Does the easing of pandemic restrictions make you nervous? You're not the only one

For the first time in months, people will be able to gather in indoor settings with no capacity limits and with no need to show proof of vaccination. But to many, it doesn't mean it's best to let our guard down. Here's what you can do to limit your risk.

'Just because you're lifting the mandates, it doesn't mean that it's over,' expert warns

Margaret Loniewska, far right, is pictured here with her parents and her daughter. She says in spite of loosening pandemic restrictions, she won't allow her child to visit her grandmother in her new long-term care home yet. (Submitted by Margaret Loniewska)

As a parent of a child who hasn't been eligible for vaccination, and the daughter of elderly parents in need of care, Margaret Loniewska says she's always been extra cautious during the pandemic.

Now, with the loosening of COVID-19 restrictions in Ontario this coming week, the Toronto resident admits she's not sure what to do — and what not to do.

"I'll have to kind of play it by ear," Loniewska told CBC News.

Starting Tuesday, people will be able to gather in indoor settings with no capacity limits and with no need to show proof of vaccination, unless businesses choose to ask for it. The move comes after the province reported 1,003 COVID-19 hospitalizations last week — the lowest number of people hospitalized since the beginning of the Omicron wave last December. 

But even though Loniewska says it might be good time to have her daughter get to know her grandmother better, she won't bring them together yet. That's because her 83-year-old mother is about to enter one of Ontario's long-term care homes — a sector that saw numerous deaths and high amounts of transmission earlier in the pandemic and is looking at possibly loosening more restrictions

"We're just going to have to pray and hope that things turn out okay," she said.

'It doesn't mean that it's over'

Experts have a message for Ontarians like Loniewska who are wondering how to keep themselves and their loved ones safe: the public health measures may be gone, but the pandemic isn't.

People need to be "vigilant" despite the loosening restrictions, says Dr. Anna Banerji, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the University of Toronto.

"Just because you're lifting the mandates, it doesn't mean that it's over," Banerji told CBC News. 

Dr. Anna Banerji is the director of global and Indigenous health at the University of Toronto’s faculty of medicine. (Michael Cooper/University of Toronto)

Although 90 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated, Banerji says the elderly, and people who are unvaccinated or immunocompromised need to take extra care about who they see and where they go.

Indigenous communities — specifically those in Northern Ontario — should get extra testing, transportation and mental health support.

And with testing still severely limited, Banerji says it will be hard to be fully aware of what the true risks are.

"We'll have these blips going forward, but even if the mandates are down, you need to look at your risk and still try to protect yourself the best way you can," Banerji said.

Learning to live with COVID-19

With the weather starting to warm up, Banerji says people should make doing things outdoors a priority. And on top of getting your third vaccine dose, she recommends easing into the lifted restrictions by slowing expanding your personal bubble instead of rushing out the door all at once. 

That's what Alexander Eidelman, who lives on the Queensway in Toronto, has been doing throughout the pandemic. As someone who's been working from home for years, he says he wasn't as hard-hit as others. But he says the province needs to clarify what it's planning to do next.

"It feels like we're moving to 'mind your own business' and 'every man for themselves,'" said Eidelman, a design event consultant. 

Alexander Eidelman says there needs to be a clear plan for Ontarians to deal with COVID-19 in the long-run. (Submitted by Alexander Eidelman)

"In Ontario, we've seen open and close, open and close, like a yo-yo," he said, referring to the province repeatedly loosening restrictions only to tighten public health measures all over again when cases spike and waves of infection overwhelm the health-care system. 

"And we seem to have not been better for it," he said. "Is this going to be another of that situation?"

Eidelman says his anxiety could be eased if there were more clear steps taken to control the virus outside of vaccination campaigns, and if the messaging wasn't centred around returning to a pre-pandemic reality.

"Normal to me is what allowed this pandemic to get out of control," he said.

"Do we really want to go back to normal?"