Are We?

"Having Trouble Coping With Post Pandemic Life?" The headline blared at me this morning on my phone (side note - I am so dependent on Apple products at this point, it's hopeless), and yes, all around us are the questions and stories of "trying to get back to normal." But that headline prompted my most cynical morning affirmation... "Are we?"

Is this really "post pandemic"? It's a fair question, one we ought to ask harder and more often and not assume we know the answer. The logic for "post pandemic" generally goes: a) most of us are vaccinated; b) we're trying to get back to normal; and c) all those statistics about cases and hospitalizations and deaths are headed in the... right direction, right? So it's, you know, kind of over, right?

There are a lot of reasons o doubt that train of logic, questions and details and actual statistics that belie the hopefulness. More to the point there's a reality many Americans don't like: we've been trying to declare this Normalthing over since literally before it began. Some of that, yes, was Trump, his team, and their incompetence. Some of it, yes, was other Republicans and folks on the right following Trump's lead or politicizing what really should have been based on science and public health guidance. All bad, sure. But the toehold that allowed those claims and complaints to take root was America's general impatience and the closing of our society, the most open and free moving in the world.

The point is, this isn't over when we say it is. We won't have "normal" because we insist that everything be "normal." The pandemic is over when we can say, safely, that the risk of contracting a deadly illness is no longer a major threat, when we can treat the disease and prevent death, and when we can fully and safely resume the lifestyle and behaviors we had previously, free from worry for ourselves, and others.

And most surely, we are not there. And here's a quick pass at why:

  • The threat of variants: Covid 19 is highly contagious and easily spread. That has not changed, and the Delta variant is showing, yet again, that the disease moves faster than we can track. Given the concerns that variants may be vaccine resistant, it is way too soon to drop reasonable cautions.
  • We Are The World. While America ranges from 40-70% adults vaccinated depending on region, almost no other country in the world is close to where we are, except Israel. Most obviously, this (still) affects international travel; but more basically, "post pandemic" is not just us. It is when a substantial majority of the world can resume, safely.
  • What about the children? the pace and timing of vaccinations has meant that we won't resume anything like normal schooling until this fall, a reality that puts off for at least 3 months a lot of hard questions and unforeseen issues that may arise as we try to resume fully in person, 5 day a week schooling. For now, families are trying to set up normal kid summers around vacations and camp... and even that isn't quite working. It's cavalier to assume that we won't find, as August drifts into September, that simply restarting school is more complicated than anyone realizes.
  • Staffing. And about that camp, and that restaurant, and that airline: what seemed at first like mere conservative hysteria has laid bare the complexities of "getting back to work": the workers aren't where they were, and they're not going back. It's hard to simply undo furloughs. And seasonal employment means nothing after 18 months of seasonless everything. Yesterday, I checked the local commuter train station parking lot, and while it's fuller... the lot was 3/4 empty at 9am. That says to me that we are far away from anything like what life was like before.

Yesterday the Washington Post sneaked a peek at an upcoming book detailing the failures of Trump and his team in managing the pandemic. I suspect, for many, it will be easy to make those bad actions the focus of our failures in this pandemic. And in many ways, he should. But even without him, or with him gone, we struggle to treat this pandemic as a pandemic - an ongoing problem that will, for the foreseeable future, impact our lives, our choices, and hinder attempts to restore normalcy. That, really, is still on us... the rebels, the privileged, the fortunate few who have endured some minor hardship, but come through largely health and intact. Are we "having trouble coping with "post pandemic life"? Or are we really, just, you know, the problem?


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