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Saturday, March 2, 2024
March 2, 2024

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Jayne: Eager to face the music

By , Columbian Opinion Page Editor


For me, it’s concerts. When pondering what will signal that life has regained some semblance of normalcy, the answer is standing in a crowd at Portland’s Crystal Ballroom watching some punk/indie artist play music. Preferably Sleater-Kinney.

The question, of course, is an existential one. Because our lives have been altered in ways obvious and opaque over the past 13 months, and there is no telling what the new normal will look like.

For many people, the coronavirus has eliminated family gatherings and trips to the grocery store. For others, following the initial shock of COVID-19’s arrival, it has meant little change – save for wearing a mask when in public. Still others have pretended that there was no reason to change anything about their lifestyles; 550,000 American deaths argue otherwise, but that is a topic for another time.

Remember how empty the roads were following the initial lockdowns? You probably don’t, because you likely were staying home. That quickly changed.

Now, as widespread vaccines are starting to finally tamp down the virus, there is hope for even broader signs of pre-pandemic normalcy. Which begs the questions: What will you do when you are fully vaccinated? What will you do when a majority of the population has been vaccinated, enough to qualify for herd immunity? How do you think others will react?

Those are difficult to answer. Because pandemics do not magically disappear; there is no finish line and there is no demarcation point at which everything returns to “normal.” People will continue to get sick from COVID, probably for years. Mutant strains already are appearing. Many have lost loved ones, and many “long-haulers” who have recovered from the disease are still experiencing symptoms.

On top of that, the psychological impact will linger for the rest of our lives in ways we don’t even realize – particularly for children, teens and young adults.

And still, the thought of normal is mouth-wateringly delicious, despite being ill-defined.

Knute Burger of Seattle-based Crosscut recently wrote an article under the headline, “What the 1918 flu can teach us about COVID and ‘returning to normal.’ ” The lessons from a century ago are not encouraging.

“And normal, whatever that is, might be a long way off,” he writes. “Consider that the decade after the 1918-1922 pandemic saw the reemergence of the Ku Klux Klan, social upheaval, Jazz Age excess, the rise of fascism and financial recklessness that helped lead to the Great Depression.”

Such concerns are likely beyond our personal orbit. It is difficult to ponder the socio-economic impact of coronavirus when we are simply trying to keep ourselves and our families safe while hoping our friends stay healthy. And for many, the desire is only to hug their grandchildren – or grandparents – again.

But sociologists already are debating how the public will react as recovery draws near. As columnist Mary Schmich of the Chicago Tribune wrote, “The liberation we feel from vaccination is like opening a window on a warm day in March: Yeah, that fresh air feels good, but it’s still winter, you fool. Don’t dream too big.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that, after being fully vaccinated, it is OK to visit with other fully vaccinated people indoors without masks and without socially distancing. They also say it is OK to visit with unvaccinated people from one household who are at low risk from COVID.

The guess, however, is that normalcy will take two forms. For many, it will be a release of pent-up desires for human contact; in other words, they will party. But for plenty of others, the isolation of the past year will remain as the new normal; hanging on the couch with Netflix can be a hard habit to break. Not many of us will inhabit the middle ground of slowly dipping our toe into the waters of social interaction.

But that is just a guess about our post-pandemic future. The only certainty is that I am looking forward to concerts.