When Will It Be Normal Again?

Bella Cutean , Assist. Editor

As the world nears one year of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are days where even the most resilient individuals feel like this is a never-ending nightmare. Yet, as time progresses, so does the knowledge that experts gather about the virus. Students and staff at Milford High School once again find themselves back to in-person teaching and learning, and are actively making efforts to transform our current reality into something that resembles some form of normalcy. There have also been developments on the vaccine front in the form of two FDA approved COVID-19 vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech that are currently being rolled out to 2 million individuals each day in certain places. With one victory, however, comes more drawbacks; deadly new variants are currently circulating in the U.S., and experts fear they could mean catastrophe. There are currently three variants that scientists and experts are keeping their eye on, which include the U.K. variant, the South African variant, and the Brazilian variant. With all of these new developments , there is one burning question that many have undoubtedly wondered: when will it be normal again, and will things ever really be the same? 

So, how can a new normal be achieved? There is a specific goal that all medical experts and scientists agree that we must reach before thoughts of “normal” can exist, which is known as herd immunity. Herd immunity refers to the protection from an infectious disease that occurs when a large enough part of the population can no longer acquire or transmit infection. When experts are asked when normalcy will occur again, there are various responses, yet there is one constant: we must begin vaccinating more people, and doing it more efficiently. When asked the million-dollar question, “When will it be normal again?” Professor of Medicine and Global Health at Emory University Carlos del Rio told the Washington Post, “I think if we can get our act together and start vaccinating 1 million people per day, then we can get to 260 million people getting at least one dose more or less by late August or early September.”

 According to experts, there are three factors that will independently determine when enough Americans will either be protected by COVID-19 via either vaccination or antibodies after infection, thus meaning “normal” can begin again. These three key factors are as follows: when there are enough vaccines produced and distributed so everyone can receive two doses, when enough people agree to be vaccinated, and what the longevity is of vaccine-induced protection over time. “Each of these factors will play a role in achieving local, regional or herd immunity protection. I feel confident we can achieve the first factor of sufficient vaccine [effectiveness] by the late summer or early fall. But ultimately, the second two factors, how many will be vaccinated and how durable immune protection [is,] will determine the answers to this question,”  Michael Osterholm, chairman of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota told the Washington Post. Concerning the new variants and the effectiveness that the vaccines will have against them, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has been the Director of the National Allergy and Infectious Diseases Unit since 1984, has some much-needed information. “If the variants do become dominant, we may need to upgrade the vaccine. It would only take two to three months for those updated doses to become available because the vaccines themselves are flexible and adaptable.We don’t need it right now, but we are headed in this direction just in case.” There is still lots to learn about the new variants that are surfacing around the world, and this is something that epidemiologists are keeping a close eye on. 

This is the information from experts that live around the world, but what do the individuals who we interact with on a daily basis have to say about the current situation and the prospective future of the pandemic? Ms. Simmermon and Mr. Vosk are both science teachers at Milford High School that have a great passion for their subjects and a lot of general knowledge about COVID-19. As Milford High School has returned to in-person learning, precautionary measures, such as plastic partitions on desks, students wearing masks, and wiping down workspaces are all still very much in place. So, can we expect to see “normal” ever again? “History shows us we will end up ‘back to normal.’ Humans have survived much worse pandemics. I imagine this will end up like the flu, and we will need a seasonal flu vaccine and COVID-19 vaccine,” said Ms. Simmermon about when life can return back to what we once knew. Mr. Vosk has a similar outlook: “I would think the long term goal would be yes. I feel that this will end up as something similar to the flu vaccine.” 

Herd immunity is the end goal, but how will the variants affect this? With harder-to-fight mutations, could we really find ourselves back to ground zero? “I don’t know how much the U.K. variant will set us back. It is more virulent, but if transmission stays down (using masks/maintaining distancing/keeping gatherings small), that shouldn’t have a huge effect, but if the above steps aren’t followed, that is all up in the air. I would be more worried about the South African and Brazilian variants. Current vaccines show far less efficacy against these.Sequencing viral genomes to target new spike proteins is not that difficult, and hopefully we can create new boosters [for] these. If we can get new vaccines through phase one and two trials more quickly, since we already have a working model, and finally get a handle on distribution, hopefully the setback won’t be too bad. I would expect at least a little setback. I hope I am wrong though,” said Mr. Vosk about how these new variants could affect our current situation. 

Another new part of normal life is masks. Wearing masks is not an issue for many, but seems like the end of the world for some. Whatever perspective individuals have, is there an actual answer for how long masks will be a part of our lives? “From what I’ve read, it seems reasonable that we will be wearing masks for the rest of this year. With the new infectious forms of COVID developing, epidemiologists are suggesting that up to 90% of the population needs to have immunity (either through infection or vaccination) to obtain ‘herd immunity,’” said Ms. Simmermon. All of this information leaves many with racing thoughts and a lot of uncertainty to speculate about. 

Although there isn’t the most hopeful news circulating lately, the human mind has great potential— potential to transform even the bleakest situations into something that could bring about a smile. Find escape in words, music, tv shows, and movies. Lose yourself in the art of others, and go somewhere else mentally for just a second. Though reality is harsh, there is always something to hope for. We can always lean on the people we love, and ask for help when necessary. And on the days where it all seems too hard, there are always the wise, inspiring words of Ms. Simmermon to look back on: “Life is full of adversity and change. Life isn’t always easy. People adapt and persevere through determination, grit, and sometimes chance and time. Perhaps we need to reflect on what ‘normal’ is and what is really important. Focus on what we can do and focus on taking care of ourselves and each other. I do what I can each day, take care of the people I love, and [make] sure to give thanks for the blessings I do have. And sometimes I cry. But that’s life. We’ve got this! Taking care of ourselves and each other is the most we can do at the moment, and this should forever be a priority.”