Shelter-in-place restrictions are slowly lifting—here's what you can expect from our new normal.

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As states begin to publicize plans for reopening public spaces, citizens who have spent weeks sheltering in place are preparing to adjust to a life after quarantine. But if you're eager to restart your old routine, you need to manage your expectations. "We will not be going back to normal," says Dr. Rebecca Katz, professor and director of the Center for Global Health Science and Security at Georgetown University Medical Center. "It will be a new normal." Ahead, what life will likely look like—and how to navigate these unprecedented changes.

woman wearing fask mask waiting for a train
Credit: Getty / Halfpoint Images

Continue social distancing.

Whether you're itching to get back into the studio for your favorite fitness class or hoping to attend that concert you bought tickets for in December, remember that large group events probably won't be the norm right away. "If you look at other countries and cities who have been tortured by the 'solitude virus,' as I like to call it, they are still using social distancing and mask restriction measures after six months," says Dr. Ramon Tallaj of SOMOS Community Care; he has been on the front lines of COVID-19 for weeks, and is currently managing two testing sites in New York City, one in Queens, the other in the Bronx.

According to Dr. Tallaj, expect to continue those weekly happy hours, kids' piano lessons, and work meetings virtually—at least for now. "People will be shifting to more technological platforms to keep society moving forward while continuing the physical distancing," he notes. "You'll likely see the rise of telemedicine and teletherapy, too." And when students do go back to school, they should anticipate at least a few changes. "Schools and other facilities will have to adapt," says Dr. Tallaj. "They will offer different techniques to disinfect and check for early sign of the disease, even when we know many patients have no symptoms."

Don't get rid of your mask (yet).

Researchers continue to study every facet of the coronavirus, including whether patients who survive it gain immunity, and, critically, how long the immunity lasts. "The only way to know is continue testing and re-testing at intervals—one month, three months, six months," says Dr. Tallaj. But since patients who are immune to the virus can still pass it on, wearing personal protective equipment—like a face mask—will remain critical as we operate in public spaces more frequently. "It's very important to know that a person who already had the disease and had immunity could still test positive to the virus," says Dr. Tallaj. "That doesn't necessarily mean that person will get sick again, but they can still spread it where others could come in contact with the virus. You have to understand that PPE is not only used to protect you, but at same time to protect others from you."

Stay cautious.

As businesses reopen, workers who don't yet feel comfortable interacting in large groups may not have the option to stay home. "Many people don't have the luxury of choice if their jobs demand them to work in what they may deem an unsafe environment," says Dr. Katz. "I would reengage in society with the assumption that everyone you come into contact with might be carrying the virus. Wear masks, maintain physical distance, practice good hand hygiene, and carefully monitor your symptoms."

Dr. Tallaj also stresses the importance of staying vigilant about safety precautions—and your health. "Avoid crowded areas. Stay in shape both physically and mentally as much as possible. Protect the elderly and fragile," he says. "Do not believe it will not get to you. As long as the threat of a pandemic is out there, we should consciously live as if we are in long-term restriction."

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