COVID-19 and the new normal

Stories of how a virus changed everything

Staying home, frequent hand washing, social distancing—this is our new reality. A reality no one could have anticipated as we eagerly popped champagne and toasted to the start of a new decade. 

Even though a country oceans away from Canada was struggling to contain the spread of a deadly respiratory disease, there were no immediate reasons to panic. The virus was far from home, far from us. But that would quickly change. In a matter of months, COVID-19 would become a pandemic that wreaked havoc and brought the world to a stand-still.

Canada, amongst other countries, began reporting their first few cases of the disease earlier in the year. While precautions were taken almost immediately, none were enough to slow the global spread. Today, the scene of people venturing outside their homes standing six feet apart adorned in masks and gloves is one that has signified the start of a new normal.

As of April 9,  a month into the large-scale social isolation, the total number of positive cases in Canada alone is over 20,000, according to the Government of Canada’s website. Approximately 5,800 of these cases are in Ontario, but that number will rise. 

While there’s no way to predict when this pandemic will end, what is certain is that COVID-19 has led to a global tipping point. The coronavirus has changed all aspects of our daily lives, whether that be grocery shopping, attending school classes or even going for a walk around the block. The ripple effects of this virus resulted in a massive overhaul of society that in many ways has been unprecedented.  

This unparalleled time that sees most of the Canadian population isolated at home has understandably led to worry, fear and uncertainty about the future. Emerge asked new Guelph-Humber graduates to share the ways COVID-19 has impacted their lives. Though each experience was different, all had a similar theme where the plans and expectations they once had were abruptly changed. 


Illustration of Karisa

Illustration of Amanda
Illustration of Emma

Headshot illustrations by Madeline Ricafort

Headshot illustrations by Madeline Ricafort

Staying home and practicing social distancing have made many feel disconnected with the rest of the world. Technology therefore has become critical as people use social media to stay connected with friends, family and the constantly changing situation. Twitter has become a window to the outside world where people can see politicians making decisions for a country, photos of deserted tourist attractions and videos of people singing on their balconies that show snapshots of humanity. Platforms like Zoom have become essential for schools and companies alike as it keeps everyone connected.

With the closure of schools and non-essential businesses, digital alternatives are becoming the new way of life. Classes have become subject to eLearning as the school year is coming to an end. Similarly, many employees are working from home, made possible by the rapid advancements in technology over the past decade.

But not everyone is revelling in the surge of technological use during the pandemic. Some are using this time to disconnect and instead reconnect with forgotten hobbies and pursuits. Passion projects that were once put on the backburner due to the stresses of school or work have made a reappearance. Although this has proven to be a great way to whittle away the time indoors by many, the growing uncertainty of the situation continues to weigh heavily.

The ambiguity of not knowing when everything will be back to normal has caused businesses to shutter their windows but whether that be temporary or permanent is still uncertain to many business owners. The sudden reality of unemployment has had a massive impact and, according to Statistics Canada, nearly one million Canadians have lost their jobs as of April 9.

While this is quite a jarring statistic, essential service employees are working tirelessly as the demand for their services has never been needed more. Health care workers, grocery store clerks and first responders are just a few occupations the Ontario government deemed essential. Front line workers are putting themselves at risk of exposure to ensure the rest of the community is being taken of care.


Headshot illustrations by Madeline Ricafort

Illustration of Maya
Illustration of Neryse
Illustration of Nicole
Illustration of SK

Headshot illustrations by Madeline Ricafort

With the uncertainty that remains regarding how much longer we’ll have to live in our new normal, it’s interesting to view how the world is able to adapt to these changes within a matter of months. But after an event like this, how will the world move forward? What do people think will change? These were questions that Emerge posed and the overall consensus was that many companies will continue to allow employees to work from home, for fear of a second wave of the virus. The simple act of a handshake may become an obsolete gesture as more people will be wary of each other and what the simple touch of a hand can do.

Though there have been many changes, it’s comforting to see how communities are coming together to help slow the virus’ progression. With hopes of this pandemic ending soon, many cling onto the hope that working together by staying apart will brings us closer to the normal we once knew.



Alyssa Alibaksh
Melissa Lopez-Martinez


Emma Siegel
Amanda Naccarato
Neryse Morely
Nicole Oziel
Karisa Simon
Shayan Karimi

Graphic Designers:

Maya Bhikhu (feature image)
Madeline Ricafort (headshot illustrations)

Web Designer:

Kedice Jones 


A few days ago, as I was lying in bed waiting to fall asleep, my chest began to feel tight and my room felt incredibly small. My throat clogged up and my body started to rack as my tears formed puddles on my pillow.

This feeling was all too familiar to me. I was having a panic attack. At the time, I forgot all about my coping techniques that my counsellor had taught me. I just let it happen. I let the black hole that had been lurking in the back of my mind consume every part of my being because I thought, “Why not?” “Why shouldn’t I have a panic attack? The world is ending anyways.”

I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder in my third year of university, and the current COVID-19 pandemic has been very frightening and surreal. I thought this kind of thing only happened in movies.

