The Normal New Normal in the US, Circa September 2022

President Biden caused a little brouhaha when he said that the pandemic is over.

I think that he was trying to convey that what I called the “crisis new normal” had given way to a “normal new normal.”

Indeed, life is very different than March 2020, when we didn’t know much about the virus.  Remember how we wiped down groceries when we didn’t know how the virus spread?  Now, we have scientifically tested vaccines, tests, masks, treatments, and medical routines.

When the pandemic started, we were mostly in lockdown.  Work and school were all online.  Teachers were getting crash courses in using Zoom.  Now, classes and work are mostly in person (though some employees are pushing back against directives to return to the office).

But it’s some kind of crazy normal when there still are more than 400 deaths per day.

Remember when some people said that covid was just like the flu?  Well, there were less than 6000 deaths in the US from the flu in 2020 – and there have been more than 1 million deaths from covid in the US since the pandemic started.  That’s an average of more than 400,000 deaths per year – more than 60 times the death rate from the flu.  And the current rate is more than 20 times that from the flu.

So What Does the Normal New Normal Look Like?

The Washington Post recently surveyed the changes since the pandemic began 30 months ago and described a complex picture.

Two-and-a-half years into the coronavirus’s deadly spread, after nearly all government-imposed restrictions have been lifted, as many businesses urge or require workers to come back to their offices, President Biden declared last week that “the pandemic is over.”  Yet even as the passion to get back to normal overrides years of caution, many Americans remain conflicted and confounded about what activities are safe.

Americans are coming out of the pandemic in the same kind of dynamic disarray that marked its beginning, with a crazyquilt of contradictory decisions about how to spend their discretionary time and money: Americans are flying again, but they’re not too keen on getting back aboard buses, subways and other public transit.  Concert tickets are being snapped up, but theater tickets, not so much. In-person visits to medical doctors have returned to pre-pandemic levels, but mental health counseling remains overwhelmingly virtual.

Consciously or not, every day since the pandemic began in March 2020, millions of Americans have calculated their risk of catching the virus if they take part in myriad activities that used to be routine: eating out, going to a movie or concert, seeing friends, visiting a doctor, attending a wedding or funeral.

Almost two-thirds of Americans now believe there is little or no risk in returning to their pre-pandemic lives, and 46 percent of them say they have already done so.

Of course, that means that more than half did not say that they have returned to their pre-pandemic normal lives.

The article cites the Axios-Ipsos Coronavirus Index, which reports that 88% believe that covid changed Americans’ lives forever – but 82% believe that we are in a better place than we were a year ago.

Half of the respondents believe that they have gotten covid, and 68% of people who have been vaccinated think that they have gotten a breakthrough infection.

The patterns reported in the Washington Post article seem to reflect understandable risk and value assessments, consideration of alternatives, and personal views.

For example, shopping in stores is down and online shopping is way up, probably because online shopping is so darn convenient.

People often want to see doctors in person but may feel that they can get the benefit of therapy by video.

Participation in sports with built-in distancing, like pickleball, tennis, and golf are up.  Going to the gym and close contact sports like football and soccer are down.

Attendance at sporting events like baseball games is up – probably because fans are not rational. 🙂

People attending concerts may be predominantly young whippersnappers who believe that they are at lower risk (or are reckless), whereas the theater may attract older audiences who are more cautious and health conscious.

Attendance at movie theaters is way down, perhaps because people have so many entertainment options on their TVs.

On the other hand, attendance at conventions has been growing, probably because video attendance is such a poor substitute, not permitting people to hug and get drunk together.

While some of these decisions reflect people’s rational calculations, their values and views, such as their political views, also undoubtedly affect them.  In the Axios-Ipsos Coronavirus Index, 73% of respondents said that pandemic-related shutdowns in early 2020 were necessary to save lives, with 93% of Democrats agreeing compared with 52% of Republicans.

People who are unvaccinated have a death rate 12 times as high as people who are fully vaccinated!!!  While some people don’t get vaccinated because of their own specific health risks, covid has become such a polarized issue that the decision not to get vaccinated is a statement of their political views.

I’m sure that people’s attitudes about the pandemic also reflect their emotional reactions.  Some people still feel uncomfortable being with other (especially unmasked) people indoors while other people don’t give it a second thought.  Indeed, people have feelings and make judgments about others based on whether they are wearing masks or not.

Welcome to the normal new normal.

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