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The End of the Pandemic - or is it?

May 26, 2023

We just got back from our first airplane trip since the start of the pandemic. Granted, it was a short one hour flight down to LA, but it was nevertheless a huge milestone. I remember feeling very jittery the days leading up to our trip, wondering what it would be like to get on a plane for the first time in over 3 years. I’m not a huge fan of flying to begin with, and the prospect of being stuck in a compact space with possible COVID molecules floating around and a mask plastered onto my face, not to mention a restless toddler on my lap, didn’t exactly sound like fun. But once we arrived at the airport, it seemed like nothing much had changed. The familiar check-in counters, TSA lines, and black leather seats at the United terminal greeted us. We boarded the plane (one thing that did change was we could now board first with a toddler!) and I immediately began frantically wiping all the surfaces around us with a Clorox wipe. The plane took off, my daughter fell asleep, and in what seemed like only moments, we began to descend. Before I knew it, we had made it to LA.

On May 11, 2023, the COVID public health emergency officially ended. But much longer before that, the pandemic had already ended in the eyes of most folks. People had, much earlier, resumed their normal lives, going to work, going out with friends, and traveling, the infamous 2020 quarantine long shoveled into the back of their minds. The proportion of people wearing masks declined steadily everyday until it was almost non-existent. Schools, daycares and hospitals became more and more lenient on health and safety protocols. Airports became full again.

It’s taken me a bit longer to really feel back to normal. Maybe it’s the fact that I had a baby during the pandemic and had gotten accustomed to a heightened level of caution, or maybe I’m just one of those extra paranoid types, but up until very recently, I was still wearing a mask everywhere and avoiding crowded places. But normalcy inevitably began to seep back into my life. It began with the Return to Office, where I suddenly found myself sitting in close proximity to others, with no mask on, in a small space. Then other things started springing up. We went to the movies. We went to a wedding. We hosted a party at our place. Each time before the event, I was filled with anxiety that maybe we shouldn’t be doing this, that maybe it was too much too soon. But then each time afterwards, I felt a strange sense of relief and the urge to do more of the things that we haven’t done in forever. My husband was way ahead of me in the Return to Normalcy mindset and that made it even harder to remain in pandemic mode. Even my parents, who are the most health and safety conscious folks I know, finally started to relax, inviting guests over to their house and going out to parties and get-togethers. I guess even the most cautious can only be cooped up for so long.

I think last week’s trip marked the end of the pandemic for me. I’ve now gone back and done all the things that I used to do, which I couldn’t do during the pandemic. On one hand, I feel a sense of freedom, like a million doors have just (re)opened, and I can hardly wait to make up for lost time. But there is still an inner voice that nags me wherever I go, warning me to be careful and avoid crowds, and an internal radar always sounds whenever I hear someone cough. I’m for sure still going to keep a mask in my pocket, to be at my disposal in case I need it. Because although we’re back to normal, I don’t think life will ever be the “normal” as we knew it ever again.