Kueppers: Next to normal(cy)

As vaccine rollouts continue, I ponder what life will be like on the other side of COVID-19 and if we ever will return to “normal.”

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Henry Kueppers

I had my doubts about the nation’s vaccine rollout plan at the start of the year. Hell, I even wrote a column back in January where I basically said, “Don’t hold your breath people.” Yet, I am happy to report that I was completely wrong! Stupid past Henry, go read a book!

According to recent reports, the United States, if it keeps up its current vaccination pace, could reach herd immunity in the next couple of months, according to USA Today. This is great, relieving news for a lot of people, I am sure. Of course, I do not want to arm you with this information and make it seem like I am encouraging reckless, maskless behavior now. Because I am not.

We are getting closer to the light at the end of the tunnel, but we are not there yet. However, if it is alright with you, I wanted to voice some of my current thoughts and daydreams about life after this terrible pandemic is behind us. And to tell you the truth, even if it is not alright with you, I am going to talk about it, anyway.

Before the pandemic started, there were tons of hobbies I was hoping to pick up: competitive doorknob licking, sneeze catching (catching as many strangers’ sneezes as possible in one day) and, of course, the ever-popular polar plunge. No, not that thing where you go jump in a lake in the middle of winter. That’s stupid. My polar plunge is when you take a cold shower, run naked into an industrial freezer with your friends and stand there for as long as possible. Last one to get hypothermia wins! Yet, as strange as it may sound, I don’t think I will take up any of these incredibly fun hobbies once we’ve reached herd immunity. The pandemic has really opened my eyes and will probably impact how I live out the rest of my life.

For example, parties. Yes, I know I am the resident party animal over here at the Minnesota Daily. I’m not denying that. What will college parties look like now? Way back when, I used to share drinks and smoke random things that were handed to me, no questions asked. Now, if I can even build up the mental confidence and assurance to attend a large gathering of cramped college students, I sincerely doubt I will ever share another drink again. And you best believe I will be checking that everything I’m smoking has been approved by Dr. Anthony Fauci.

But I wonder is that just paranoid, germaphobe me? Or will this be a growing trend on college campuses? It is something to consider, … but to be fair, there were people still partying regularly during shutdowns, so I guess it will probably be just me. In fact, the Washington Post predicts that the nation will probably experience an exhilarating era of debauchery and hijinks just like in the Roaring ‘20s. People are anxious and eager to return to that “normalcy” of partying, hanging out and just being free to live without fear of a deadly virus. But what is “normal”?

I feel like everyone refers to normal or normalcy in articles and research as “life before the pandemic happened.” The question I would like to leave you with is, do you want to return to that normal? I am not saying I want life to continue like it is now because I want to hang out with my friends, and I would love to stop wearing masks. But there are lessons and habits we’ve picked up during the pandemic that we should consider taking along with us in the future. Maybe we should wear masks if we go out in public and are sick. Maybe we should allow people to work remotely and still be allowed to thrive in their professions. Maybe everyone should carry a little bottle of hand sanitizer with them — just little things like that.

Or, we focus on the humanity and ethical dilemmas we have had to ponder while quarantining. An obvious one that comes to mind is racial justice, specifically regarding the police and their absurd reign of brutality. I do not want to return to that “normal,” when police could kill innocent Black people and face no jail time. Admittedly, this is a “normal” that has been in place in our country for decades, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has announced that racism is a public health threat, spurred on by the coronavirus pandemic.

But what does this mean? Does it mean our ignorance has been resolved and people are starting to see the light and error of their ways? No. People are still dumb, despicable and racist. All I know is, it feels like our society could really be on the brink of some serious, positive change that could greatly benefit Black, Indigenous and people of color communities. And I don’t want to throw that away or disregard it once we reach herd immunity. I do not want people to go out and party instead of sitting alone for a moment and contemplating their own passive racism or implicit bias. We need to think about these things as a society in order to grow, change and foster humanity.

So yes. We are on the verge of returning to “normal” functioning in the nation once again. Yet, I implore you to reflect and consider what your contributions were to our “normal” society.