I just cannot stop worrying. My mind and my body work overtime. I am constantly thinking of what to do because no one, not even the government, knows how to defeat COVID-19. For example, as the number of positive COVID-19 cases in Ontario began to rise, before the CDC even recommended wearing cloth face coverings in public, I was watching DIY face mask videos on YouTube. People were dying and I was scared.

The media is not helping. In fact, mainstream news sources like CP24, CBC, Global News and CNN have been a trigger for my anxiety. Before COVID-19, I would consume information from these outlets via television, online, or social media for information on what is happening locally and internationally. But it seems like the only thing that is newsworthy nowadays is COVID-19. Around the clock, I am bombarded by reportings on the rise of positive cases, death, and the lack of medical and protective supplies. This often leads me into a state of panic. The black hole.

I now find myself in an unprecedented situation. I have chosen to limit my media intake for the sake of my mental health. As a media studies student, it is hard because pre-pandemic media, especially local stories, has brought a lot of joy and knowledge to my life. However, at the moment it is causing more harm to me than good.

I have considered searching for other news outlets, but I find it very difficult because CP24, CBC, and Global News are the main news providers for Ontario. However, I have purposely limited how many times I consume the news and how long I consume them to prevent a triggering of my anxiety. I have also encouraged myself to set time during my day to consume media from positive storytelling outlets such as Upworthy and the Good News Movement on social media.

An Instagram video posted on the Good News Movement of an elderly Scottish woman greeting her family and sending them good wishes because she is self quarantining brought me calm and delight instead of panic. If you are also coping with COVID-19 related anxiety during this time, I suggest that you limit your consumption of media that triggers your anxiety and find news outlets that publish positive content.

I used to believe that something was wrong with me because I have anxiety. But the truth is nothing is wrong with me. And if you have anxiety too, especially right now, amidst this novel pandemic, nothing is wrong with you either.

COVID-19 has had an unusual way of turning everyone’s lives upside down seemingly overnight. My classmates and I were finalizing the last few details of this year’s Emerge print magazine when we were alerted through tweets that Tom Hanks had contracted the respiratory virus. The actor was in Australia at the time and although we were sad to hear the news, it felt worlds away. It wasn’t enough to cause any concern. Little did we know that as we wrapped up our project and walked out of the large front doors, it would be the last time we’d exit Guelph-Humber as classmates.

Within days, universities across Ontario halted operations as Toronto began shutting down. There was so much uncertainty and it eventually crept into my personal life. The freelancing work I had grown to love since being an intern was vanishing. Daily tasks had dwindled down to once a week. I knew it was only a matter of time before I was out of a job, yet that didn’t soften the blow of being told I was no longer needed.

Having my school plans completely derailed and accepting my sudden unemployment, I found myself with a whole lot of time on my hands. At first I got into a real Netflix binge-fest, but I eventually got bored of watching "just one more" episode of The Good Place. So I turned to what I've enjoyed most—creative writing.

This all may feel a little anticlimactic, I surely didn’t think my final year of university would fizzle out this way. I'm sad that I may never say goodbye to my classmates. I’m angry that I may not get to walk across a stage and wave my roll of parchment. But I know that I’d regret not making the most of staying home because this will all end one day and I want to look back knowing I—and those around me—did our best to be happy during an awful time.

My tip for readers: Discover new hobbies, dance around to old music, read those novels you’ve barely cracked open.

On Feb. 5 I went to the hospital because I hurt my foot. There was no deliberation, no hesitation; I injured myself and so I went. I was asked at the hospital if I had travelled within the past two weeks, and I answered yes because I had been in New York City the weekend before. The nurse didn’t seem worried at all, at that point they were screening for answers like “Wuhan” or “China.” If I had gone to the hospital today, only two months later, and gave the same answer, I don’t think the staff would be as nonchalant.

My mom and I sat in the hospital for hours and played our favourite game: people watching. We only counted three people wearing masks, and that didn't include the doctors I interacted with. We decided that as long as the health care professionals weren’t wearing them, there was nothing to worry about.

On March 23, I went back to the same hospital for further testing. Only a month and a half later, the glaring changes showed just how serious the situation had become. The waiting rooms were devoid of people, the halls were empty, everyone in the hospital was wearing masks and I went through three checkpoints to ensure I wasn’t showing any COVID-19 symptoms.

Hospitals weren’t the only changes I saw throughout my healthcare experiences these past few months. I went from going to appointments with doctors to remote phone calls instead. The doctors were unable to do examinations, and therefore relied on my descriptions of the problem in order to try and make a diagnosis.

As of writing this on April 5, I have been told that no tests can be run to confirm a diagnosis and no treatments can be started because of the sweeping closures of non-essential medical care.

It has only been three months since my injury, but the way I am able to receive medical care has changed drastically. I have watched what was initially a concern morph into a pandemic that has brought the world to a standstill, and I had a front row seat from my hospital chair.

My tip to readers: This situation is a great opportunity to learn that language you never had time for, paint like you’ve always wanted to or pick up an instrument that has been collecting dust. Don’t let the state of our new world get the better of you and use this time (and your restless energy) to discover new hobbies and talents.

