May 17, 2020

This New Normal Will Test Us All

If you ask me what scares me more, “COVID-19” or a “new normal,” it would be the latter. I am confident there will be a COVID-19 treatment and vaccine in less time than we suspect. There’s simply too much at stake. I am most fearful, though, of what the response to this virus is doing to us, our way of life.

As I follow the guidelines to flatten the curve, it seems many people are much more willing than me to concede that those guidelines should be our new normal — one where social distancing and mask wearing is viewed as a civic duty to protect you from me, indefinitely.

While we are resilient when challenged, I consider everything we’ve done in response to the crisis as temporary. Sure, we may use video conferencing more often, but I am determined to burn my mask and sit next to my friends again. Our divide was big enough without COVID-19.

Now, I fear our response will create lasting social fears for our next generation. How confident will we be to interact again, make friends, happy use playgrounds, whisper secrets, look at each other, gather to cheer and build trust? I am not prepared for any new normal that does not include these things, exactly as they were before.

Humans were not intended to look at each other from behind a mask, to interact through plastic screens, step away from one another, fear the air I breathe and that you breathe. There will always be something in that air that can hurt us — such as the next virus or something else.

If I were to die from this virus, I beg my name is not associated with a permanent desocialization of America. I would not want future generations of mask-wearing children standing six feet apart to reference me and wonder what it was like before masks, before social distancing. That would be selfish.

This virus is not worth us sacrificing our humanity. We are not cold, dystopian and fearful. We are better than that. We can learn without being fearful. We can tweak things without restructuring.

We should always wash our hands, cough into our arms and stay home when sick. There never was, nor can there be, any normal that keeps us completely safe and protected. I am afraid our attempts to create one now may be quickly ripping our basic social fabric.

If being in this crisis “all together” means a new normal further apart, please count me out.

Steve McKnight
Hollidaysburg, PA

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