As of a few days ago, a quarter of American adults have been given one of the various COVID-19 vaccines. That’s a huge milestone in the country’s effort to vaccinate the entire population, at least everyone who safely can be vaccinated, even as many Americans including medical professionals do not want to get the vaccine.
But even ignoring that, there are many other issues that our country will face when we try to get back to normal. That’s been the push for the last year, the thing the country has constantly felt like it is striving for; normalcy. We need to get back to normal, we need to get back to the place we were before this pandemic, we need to get back to our lives.
And yet, the idea that we will come out the other side of this pandemic and just … return to pre-pandemic life … is insane. We are a year into a pandemic where almost 29 million Americans have gotten sick and over half a million are dead. Even for those who survive, all 28.5 million of them are at risk for what has been called “Long COVID,” that is, longer-term symptoms such as fatigue, breathing issues, or headaches along with others.
For many people who had COVID-19, returning to life as it was is not going to be a simple task. For many more, they’ll be returning to their lives without family members, coworkers, spouses or friends. The trauma that everyone in this country has suffered from the last year is not something which will go away any time soon, and sooner or later we’re going to be forced to reckon with the fact that, plainly, it just isn’t possible to pretend this last year never happened.
According to a study by Mental Health America, the rate of depression in the United States increased by over 6%, and screenings for anxiety and depression saw 93% and 62% increases, respectively. Those are massive increases in mental health issues impacting millions of Americans and even once this pandemic is “over,” many of those mental health issues will remain.
The most impacted group seems to be younger people; the same study found that 11 to 17 year-olds were “more likely than any other age group to score for moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety and depression.” This is relatively unsurprising, as few groups have had their lives disrupted more than young people who have had to deal with the many issues facing our school systems for the last year, and that’s without including the fact that many young people have problematic home situations, or have had to watch their family members die and lose jobs and struggle.
Whether we want to believe it or not, the normal we had a year ago is not the normal we’re going to get once we get the pandemic under control. It’s been too long, too many months of constant paranoia and anxiety about the pandemic, about the financial disasters and job loss as people struggled to pay rent, in a country where getting a deadly virus is likely to bankrupt you.
We all want to believe that we can go back to the way things were before the pandemic, to finally escape the dark cloud that feels like it’s been hanging over all of us for twelve long months; yet it’s not going to be as simple as that. Some things are; there is no argument that getting away from this pandemic would help all of the issues it has brought, but it will not fix them.
We need to move on from the notion that as soon as this country is entirely vaccinated every difficulty will be solved. The Pre-COVID world isn’t coming back, no matter how nice that would be, and moving forward in a way that addresses the issues this pandemic has created is the only way we’ll get back to anything even resembling normal.