemic times.
Thanks to public health education campaigns, frequent hand-washing is now second nature. And it’s one health practice that should definitely stick around after the pandemic. Misra has mixed feelings about hand sanitizers, however. They can kill helpful as well as harmful microbes, but they’re certainly convenient when there’s no sink or water around, she says.
Hang on to your masks
If you’ve amassed an impressive mask collection since last spring, you might want to resist the temptation to burn them when the pandemic wanes.
“We’ve often been astonished at other countries, how they wear masks during respiratory outbreaks,” Misra says. “That wasn’t always the case.” In Asian countries in particular, mask wearing during cold and flu seasons became quite common after the 2002-2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, outbreak, and the U.S. could — or at least should — follow suit.
“I could certainly see a role for it during the peaks of flu season,” Misra says.
Give employees some breathing room
While remote work hit a peak in the summer of 2020, many Americans are now heading back to their workplaces. Health experts hope employers will take away lessons from COVID-19 by rethinking crowded workspaces and allowing for more remote work when possible.
“It’s going to happen that companies realize they don’t need all people to be in the office at the same time,” says Vivek Kak, an infectious disease specialist who works at Henry Ford Allegiance Health in Jackson. Although, he stresses the importance of having some social interaction. “We can work from home, but we still need interpersonal contact.”
Misra suggests efforts among Michigan’s automakers to physically distance employees, among other protective measures, could model a new normal for other businesses. “It might be better for everyone to have a little more space,” she says.
Cool it with the sterilization
Post-pandemic, some health practices — such as the intense sanitation procedures adopted early in the pandemic — are not likely to continue. And that’s just fine.
“The biggest reason why COVID decreased was less to do with using bleach on surfaces and was more to the fact that we were physically distanced and wearing masks,” Kak says. Additionally, aggressively wiping out all bacteria on surfaces could be problematic in the long-term, Misra says, as it can lead to the emergence of resistant bacteria. “Sterile environments are not quite good for humankind,” she says.