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The New Normal: two crucial changes from the pandemic

By Ezra Elias

[Image description: Three people walking through the streets of Milan, Italy, wearing coats and face masks. End image description.]

In the United States, at least, at the time of this article being written, almost half of the US adult population has been vaccinated against COVID-19. The country seems to be moving toward a new future. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that we are not “going back to normal.” There is no way to go back to normal. To say that life changed during the pandemic would be an almost insulting understatement. It’s sent countries into lockdown, killed over 4 million people, and changed the way we interact with everything. Some changes of life, such as having to keep away from loved ones, are changes that most people will be glad are gone. Others, however, will be beneficial to keep in place.

The option to work remotely.

People are starting to recognize en masse the benefits of working remotely when possible. Not only does it cut down on car emissions for people who are no longer commuting, it also cuts down on having to provide HVAC systems and electricity to entire buildings. Remote workers have been found to be 47% more productive than their office-working peers, making more money, and generally happier.

This has also given more disabled people the option to work. Long-haul COVID has led to more people with health issues, and has and will continue to increase the disabled population. Disabled people are nowhere near a monolith, and during the pandemic, were often ignored and had to hear statements like “only the elderly and immunocompromised are at risk for COVID death,” as though their lives mattered less than the lives of abled people. For some, especially the immunocompromised, intellectually disabled, and developmentally disabled, retail jobs were and are both the only option offered and a poor fit. But for others, the ability to work from home has opened up opportunities for employment, especially in office jobs. Employers and employees, and if we want to accommodate and include disabled people in society, we’ll need the option to work remotely to stick around.

Wearing masks when sick.

Respiratory diseases are often spread by way of droplets in the air expelled when speaking, sneezing, coughing, talking, and breathing. Masks that cover the nose and mouth help mitigate the spread of respiratory illnesses, such as the common cold and of course COVID-19. In countries other than the US, wearing masks when sick is already the norm. One 2017 study of Japanese schoolchildren found that “vaccination and wearing of masks were effective in infection control.” It tends to be more effective in older children, who follow mask-wearing procedures better than younger children. Masks, admittedly, are not perfect. They are not an immunity shield that prevents anyone from getting sick, especially when worn improperly. John Brooks, MD, of the CDC in Atlanta, says “that’s not a reason not to use it. It has to be combined with other things because no one thing is perfect.”

In short, there is no “going back to normal.” We are never going back. Time marches forward relentlessly, leaving each day locked away in only our memories, and the physical remains of change. It’s important we keep this in mind, because that is the only way we can change ourselves and the world for the better.

Written by writer Ezra Elias Vivas.

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