It’s impossible to watch the daily news without seeing two themes. One is the ever-changing latest news about the coronavirus aka COVID19, and the other is about when we’ll all “get back to normal.” The virus has consumed our lives and is likely to continue to do so for many more moths until there’s a cure and/or vaccine. Those will each take some considerable time. 

People are anxious to get back to life as they knew it, but most are still scared to even try. Lives are at stake and that should outweigh anything else. Experts predict that masks and some form of social distancing will continue to be part of the new normal for many months to come. A second wave, such as the one that followed the 1918 flu could be even more deadly and dangerous. Medical and scientific experts hope that can be avoided by staying home and limiting exposure. There has already been some resurgence in Asia, and in most cases, a new lockdown order has kept it from soaring. But time will tell. This virus can be with us for a long time. 

Social Isolation Challenges

Aside from being stricken by the virus, the social isolation is probably one of the worst aspects of the quarantine. There is no lack of high tech and people have even begun to grow weary of looking at their phones or tablets or computers non-stop. What is sorely missing is the high touch. Who isn’t longing to hug a friend who is perhaps struggling with the emotional roller coaster, or to hold their new grandchild? 

Who has had to celebrate birthdays and high holidays and even just weekends stuck at home? Those who have succumbed to the virus have not had proper funerals and burials due to restrictions. Weddings have been postponed, or if held the guest list has been severely reduced. Proms and graduation ceremonies have been forgone as well. Although some of these events have creatively continued over social media such as Zoom or Skype, it is clear that the virus has changed our lives. 

Unemployment Rates Soaring

With the unemployment rates in the US at 26 million and rising daily, returning to normal is going to be impossible for a large number of people. Some jobs are still on hold and everyone is hopeful they will still be there, but it’s not guaranteed. For others those jobs are gone forever as are countless businesses and services. The economy will not be the same and is going to take considerable time to recover. 

The science and politics of the pandemic are evident every day, but knowledge of how it will change lives is just beginning to emerge. Change was thrust upon the world quickly and some people have been able to flex and adapt and even thrive being helpful to others. Although emotionally and physically exhausting beyond imagination, nurses and doctors continue to work and give of themselves because this is their fuel. Helping others has always been their passion. It doesn’t mean it’s been easy. The roller coaster of emotions is taking a huge toll on health care workers. Suicide is on the rise. Self-care is not optional. 

For others, anger, frustration and resistance is the norm. Change is uncomfortable for everyone, but for some, change is overwhelming. The thought that life may never return to what they were used to is incomprehensible. They refuse to accept orders to stay at home and usually refuse to wear masks or social distance. Protestors have taken to the streets to demand their civil rights to return to work and get haircuts and manicures.

Misinformation Continues

There is a faction of the population that retains the idea that this virus, if not a hoax, is no worse than the flu and shutting down the country is totally unnecessary. Yet in less than 2 months over 50,000 Americans are dead from the virus and it’s raging onward. The full extent of the illness and its impact won’t be known for some time. 

Nurses and doctors and other healthcare workers along with essential workers in grocery stores and other essential businesses are begging people to remain at home so they can continue to work. Only venture out for necessities with extreme caution using masks and social distancing. 

Without a miracle cure, managing the pandemic takes priority and it’s going to take considerable time and patience. Jimmy Fallon said it well, “this is a marathon.” And it’s a very, very long one! There is not a master plan available, but trends towards social distancing seem to be working to flatten the curve. That means limiting the size of social gatherings to 50 or fewer people even as we begin to emerge from quarantine. This will continue to affect almost every social aspect of our lives as individuals and as families. 

Concerts and sporting events will not be able to take place as we know them. Thoughts of games without an audience are being studied by major sports leagues. Even on a smaller scale, gyms, and restaurants, bars, and malls will have to operate under very different circumstances to protect the public. Places of worship might have to continue to use social media or limit the size of the congregation allowed in the facility. Offices and factories will have to rethink how they conduct business. Meat packing plants have been hot spots for the virus, and many have completely shut down. How this will affect the food chain is yet to be known. Victory gardens are cropping up everywhere as the weather warms and growing season is upon us. 

Prisons and jails have become hot spots as well, and those being held prior to trial and convictions are being exposed. Human rights activists have taken up this cause. Travel will continue to be restricted and that annoying middle seat on the airline may really become a thing of the past. Mass transit will be impacted in order to meet social distancing and sanitation issues.  There may be a real resurgence of drive-in movies minus the playgrounds and concession stands as we knew them. Along with wearing masks, we will be subjected to having our temperature taken multiple times a day if we venture outside our homes. 

How Do We Begin to Unwind and Stay Safe?

And when all is said and done, how will we unwind social distancing and wearing masks? Will we be able to get the thought of possible exposure and infection out of minds? How will we look back on this time and record the memories for generations to come? What version will we write? Will we remember the special extra time we had to spend with family, or will we only remember feeling defeated by 5th grade math and homeschooling? Will we rejoice in the healing of the ozone layer? Or quickly return to emitting gasses and pollution? 

Positives to Reflect On

We have a chance at a slower paced life, a new beginning and beneficial changes for all. We have a chance to hang on to working together to save all of mankind from a medical murderer. And we have the opportunity to prepare for the next pandemic so that we don’t ever again have to choose who gets a ventilator and who doesn’t. We have the occasion to improve our testing and tracking in order to learn as much as possible about the coronavirus and get ahead of the curve and take control. Nurses have the chance to educate the public in how to prevent illness and to live healthier lifestyles. 

The world has been hit with a huge bomb filled with negatives. Nurses have to opportunity to point out the positives and demonstrate adaptability, flexibility, innovation and acceptance. Everyone needs time to grieve the losses of the lives we once knew. But we have a chance to live in the moment, smell the roses, and fully appreciate what we have today for it might just disappear tomorrow.