Last week, Washington’s governor lifted most Covid-19 restrictions and pushed us out of our protective nests into the post-pandemic “life is nearly normal” world. For the fully vaccinated, no masks, no social distancing, and hugs are allowed.
This is what the new normal looks like: cooking something new for dinner guests after having eaten the same three meals for the past fifteen months; preparing a dish for twenty-five instead of two for a neighborhood potluck; adding lunch dates to the calendar after such a long period of eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at home; entering a shopping mall for the first time since Christmas 2019; filling the calendar with upcoming appointments for teeth, eyes, limbs, and other body parts; and putting on makeup every day instead of once every six months. Already, the changes are stressing me out.
These aren’t the only stressors. Psychologists say it takes ten weeks to break a habit. We’ve had nearly a year and a half to add a new one: mask wearing. Will it take another ten weeks to throw off our masks?
I figure there are at least three levels of adjustment to the new normal.
I put movie theaters in the non-risky category. We went to movies when theaters could allow twenty-five percent capacity, which was less than the Senior Tuesday audience before the pandemic. Then, finding ten people scattered around the auditorium would have been a crowd.
The easiest adjustment is having guests in your home. Last week, we invited a couple to dinner with whom we had dined on our patio a year ago. At that time, they stocked their car with enough goods to live in the wilderness for days. Traveling the mile from their home to ours, they packed suitcases of ice, water, utensils, plates, hand sanitizer, and napkins. This year, they trusted us to handle these basics.
Public places where people are packed together, as in the produce section of my grocery story, represents one more level of difficulty. You’ve worn your mask for months. It’s protected you. For several days after the governor’s announcement, anyone walking into my local grocery store and looking around at the customers would be certain the mask rule was still in place. Who knew if the person fighting with you over a cantaloupe had been vaccinated?
Harder to adjust to than a trip to the grocery store is one to a shopping mall. Yesterday, I made a trip to buy socks. I didn’t put on a mask, but the whole experience of stepping into such a large indoor facility with so many people wandering loose was very disorienting. I couldn’t even remember what stores were there the last time I looked and where they were located. I stopped at the first store I saw with exercise clothing on display, paid more than I’ve ever paid for a pair of socks, and dashed out.
I estimated about two-thirds of the shoppers wore masks.
The highest level of anxiety for me would involve going to a large event unmasked — no, even going with a mask — to a crowded event where I had to sit next to strangers. A photo in the local paper of fans packed into a sports stadium made me shiver. Concerts? Plays? Large events? I will adjust to not covering my face—and putting on makeup—but it will be a long time before I’m ready to greet a fellow baseball fan or music lover face to face.