Navigating the New Normal

Figuring out what in the world I’m supposed to do in any social (or potentially social) situation is becoming more and more of a minefield. Up until now, it’s all felt quite straightforward to me. I’ve gotten together with friends about 7 times since social distancing measures began. We’ve done a few backyard barbecues outside, played tennis, and gone for a couple of hikes. I’ve stayed more the six feet apart the whole time, and I’ve felt quite comfortable with that.

But now I’m looking at the weeks ahead, and it’s registering with me that the way I’ve been behaving up until now is most likely not going to continue too much longer. For one thing, I’ll be heading back to work at the beginning of August (theoretically). Suddenly I’ll be in a shared space, inside, with people I don’t know. Granted, it’ll be a large space, and there won’t be that many people there (the library isn’t super busy in the summer), but it will still be very different from what my life has been like for the past 4 months.

A month after that, school will begin. My family that’s had limited contact with almost anyone will suddenly be having significant contact with literally hundreds of people a day. Normally that’s not something that would be alarming, but these days, it definitely gives me pause. Hopefully many of those people will be wearing masks, but I doubt everyone will be.

If I were in Florida, this plan would seriously scare me. I look at the numbers coming out of that state, and it’s shocking to me. Case loads have shot up, and true to schedule, deaths are now steeply up as well. The same is true for California, Texas, Arizona, and other spots. In Maine, cases are generally down, and deaths have stayed low as well. We’ve had 3,499 cases total, with 111 deaths. There are only 487 active cases in the state at the moment. We’ve had 2,603 cases/million (44th in the country) and 83 deaths/million (43rd in the country). So I can definitely see the argument for “Why aren’t we more relaxed,” but at the same time, isn’t that what a whole ton of the country said before they graduated to crisis level? If you can stay vigilant, the goal is to never become like NYC or Florida.

I do feel like Maine has been cautious and continues to be cautious. The university system announced a return to in-person classes in the fall, coupled with extensive testing on all of our campuses. I feel like this is a potential recipe for success, if we can follow it. (Though following recipes in this country seems beyond some people at the moment.) On the other hand, many professors have expressed disappointment with reopening and want to still do classes online only. Who knows what will actually happen.

But for now, I think the way forward is for me to cautiously begin doing a few more things than I used to do. We’re going to go to another BBQ tomorrow with a few more people. I’ll still be masked. If I can’t get together with a group of 10 friends now, socially distanced, then how in the world am I going to be up for heading to a work environment that will be much more chaotic?

I miss the old days, when every decision wasn’t fraught with judgement. It’s been a rough day. Maybe the “weekend” will help me feel better.


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