This past week marked a huge milestone for my home state. Like so many others, the COVID-19 restrictions that have pretty much defined our lives since late March of 2020 were finally lifted. At this very moment, we are no longer in a State of Emergency.
There are no more capacity restrictions on restaurants, bars, gyms, and movie theaters.
There are no more mask requirements that are enforced by the state.
There are no more social distancing requirements for outdoor or indoor events.
Just typing that out put a smile on my face. It also fills me with this strange array of emotions that I don’t quite know how to articulate. Like so many other fellow Americans, I watched this year-long horror show that was the COVID-19 pandemic unfold before my eyes.
I felt it affect me, my friends, my community, and my family in profound ways. I know people who got the disease. Some of them still don’t have their sense of taste and smell back entirely. I know people who have died from this disease. I also was unable to attend major family events, including a wedding, because of this damned disease.
I could go on, but I won’t. It’s just impossible to overstate how big an impact this disease had on our world. It’s going to leave scars that will last years. It’s going to define an entire generation and beyond. If I ever have kids, I’m going to struggle to explain to them what it was like, navigating this pandemic.
For a time, it felt truly apocalyptic. There was a long stretch last year where my dad and I were constantly making up dates for when things would get back to “normal.” At one point, it was May 15th, 2020. At another, we thought the 4th of July would be the end of it. Then, we started looking towards Labor Day.
At some point, we just came to realize that there was no use hoping anymore. We had no idea when this would end. For all we knew, this pandemic would draw out for years. Even after news about a vaccine emerged, we were still skeptical. A life without COVID-19 restrictions still seemed so far away.
Now, that day has come.
However, the effects are still there.
Recently, I went out to have breakfast with my parents at one of our favorite diners. There were no capacity restrictions. There were no mask requirements either. However, a number of people were still wearing masks, including most of the staff. My parents even wore masks when they first entered, even though they’re both fully vaccinated. I didn’t wear one, but I had one with me, just in case.
To some extent, it was downright jarring, not having to wear a mask. Yes, it was liberating in some ways, but it still felt so unusual after having spent over a year under these restrictions. You almost feel more vulnerable not wearing one, especially in an enclosed space like a crowded diner. I’m sure that’s a feeling we’ll have to get used to again, but it doesn’t change one inescapable truth.
This “normal” that we’ve been waiting for doesn’t feel “normal” to us anymore.
I don’t know if that’s temporary or if that’s something that will linger on for years to come. I know people who have stated outright that they’re going to keep wearing masks, even if the number of COVID-19 cases drops to zero. To them, the mask has become just another part of their lives. The see it like a seatbelt or hand soap. It’s not about avoiding a disease anymore. It’s about staying healthy.
That’s an implication that I don’t know that we’ve collectively processed. I certainly haven’t. I’ve no inclination to throw away my masks. I also have no plans to stop the frequent handwashing that I’ve come to embrace since last March. That does lead me to wonder whether this is truly our new “normal.”
I put that in quotes because, now that the state mandated restrictions are lifted, it’s on us to determine what form that normal takes. Will that mean always wearing a mask in certain settings? Just the other day, I went to the grocery store and I still wore a mask. The signs on the front doors saying they were required were still there. Until they come down, I’ll keep doing so.
At the same time, a part of me feels like I’m still adjusting. I’m almost reluctant to embrace a post-pandemic world because I saw how bad it got last year. Maybe that feeling will fade with time. Maybe within a few months, mask wearing will become a rarity and everyone will be eager to put the memories of the pandemic behind them.
I don’t claim to know what will happen. I just know that it’s going to take a while to get out of this mindset that a year of pandemic restrictions has wrought.
That’s just my experience, though. How do you feel? Have the restrictions in your state been lifted? If so, how have you and your family reacted? Please feel free to share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.