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We asked Ontarians what they’ll miss when the pandemic is over. It turns out there’s a lot

We asked Ontarians what they’ll miss when the pandemic is over. It turns out there’s a lot
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As the province moves into the first step of its three-stage reopening Friday, Ontarians will finally be able to enjoy more freedoms, after what people hope will be the last COVID-19 lockdown in the province.

The brutality of the pandemic was felt across Ontario’s communities. Half a million residents were infected. Thousands died; teenagers as young as 13, front-line workers, long-term-care residents and disproportionately visible minorities.

Lives were irreversibly changed, but despite the tragedy felt all over the province, people found slivers of hope. There were moments of peace, deep connection, success and for some even better health.

The Star spoke with six Ontarians about what they’ll miss from the pandemic, and what aspects of the “new normal” they hope will continue in a post-pandemic world. Here’s what they said.

The personal space

For Martine Lamy, 56, it’s been “a treat” to have more personal space through the pandemic. A few years back, when she was still teaching, she began getting very sick during the school year, at times “feeling like it may not end well.” It made her “extra vigilant” in trying to prevent further sickness.

“When I can, I even go as far as being upwind of people if I’m outside socializing,” Lamy said. “Only my boyfriend gets hugs, and I hope he keeps up his social-distancing from others after the pandemic, too.”

Lamy, now retired, dealt with non-consensual hugging in the past, especially in her teaching career, she said. Close friends and coworkers automatically assumed hugs were in order after coming back from a vacation, or during celebrations, like birthday parties. Some friends were “quite upset” when she began to deny them hugs.

When Lamy sees people getting too close, she tries to back up and let them know that due to health issues, she has become “a little germaphobic” in the past few years. Most people understand, she said.

Some don’t. Not even in a global pandemic that has killed millions. When Lamy asked one man to stand further back in a grocery lineup, he launched a barrage of insults until she left. In another instance, a woman told Lamy to stay home if she’s so paranoid, wondering out loud if Lamy has a death wish by being out in public.

Her response: “Keep your cooties to yourselves please! It’s not just COVID that can be spread through air.”

Family time

Mary Lynn Trotter’s daughter Laura Grace Cosgrove is leaving the nest; she’s off to university in Nova Scotia in the fall.

Ontario schools have been closed to in-person learning longer than in any other province in Canada, and are now rivalling the longest school closures globally.

Cosgrove was “born late” in Trotter’s life, at 42. Her husband was 51. Both retired, they feel they were able to provide their daughter, who is autistic, “with more support than usual.”

The extra time at home also gave them an opportunity to schedule a redo of Cosgrove’s psychoeducational assessment, which the family plans for between major steps in their daughter’s life. Her parents have helped her set up housing accommodations as well. They applied early for the residence she wants, a small apartment-style unit.

Cosgrove is graduating with honours and headed to Dalhousie University to study history.

The chance to save money

If it wasn’t for the pandemic — and careful budgeting — Andrew Brethauer says his family wouldn’t be in such a stable place with their finances. Over the past year, Brethauer, 35, has paid off $30,000 in loans and is three years ahead of the schedule he had planned earlier.

As “everything was going to hell” in March 2020, Brethaur and his fiancée, Amanda Davis-Bouchard decided early on to emerge from the pandemic in a better financial position. They moved to Sarnia from Ancaster in July 2019 for “cheaper living” and less costly rent. With travel restrictions in place, they called off a trip to Florida that would have cost $3,000. When they order takeout, it’s pizza, with the exception of meals from a local Italian restaurant run by family friends. They’ve opted instead to buy better kitchen appliances and ingredients.

“Some people are buying swimming pools and play sets for their kids,” Brethauer said, “but we just stay the course. We’re not rushing out to buy the toys and the distractions, like we were before. We use what we have, and live within our means.”

With “nothing else to do,” the content marketing manager took on some freelance writing, earning enough to pay off $7,000 in car loans, reducing interest fees and freeing up cash for other expenses. He settled a $13,000 line of credit he took out in December 2019 to consolidate “a bunch of debt.”

“I just kept throwing money at it, because I’m not using it. It’s just sitting there,” Brethauer said. “You have no choice but to save money. It just happens, automatically.”

Davis-Bouchard, 33, is an early childhood educator. She went back to school to get her psychology degree in May 2020. The couple has been able to pay for her schooling as she goes, spending around $10,000 on her education this past year, instead of acquiring debt. They have a seven-month-old son and a seven-year-old daughter.

The accessible learning — finally

It took a pandemic, but academic institutions did something that disability advocates have been urging for years, says Carolyn Pioro: they brought in remote learning. Education became more accessible for many people with disabilities who want to learn independently.

