We’re Not Ready for Things to Go Back to Normal, if They Ever Can We’re easing restrictions too soon.
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My boss wants to throw a party next week. He wants to invite everyone who’s had their vaccine, no masks required. “Are you sure that’s a good idea?” I ask. “Can’t we still spread the virus?”
“I don’t think so,” he says. “Nobody’s said anything about that.”
“Um, I’m saying something right now.”
“Well, you can stay home.”
His problem is simple. My boss thinks things are going back to normal. He’s like millions of other people around the world. He’s been ready for this pandemic to end ever since it began, and that’s exactly why it’s still going. Our desire for normal is prolonging the torment.
Some of us don’t even care.
Every day I drive by restaurants with full parking lots. Friends of friends post pics from maskless birthday parties at packed dance clubs.
To them, the pandemic isn’t even real.
We’re Reopening too Soon
Texas just announced they’re reopening restaurants and bars at full capacity and lifting their mask mandate. Mississippi is doing the same. Ohio is allowing gatherings of more than 300 people. Michigan is expanding its restaurant capacity. So is Louisiana. It won’t be long before every state starts pretending everything’s just fine, if they already haven’t.
We’re not ready for that.
Health experts are trying to warn us we’re moving too fast. They’re calling rushed reopenings “a gigantic mistake.” They’re telling us “it’s still too early.” They’re asking us to wait a little longer and keep wearing our masks. It doesn’t sound like anyone’s listening.
We’ve seen this pattern over and over during the last year. The minute we start to make progress on containing the coronavirus, governors declare victory and relax restrictions. They’re so eager to get the economy going and reopen public schools, they ignore science.
It’s easy to predict what happens next. As our so-called leaders grow overconfident and abandon common sense, so will millions of others. Politicians and pundits across the U.S. will dismiss experts’ concerns, especially in southern states. They’ll encourage parties and football games. Spring break will crowd beaches and hotels.
Churches will fill.
Soon infection rates will climb again. Millions of people won’t pay attention, because they’ll think their vaccine makes them invincible.
It’ll be a fatal mistake, and we’ll pay for it.
Americans Are Terrible at Following Directions
Earlier today, I had to drop my car off at the dealership for some work. What I saw should’ve shocked me. Everywhere I looked, people were walking around with their masks down under their noses or tucked under their chins. They were touching and tugging at the fabric. They were pulling them down every time they talked to someone.
It was a mess.
This sight didn’t surprise me, because it’s what I see every time I go inside a store down here in Trump’s America.
Americans are terrible at listening and following directions. Most of us don’t even read the instructions before we try to put furniture together. We don’t look at warning labels or read the news.
I’ve long accepted this fact, which is why I’ve stayed home for most of the pandemic. My biggest adventure involves a walk around my neighborhood. At first I told myself I was quarantining to avoid the virus, but the truth has become more apparent over time.
I stay home to avoid people.
There’s a lot We Don’t Know about Variants
We’re not done with the pandemic yet, and people want to celebrate. They forget, there’s at least five variants of the coronavirus spreading through different countries right now. They’ve been identified in South Africa, Britain, and Brazil. On top of that, two variants have emerged in the U.S., and they’re now all circulating just about everywhere.
These variants are more contagious. They’re more deadly. They can evade our immune systems. They can cause reinfections.
Scientists are telling us not to panic, but they’re worried about these variants meeting up and swapping DNA, which could create a hybrid virus. This has already happened once, and it’s got scientists alarmed.
Yes, it’s troublesome.
This is exactly why we shouldn’t be reopening right now, and why we should be more cautious with masks and social-distancing.
The most frightening part of any evolving situation is always what we don’t know. Right now, there’s a lot of that.
We don’t know exactly what could happen if everyone abandons social-distancing as new strains of a deadly virus start circulating. We don’t know how well our vaccines will hold up. We don’t know what’ll happen to the death rate. In the worst case scenario, we’ll end up with a vaccine-resistant hybrid virus that goes on to kill millions more, all because we didn’t follow simple instructions and listen to scientists.
That seems where we’re headed.
Optimism Doesn’t Make You a Good Person
Some tell me I’m a pessimistic. I take it as a compliment. If we’ve learned anything from the last year, it’s that pessimists have been right. We’ve called it, with bone-chilling accuracy.
Meanwhile, the optimists have made things worse. They’ve let their guards down too soon, and the price has been heavy.
Ignoring reality doesn’t make you a good person. Pretending things will get better on their own is one of the most intellectually-lazy, immature, selfish things someone can do.
Wishing for the old normal isn’t productive. A lot of what we called “normal” is what got us into this mess. Instead, we should be looking at permanent changes to our mindsets and behaviors. For starters, we should all plan to wear masks during cold and flu season. We should all be adapting to work-from-home environments and virtual office spaces. We should be rebuilding our frayed healthcare systems. We should be outfitting our infrastructure for climate disasters. We should be building social safety nets.
John F. Kennedy said it best:
“The time to fix the roof is when the sun is shining.”
Kennedy did not say a sunny day was the perfect time to relax and work on your tan. Say what you want about Kennedy. Nobody ever criticized him for being too pessimistic.
The Truth is Hard, but Simple
Last weekend, I got my second dose of the Pfizer vaccine. It gave me a reason to hope the pandemic would end soon. The rest of my family would be eligible for their shot in a month or two. By May, we might’ve felt safe enough to start going inside stores again — with masks. By June, we might’ve started talking about a long overdue trip to visit family.
By August, I planned to be back in the classroom. My family and I were ready to ease back into society slowly. We weren’t going to rush it. We were going to take our time, stage by stage.
That was until this week, when our bone-headed leaders decided to make the same mistakes they made all last year.
Now my hope hangs by a thread.
It’s starting to look like we’re in for a repeat of 2020. Too many people seem too eager to squander every little bit of progress we make. Their optimism and overconfidence, combined with their general lack of common sense, is going to prolong the pandemic yet again.
We Need to Get Rid of the Old Normal
I’m starting to hate the word normal. It’s behind every stupid decision we make. Our desire for it undermines our will to listen.
Normal is the last thing we need now.
We need change.
Most of us are still processing the events of the last year. What some of us understand is that we can’t keep going the way we’ve been. It’s not just about this pandemic. It’s about the next one, which climate change will throw at us sooner than we expect. It’s about the increasing frequency of disasters, and the continual social unrest they breed.
What we call normal now is really just the lull between crises. It gives us a false sense of comfort and security. In truth, we should be using these respites to recuperate and prepare for what’s coming next. It’s the only way we’ll be ready. 2020 was the year we were constantly caught with our pants down, unable to respond — only able to react.
This is the year we’ve got to stop looking behind us to reclaim what used to be normal. That’s gone, forever. We need to accept that. Clinging to a pre-pandemic past will leave us vulnerable and overexposed.
Surviving the future means keeping your guard up. So I’ll be wearing my upgraded mask and avoiding public places, even though I’m fully vaccinated now. Once again, I’ll be taking extra precautions to make up the difference for all the mask slippers and slackers out there.
And of course, I’ll be skipping my boss’s maskless gathering.
It’s going to be lame anyway.