COVID-19: How the abnormal has become the new normal

Cienna Beard, Content Editor

Throughout this past year, I’ve heard the same phrase countless times: “when everything goes back to normal…” I know what this phrase is supposed to mean: when our lives finally return to their former state of liveliness and to when physical touch was not a cause for widespread panic. Yet, I can’t help but ask the obvious question: Will our lives ever return to that state, or have we already begun to settle into a new sense of normality? Based on my recent travels to the northeast nook of the U.S., I would argue the latter is much more likely. While my main motive for this trip may have been to visit colleges, I also found myself observing how much our lives have changed in such a short time, and, perhaps a bit surprisingly, how subconsciously we seem to have adjusted to those changes. 

If I had gone on this trip one year ago, when the pandemic was just beginning to gain traction, seeing almost every single person in the bustling city of Boston wearing a mask would certainly have shocked me. And yet, one year later, I merely wear a mask alongside them and barely think twice about it. While this may seem like an obvious conclusion after we have all been subjected to these requirements for some time now, it is still significant that in only one year, speaking through a plastic shield at the front desk of a hotel or constantly having to display your forehead for temperature checks have become mere additions to the lives we were already living. 

Of course, there were some aspects of this new “normality” that I experienced while travelling that were not so easy to slip into. Touring colleges without being able to enter any of the buildings was its own unique challenge, yet perhaps the greatest obstacle I faced was an unexpected one: trying to find just one open restroom near any of these campuses. One normally wouldn’t think much when looking for a nearby restroom, as there surely must be one in a Starbucks or in some restaurant. Alas, the arrival of COVID-19 seems to have sufficiently locked up all restrooms in entire cities, leading to an unfortunate day in which I desperately begged a hotel employee in Rhode Island to let me use their lobby bathroom. Luckily, the pandemic has not erased those rare kind souls that grace our planet, and the woman was kind enough to sneak me in. While something such as a lack of facilities may seem trivial, these kinds of small changes culminate to have a huge impact on our daily lives, and it can become difficult to see just how quickly humans are adapting to a world in the midst of a pandemic. 

I also experienced the diversity of each state firsthand during this trip, as I observed how each state, despite being geographically near each other, maintained substantially different rulebooks regarding pandemic behavior. While Boston was heavily compliant when it came to wearing masks and social distancing, New Hampshire was much more relaxed in its relative isolation, allowing people to feel more comfortable breaking out of such protocols. Nevertheless, in each state, COVID-19 had clearly left its mark, and it was somewhat overwhelming to see its widespread effect in person rather than in a news article. Although I already knew that the rest of the country and practically the entire world was being affected by the pandemic, venturing outside the bubble of California confirmed this fact directly, making it simultaneously easier and harder to bear. Seeing another part of the country experiencing similar struggles was comforting but also disheartening, as it proved we still have a long way to go before we can confidently declare the pandemic’s end. 

When I think of how drastically our school lives have changed in the past year, I am almost more shocked at how quickly we have all adapted to our new educational lifestyle. While none of us have completely adjusted to the inconsistencies and endless switches between in-person and online learning, it amazes me how I now routinely drive to school each morning to have my temperature checked with barely a second thought. Traveling for the first time since the pandemic started left me with a similar impression: the concept of “normality” is purely relative, and it only takes time for a new normality to encompass our lives. After all, human beings are adapters, so much so that we sometimes fail to see ourselves already slipping into a new type of “normal” from what we once could never imagine. 

Cover photo credit: John Tlumacki/Boston Globe Staff