What is the “New Normal” Really?
The phrase “new normal” is getting used and abused much more than “in these difficult times” was 4 months ago.
As a follow up to our Six Simple Steps to Get Back to Normal, I want to define the bigger picture of what we can expect over the next 3, 12, and 24 months.
What will your life look like in the “Post-COVID” world? Will we ever be “post-COVID”?
You know me—practical advice all day. I’d like to explore what specific tips and tricks we can use in “the new normal,” but I can’t.
I’m guessing, just like everyone else is. I’m going to confidently speculate, using research on COVID and insights from way smarter people than me, on three dimensions of life over the next months to years. Those three dimensions are: health risks, social life and activities, and dealing with other people’s nonsense.
The Three Phases of COVID
The first pearl of wisdom I can give is that you should drop the idea that there will be just one “new normal.” COVID life doesn’t exist as a binary “before” and “after.” Each stage or ‘phase’ brings with it new challenges and a new adjustment.
When most people think of the various stages we’ve progressed through with COVID, they generally think of the American perspective:
- “It’s a them problem, who cares.”
- “No way that’s a concern for us. Just elderly people are dying over there.”
- “Is it really coming here?”
- “OMG I need toilet paper!”
- “I can’t handle this so I need to make bread.”
- “F*ck it, let’s go to the bar!”
While more accurate than I want it to be, just reading this may trigger how you felt at each point when all of that was going on.
I believe there is a better categorization life with COVID:
- Phase I: Pre-Vaccine COVID
- Phase II: Post-Vaccine, but Pre-Treatment COVID
- Phase III: Hopefully Post-Treatment, but WTF We Still Are Talking About COVID?
There are three phases, and therefore we can’t think of a singular “new normal.” As each period switches, we’ll have to adjust again and again to a new and different normal.
Phase 1: Pre-Vaccine COVID
This is right now. We live in fun times, amirite? I call it My So-Called COVID Life ‘cause I grew up in the 90s.
We’re watching everyone make the wrong decisions all across this country. We kill our brain cells multiple times a day checking social media and observing others argue over which conspiracy video facts about the New World Order they’ve seen coming for years now.
Our new normal is a baseline level of anxiety, wondering if we’re either going to die horribly, or going to win the #GoFundMe lotto telling off an anti-mask ‘patriot’ at work.
It’s tremendous frustration with a lack of leadership. It’s a mourning of the way things used to be.
It’s a massive amount of uncertainty. Are we making the best, safest decisions? What will happen if we send our kids to school? How long will this last?
Let’s move on as there’s a new new normal we must address.
The new new normal will begin, I believe, 2-3 months after our first vaccine is shipped.
Phase II: Post-Vaccine COVID
The world is putting all their hope on a vaccine. Airline CEOs are saying they’ll be in dire straits until it comes through. Most of us won’t even consider travel or hanging with family until it’s available. Heck, even some of my staff won’t be coming back until a vaccine is in circulation.
Here’s what we know about our vaccine hopes:
- There are nearly 200 companies working to produce a vaccine for COVID-19
- We have 3 main contenders that are eyeing a fall release (see the graphic below for the differences)
- The vaccines have passed human safety trials
- There is SO MUCH WE DON’T KNOW
The Three Main Vaccine Contenders
The new new normal of life in Post-Vaccine COVID-land is like a fairytale ending that we’re all dreaming of, except we have to deal with what happens after the credits roll. Maybe Prince Charming’s a jerk. Maybe Cinderella is maladapted due to living in the broom closet or whatever.
Point being, the new new normal is the REAL new normal we have to start preparing for mentally.
We have no idea about a few important things post-COVID vaccine:
- The efficacy of the vaccine: will it prevent COVID 90% of the time? 40% of the time?
- The benefit of the vaccine: will it at least decrease the severity of COVID? Can it prevent the high rates of organ damage?
- The duration of the vaccine effects: how long will the benefit of the vaccine last, and how does the efficacy change on those benefits over time?
Therefore, the new new normal, I predict, will look like this:
- You will have tremendously less risk of horrible things happening if you’re immunized, but it won’t be perfect and therefore your anxieties won’t go away
- Mask wearing, social distancing, and restricted activities even for immunized people for at least 6 months after mass immunization (and probably longer), meaning more social fun but still less social fun publically.
- A new crop of conspiracy videos and misinformation, along with the general anti-vaccine sentiments of the country will be thrust in your face on top of the political nightmare and general fatigue from the lack of decency and empathy, meaning all my psychotherapy friends will be overcooked and in need of a vacation they can’t take.
Deep breath. That’s the very-likely-to-be-true reality we’ll face.
Right now, I honestly offer very little in the way of helping us navigate this new new normal. Let’s prepare, at least mentally, right now for this to soften the blow. The let down of this not being truly over will be a lot to bear.
One final note. This will be another opportunity for charlatans to try to sell you things, and it’s best to stick with the adage proven true each week: “No Supplements work for COVID.”
Hope should not be lost, even if our post-vaccine world isn’t the happily ever after we murdered an evil witch for.
Life CAN get back to close to our “old normal” which I’ll now refer to as the real new normal, BUT, a few things need to be true.
Let me introduce you to the final COVID phase...
Phase III: Game-Changing Technology
This phase is also known as WTF When Will COVID Go Away?!?!?
My kids say to me, “Dad, I’m sick of your face and I want to go back to school.” My response is, “You don’t want to go back to school. You want to go back to normal.”
That’s what we all really want, isn’t it? In order to get back to normal—our realnew normal—I believe there has to be one or more breakthroughs that will change the game and our perspective on this bug.
Life can move Post-COVID if one or more of these happen:
- Rapid, accurate (and preferably non-invasive) testing that’s deployable to literally everyone one and often. Meaning you do a breathalyzer level test before you get on the train, get into work, or even leave your house
- A treatment that offers true neutralization of this virus. Not just stopping hospitalization, but prevents the numerous long term complications that are found
- A mutation of the virus to make it less dangerous (again, hospitalization, death, comorbidities)
I would rank any one of these three as equally likely to happen. Any one of them would be a game-changer. Any one could happen between today and 2 years from now.
Each of these represent us truly “winning’ over this virus, and allows us to put our guard down finally.
Masks can come off. We can be less concerned about vaccine status. Businesses could open up fully. This is the closest that we can get to our old normal.
It doesn’t mean COVID goes away, it just means we become a less COVID-conscious society.
What the “New Normal” Looks Like at Various COVID Phases
The Real New Normal WILL Come
I’m just a guy, so I could be totally wrong about my assumptions on how this will unfold over the next 3 to 24 months.
But, I’m also a guy who has been kinda right so far.
To get back to normal, we need some technological breakthrough that allows us to finally gain the upper hand.
By putting our hopes into a vaccine, we’re also telling ourselves that “this will be all over” once it hits the streets. I believe there is still going to be tremendous risk present for some time, even with vaccination.
We need to prepare for that.
Vaccination is NOT the finish line, but the halfway marker. Deep breath.
Just trying to keep it real...
Neal Smoller, PharmD
Owner, Pharmacist, Big Mouth