There is no return to normal, only more of the future

Many officials and pundits have taken to calling the current trajectory of the United States a “return to normalcy,” which ignores the fundamental inability of our society to go back after the pandemic exposed our most pressing issues.

We’ve all seen it in our history classes. Warren G. Harding, a presidential candidate in the election of 1920, used the campaign slogan “Return to Normalcy” after the events of the Spanish flu pandemic. Now, we face the same idea of a return to a past time, one without the existence of COVID-19 or pandemic practices.

More than a year ago, we lived in what those in the media now call “normality.” Normality paints a message of a time when wearing masks and practicing social distancing would frankly seem a bit strange and apocalyptic. Many are assuming that, with the help of vaccines (for example, both those released by Pfizer or Moderna), we can return to an experience resembling what we felt over a year ago. While it is a natural reflex to call what was before “normal,” it’s odd to suggest that life can return to a stable normality after all that has happened in the pandemic. Normal is not just walking around without masks; it’s the security that we felt without the existence of COVID-19, globalization and information technology aimed to promote false narratives. According to this definition, there’s no hope that we can return to what life was like previously.

Assuming that the scope of COVID-19 is purely scientific, there is indeed a correlation between vaccines and a reduction in the spread of COVID-19. According to the New York Times, there have been 64,285 new cases per day in the United States as of April 10 compared to 201,124 new cases per day as of Dec. 14 when vaccines were distributed; meanwhile, 21.3% of Americans have been fully vaccinated as of April 11 according to NPR. Additionally, a study by the Israeli Health Ministry and Pfizer found that both types of vaccines appeared to reduce all coronavirus infections, including asymptomatic ones, by 89.4%.

With a newfound confidence due to the reported effectiveness of vaccines against COVID-19, many find themselves feeling relieved after their first doses. While this is a natural reaction, suddenly calling life “normal” overlooks many far-reaching consequences of the pandemic that aren’t measured with scientific data. For one, more than 560,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, causing unspeakable impacts on the psychological, economic and social fabric of the nation. Even among more than 24 million that have survived COVID-19, there are potentially detrimental long-term effects such as brain fog and extreme exhaustion. 

Moreover, according to an article from the National Geographic, “the likeliest long-term outcome is that the virus SARS-CoV-2 becomes endemic in large swaths of the world, constantly circulating among the human population but causing fewer cases of severe disease.” If this is the case, life will mostly likely not be the way it was before simply because COVID-19 is here to stay. Although the article predicts that the disease will eventually become a relatively mild illness, it also describes how there may be a several-year transition in which there will be localized outbreaks and constantly updated vaccinations.

Lastly, even more political and social divides have been exposed by the pandemic. The discussion of vaccine nationalism, in which countries sign agreements with pharmaceutical companies to supply their own populations with a vaccine ahead of other countries receiving the same vaccine, has caused a power struggle between different nations seeking herd immunity. More so, people will now be categorized based on their COVID-19 immunizations: for instance, vaccine passports show digital proof of COVID-19 vaccination for international travelling. Also, universities across the country are requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for students who are attending. As a result, those who struggle to gain access to vaccines may have a more difficult experience with these divides than, say, someone who has received two doses of a vaccine. 

We’ve all seen how life was like before COVID-19. Maybe, after the pandemic, we can adapt some commonplace qualities of life from before the pandemic. But it may not be the “normal” we have come to know.

By Landon Park, Online Editor-in-chief
Photo courtesy of Charles Krupa