COVID’s positive side-effect: fewer contagious illnesses. How can we make that last?

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Credit: University of Missouri
Credit: University of Missouri

Many of us have likely noticed what the data is bearing out: Strict social distancing and masking protocols not only kept us from getting COVID-19—we’ve barely had the sniffles since the pandemic began.

For example, the United States – the country hit hardest by COVID-19 – usually sees 45 million cases of the flu each year; this year, it was under 2,000. Other common respiratory viruses, including the rhinovirus that causes the common cold, were also way down. And experts say that could have a real impact on the future of disease and how our kids experience the world.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has forced both personal and foundational behaviour changes onto kids and families, everything from mask-wearing and social distancing to strict illness policies at schools and workplaces. Health experts say if they’re maintained, those measures could mean more winter seasons without those common childhood illnesses.

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“A lot of positive changes came out of this whole experience,” says Susan Little, an infectious disease expert with the University of California—San Diego. “We do a lot of things differently, and that could change everything.”

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