With COVID-19 restrictions lifting in some places and outbreaks popping up in others, the pandemic has officially entered the weird zone.
Okay, there’s nothing official about it, but the entire world is in a strange transition time right now — and likely will be for a while. Unlike the jump-cut into the pandemic, or even the suspenseful vaccine ramp-up, this time is more hopeful, less frantic, but also stretched out in an uneven mess. Places, populations, and even industries are moving at different paces as they move back to some semblance of normality.
It’s like the entire globe is playing by a perverse version of “yes, and.” Yes, more people are vaccinated in the US than before, and immunocompromised people are still at risk. Yes, the vaccines that we have are stunningly effective, and they are in such short supply that many countries are absolutely desperate to get them.
Here in the US, one of the most visible transitions is the vanishing act of various COVID-19 regulations. New York lifted most restrictions this week, and Disneyland reopened to everyone, without mask requirements. People in those areas are enjoying a return to offices, and restaurants and blessed normalcy — especially in regions where case rates are low. At the same time, parts of the country where vaccination rates have stayed low face the potential of summer surges. Tensions between different regions will linger as long as disparities remain.
In the pharmaceutical and research realm, there’s a different shift. The flurry of clinical trials and lab work that accompanied vaccine development is now slowing. There are still thousands of questions, but the biggest and most urgent — can we make a vaccine? — has been answered. Now, research focuses have shifted and split. Some are still working on vaccines and boosters, others are investigating new COVID-19 drugs or seeking to understand the virus’s origins and mechanics, and others have gone back to different projects entirely. With vaccines, the biggest issues are now monitoring and distribution, not research and development.
How people feel about all of these changes is another factor entirely — personal shifts in priorities, fears, and emotions are going to play a huge role in this next phase of the pandemic. As vaccinations go up and case numbers go down, eventually, we’ll get used to the coronavirus, and it will cease to be an unknown threat. We’ll stop thinking about it every day — some people already have.
In the meantime, most people are stuck somewhere in the wide gap between caution and abandon. Each person will eventually move past their own personal marker for the pandemic era. It might come when they get that second shot or step into a theatre for the first time or leave a mask sitting on the table at home. As with all transitions, something will end, and something else will take its place.
As a quick note before we get into what happened with COVID-19 this week, I also wanted to note that you might see some new (small) changes to this newsletter. Eventually, we’ll shift the newsletter over to a weekday instead of a Saturday. And starting next week, I’ll be handing over