Culture & Lifestyle

Will pandemic habits become mundane in the ‘new normal’?

Here’s a phrase I haven’t heard lately: “When this is all over.” One friend even expressed regret that she’d uttered those words to her five-year-old. Instead, now, we’re all about “the new normal”. But what does that look like, really?

This week I got a preview, in an email from my child’s nursery school principal. The school would be starting a COVID-19 testing program, and every Friday all the teachers, kids and support staff would get a dreaded Q-tip up the nose. “The kind where they swipe just inside the lower portion of the nostril,” she added. “Not the kind that goes higher up.”

If anyone can figure out how to make a global pandemic light-hearted, it’s the extraordinary people who choose to spend their days looking after kids.Credit:Stocksy

To reassure parents, the principal said teachers would be explaining why the testing was happening: “We will try to keep it as lighthearted as possible.”

If anyone can figure out how to make a global pandemic – prolonged by a small, but significant minority in rich countries trusting Google over their doctor – light-hearted, it’s the extraordinary people who choose to spend their days looking after kids. I’m not worried about that. But with the advent of rapid tests, I wonder how much testing will become a routine part of our lives going forward.

It sounds scary – not to mention onerous – but maybe brandishing a negative COVID result will soon seem as mundane as other habits we’ve developed in the name of public health, like blowing our nose into a tissue, or saying, “Bless you,” when someone sneezes. (Apparently, the tradition began during the Christian Roman Empire, when a sneeze was believed to be an early warning sign of plague, and thus was thought to deserve a blessing.)

I will take the new normal as an opportunity to show my children, and to remind myself, how we are more radically interconnected than ever.

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I suspect masks, too, are here to stay, certainly in parts of the US. Anecdotally, teachers report students suffering from fewer colds with them on, and the students themselves appear – in my own experience – remarkably indifferent to them.

Occasionally, my three-year-old will ask why he must wear a mask, but it’s posed in the semi-rhetorical fashion toddlers ask most questions. (Other examples of the form are “Why do I have to go to bed now?” and “Why do I need to wear clothes?“) Perhaps it’s because of my years in Japan, where I had time to get used to a rationale for widespread mask-wearing, but I generally respond by saying we do so to protect those around us.

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