Though many of us may like sleeping in, eating in and staying in, the time has come for us to finally get back to work, back to play and back to our lives. But with COVID-19, how we get back and what we get back to will look and feel different.

First of all, the whole purpose of the lockdown was not to eradicate COVID-19 but to slow the spread so that the number of really sick people who need an ICU bed can have one and health care workers can all have masks, gloves and gowns. By all accounts, we have achieved that in the state of Minnesota. Now we can start to re-open.

As we do so, however, we must do it in a controlled fashion because the virus has not gone away. As we re-engage, we will see more people get sick, some of whom will die. Unfortunately, that is inevitable but as long as we have an ICU bed for all who need one, our health care system should be able to save those that can be saved, minimizing the death toll. But make no mistake…there will be a death toll.

With that in mind, we should accept that masks are now an accessory, hugs and handshakes are out, and you are not likely to feel “crowded” anytime soon. We also need to understand that those local businesses that have survived so far really need our support, even though we may see an increase in the cost of a sandwich, a coffee and a pastry.

Your next doctor visit might happen in your kitchen via the computer, but when you need to go to the office, expect to wear a mask, wait in your car until they are ready for you, the medical team to be masked and the exam table or chair to smell like Clorox.

For your elective surgery, you will now need not only a pre-op physical but also a COVID test…and self-quarantine from the time of your test until the actual surgery.

Places like optical shops that used to welcome walk-ins, browsers and their friends, now require appointments to keep crowds and exposure to a minimum. In other businesses, watch the floor and follow the arrows as you shop, then stand on the dots to social distance as you check out…and don’t reach around the sneeze guard.

“Is there any relief in sight?” you ask? There is, but not too soon. We can expect these kinds of rules and regulations to continue until:

1. We develop “herd immunity.” This happens with about 60% of the population has been exposed or has been sick and recovers, developing immunity to reinfection. If enough people are immune, the spread slows significantly but some people will continue to get sick.

2. We develop a vaccine. This allows us to achieve “herd immunity” quickly without the need for people to get sick in the process. Again, the virus is still present but if we target those most susceptible, like the elderly and those in congregate care facilities, we greatly reduce mortality.

“When can we expect a vaccine?” you ask? Researchers at Oxford University have working on corona virus vaccines for several years, not in anticipation of this pandemic but for other purposes. Their vaccine has already been proven safe in humans.

With a slight tweak they converted it to address COVID-19 and are therefore further down the development process, having already begun human testing in the United Kingdom. If things go well, they could potentially be ready to go in September with a limited supply, ramping production to have their vaccine generally available by the new year.

Until then, however, we need to learn how to live with this pesky virus and should slowly resume our lives, learning some new habits, adjusting our expectations, being mindful of those around us and washing our hands more than we ever dreamed.

Dr. Michael Richie is the owner of Richie Eye Clinic. Reach him at 507-332-9900.

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