“It wasn’t rocket science to make it work, meaning continued exclusion really is a rather hostile act,” said Pioro, a freelance writer and fact-checker.

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Pioro, 42, who uses a wheelchair, relies on the help of a personal support worker. She earned her bachelor of arts degree in semiotics in the early 2000s, “pre-injury thus pre-disability.” Since 2017, she has tried to return to school on and off, with the hopes of improving her grades to pursue a master’s degree, and take architecture classes, a personal interest that aligns with her favourite work.

But for morning lectures, Pioro would need to start her morning routine at 4:30 a.m. And long evening courses required on average five hours of PSW help, and close to $100 out of pocket for just one evening class, and anywhere between $400 to $800 weekly.

Before March 2020, she wasn’t taking classes, but online learning gave her a chance to restart. It’s a “sticking point” for Pioro. Remote learning was seemingly adopted and implemented overnight, but when she or other students with disabilities broached the topic with universities pre-pandemic, conversations were unfruitful. Professors didn’t want to be recorded, or said they were unable to, and administrators were unsure whose jurisdiction it would be to set up an online system for a student or group, Pioro explained.

“So it was tangibly always possible … it just seemed like this web of nebulous impossibility, that it just wouldn’t work,” she said. “It’s disappointing this didn’t come from more fundamental shifts in the way people think about disability and accessibility.”

Now that the infrastructure exists, the feasibility gives advocates another strong argument. It would be “selectively ableist” to not continue offering it as an option in the fall, Pioro says.

A spokesperson for the University of Toronto said the university “looks forward to welcoming all of our students, including our students with disabilities, back to campus” and “will continue to determine the appropriateness of remote accommodations that may be needed.”

The built-in excuse for introverts

With restrictions loosening over the May long weekend, Heather Badenoch met a few friends in one of their backyards. After weeks of solitude, the socialization was “amazing”; they played music, each dancing in their corner of the deck. When another friend suggested getting together the next day, she declined.

Badenoch, 45, probably doesn’t come off as an introvert. She delivers workshops, presentations and emcees events through her work as a communications strategist. She talks to strangers at the grocery store. But massive events, “loud and people-y,” have never been her thing.

“We can have a great time dancing or doing whatever, but after a while, there’s only so much noise and small talk I can take,” she said. “I just want to make a quiet exit, and it’s like a light switch. I’m suddenly done and want to go.”

Extroverted friends struggled more during long lockdowns. They initiated the Zoom calls and distanced walks, whereas she could stream Netflix and read books for weeks.

“What I’ll miss from the pandemic is that built-in excuse and reason to not go anywhere, if you don’t want to go, that we all accepted as the norm,” Badenoch said. “In the post-pandemic world, the introverts have to explain themselves … now we’re back into the cycle of figuring out how to say no in a nice way, or going and leaving early.”

The tighter health measures in daycares

Kim Law’s two children have attended the same child-care centre near Summerhill TTC station. Her six-year-old son, Adrian Lynch, passed through the daycare years ago, pre-pandemic.

“My son was sick once he started daycare and he was sick the entire way through,” Law said.

This past year, with new COVID guidelines implemented across child-care settings, three-year-old Morgan has stayed consistently “very healthy,” save for a few inevitable runny noses.

“The new daycare protocols have made illness in the daycare almost nonexistent,” said Law, 42. “If one kid gets stomach flu, everyone gets it, because they’re in each other’s faces … but she really hasn’t caught anything.”

The daycare has implemented a “zero tolerance” policy for signs of sickness, Law said. If children start to show symptoms during the day, they are isolated from other students and staff and are sent home.

“It’s probably annoying for parents, but really helps keep the kids healthy,” Law said.

The daycare centre has also staggered pickups and drop-offs, with each class assigned particular time frames, to give staff enough time to clean classrooms between cohorts. The parking lot is divided into three rows; kids stand in a square drawn on the floor at the front of each division, before being ushered to their parents by a teacher at the end of the day. One teacher is responsible for bringing in or walking out children who arrive or leave outside of their class’s time frame, through a designated door.

“They’ve been really good at keeping people separate, and all the teachers have to wear masks,” Law said. “For a while they were wearing face shields.”

Law and her husband work full time, with child care during the day falling to her. It’s challenging with one kid, even more with two, said Law, an electrical engineer.

“I work even after they go to sleep, it makes for very long days,” Law said. “We’re lucky, because we do have daycare … I’m not sure that I would be able to work without Morgan in daycare.”
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