“Stay at home. Practice social distancing.” Now what? Personally, I’ve been trying to make the most out of this unfortunate and tragic situation. I shifted my perspective and asked myself: How can I make use of all of this time in my day? Well, I have been using these past few weeks as a time to relax, spend time with my family —those who I live with, of course— and to tackle my own personal tasks I hadn’t made enough time for in the past. Currently, I have been developing my online portfolio that will consist of all photographic, graphic, video-related and other creative work. Exploring different design softwares as well as other art styles has been something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I have also played online games with my friends and have used Netflix Party (which comes with some glitches but I think is a neat idea). It’s funny, there are a few family members who would normally be busy and are hard to reach. However, thanks to FaceTime and Whatsapp, I’ve been keeping in constant communication with them, especially those who are overseas. This is how I’ve been using my time but everyone is coping with this experience in their own way which doesn’t require being productive… and that’s completely okay!

My tip to readers: Explore your talents, interests and new hobbies – you’d be surprised by what you discover and what you can create from them!

I’m considered a front line worker, an essential worker during this crisis. My workplace
is a battlefield and my enemy is lurking on every surface and in every person I encounter. It’s unseen and skilled in guerilla warfare. I’ll never see their attack until it is too late. I work full time in a grocery store. My battlefield is the shelves I stock and the aisles that I walk down. My enemy is an invisible virus that lurks on the surfaces that I make sandwiches on. Every day for eight hours I go to work and make sure everyone who walks through my store gets the essential items their family needs. A lot of the personal protective equipment that is usually sent to my store for employees is being diverted to hospitals where the most important fight is happening. That means I’m left interacting with the public without any barriers. I’m risking my life and by extension my family’s lives to serve the public and to make sure I’m doing my part to help during this pandemic. If I get sick, I risk my mother falling seriously ill. She’s recovering from a surgery and is considered vulnerable. Yet, I work a minimum wage job, where a lot of customers don’t consider my health because of the stigma around entry level roles. They think less of people who work in public service, and don't think twice about invading my personal space and yelling at me. But they get to stay home. They have the choice to protect their families. It’s not the hedge fund managers or the celebrities who are keeping Canada and the world moving forward. It’s the grocery clerks, bus drivers, truck drivers and nurses. Those are the people who you should admire.

Four years ago, at Guelph-Humber’s Program Preview Day, I learned about Emerge, the fourth-year Media Studies capstone project. I have waited for four years in excitement to participate in my cohort’s Emerge projects. Finally, I became a part of the 2020 video promotion and production team. In addition to creating promotional videos, my team was supposed to create recap videos of this year’s events. I was going to help film four of the six events and direct the live broadcast of the Emerge Media Awards. Two weeks prior to the scheduled events, Emerge, and all my final semester events: Last Lecture, and a Study Abroad trip to Denmark in May, were cancelled due to Covid-19 concerns. All the excitement, preparations, and everything I’ve envisioned for these experiences will never come to life, I will have no memories to fill all these moments I’ve been waiting for.

The cancellations are devastating. It feels like everything has been stopped in the middle of a sentence. To mourn these losses, it’s been helpful to reminisce on all the experiences that I did get to have. Guelph-Humber has been a central component of my life, and these past four years I’ve come to feel very integrated into its community through my campus involvement. Reflecting on all the great opportunities I had makes the situation a bit less painful because I can be satisfied that I made the most of my time at Guelph-Humber. I know the cancellations are the right decision for public safety. For now, I’m social distancing at home and trying to express myself creatively, for me, this has been through experimenting with still-life photography.

My tip to readers: Use this time to express yourself creatively to process emotions, whether that be through painting, journaling, photography or any other medium.

It’s a weird time we’re living in right now, getting thrown out of your daily routine and being forced to stay home all day is really tough. It sucks not being able to enjoy the simple things in life like hanging out with your friends, going to your favourite sushi spot to grab a bite, catching a movie on the big screen, or visiting family members to see how they’re doing. As a sports enthusiast, not being able to go to the gym or watch live sporting events hasn’t been fun at all. Instead of getting down and upset about these things, I’ve chosen to look for solutions that can help. I’ve downloaded tons of free fitness apps so I can still get a workout done at home and I’ve also been going on a lot of bike rides and runs. For anyone who’s a sports fan like myself, streaming services like NBA TV are offering free trials so fans can have some sort of content to watch as the seasons are on hiatus. For sure it’s not the same as live sports but watching retro games from the past can still be really entertaining. With all this extra time on my hands I’ve also been able to complete a ton of tasks that I’ve never had the chance to do before. I finally read that book I kept telling myself I would, started that DIY project in my room and fixed that weird noise in my car that I kept telling myself was normal. It’s important to find creative ways to stay occupied and most importantly, stay informed, stay positive and keep your heads up! We’ll get through this together.

My tip to readers: Find interesting and creative ways to stay occupied that you never would have thought of before. Turn off Netflix for a while and spend some quality time with your family.