Who still has COVID fatigue? I know I sure do. The first 32 days of 2021, I was laid up in bed with COVID wondering when it would end. I suppose I now have long COVID too because some of the effects of that nasty virus feel like they’re still impacting my health today. But I don’t mean that kind of COVID fatigue.
Last week the World Health Organization (WHO) ended the COVID World Health Emergency Designation with the United States following shortly after on Thursday. I have yet to really feel that big, collective sigh of relief we all thought we would feel. I dunno. Maybe we need more than a week for it to sink in. I’m glad we’re trying to move on from that mess, but I also think we learned a lot about society and ourselves during that time.
During the early period of the pandemic lockdowns, one item that went scarce was toilet paper. While people weren’t going to be doing any more butt wiping during lockdowns than they did prior to COVID, it demonstrated one of the basic tenants that I learned while taking FEMA communications classes in an earlier life. When a leadership vacuum exists, people will panic.
Especially during the early weeks and months of the pandemic we were lacking serious leadership at all levels of government, which contributed to fear and panic. Early rumors of how the virus was impacting other faraway places were not dealt with in a precise way. Further causing mass anxiety was the clunky messaging about why lockdowns were necessary. Rather than helping our neighbors we started to hoard, which led to shortages that were further impacted by global supply chain issues and increasing prices. It wasn’t pretty and we are still feeling the effects today with the US staring down a recession.
For many in our communities, their mental health began to take a turn for the worse because of forced social isolation. According to the WHO, the global prevalence of anxiety and depression increased by 25% during the first year of the pandemic. In New Mexico, 36.4% of adults reported symptoms of anxiety or depression. Compared to the year before, only 8.3% of adults reported the same symptoms. We also saw a 25% increase in the number of alcohol-related illnesses across the state.
At times, it felt like things were slipping out of the grasp of reality so fast that it felt like it would never end.
But as world events were unfolding and everyone started to settle into the new normal, we saw many people coming together as a community. There were people of all colors, races, genders, and generations that came together to protest and raise their voices against acts of police brutality in their communities. To say that many made an impact would be an understatement because we are seeing both the negative and positive emerge before our eyes every day.
We fundamentally changed the face of our workplaces. Rather than being leashed to our offices daily, we quite easily slipped into working from home. And now that work from home is such a normal thing, employees are demanding the ability to continue cutting out the commute. Zoom meetings from the kitchen with our barking dogs in the background are now mundane things that happen while we conduct business. Many of our downtowns are now plagued by the overload of office space with workers staying home, but innovative ideas are being tried in communities around the country.
The internet changed too. Kids started dancing on TikTok and then became instant millionaires. Just like working from home, video calling became a way for us to bridge the loneliness gap and connect with our friends and family, with 81% of Americans using Zoom type technology during the pandemic. Our entertainment options began changing with more streaming options and innovative shows popping up on our internet browsers and connected televisions.
I’m incredibly thankful that the number of COVID cases is going down. Thank goodness that our governments and international health organizations are finally ending their emergency declarations. And while mainly symbolic since we’ve all basically moved on to our new normal lives, it’s a sign that we have begun settling nicely into our new normal.
Matt Kennicott is co-founder and partner of an Albuquerque based consulting firm. He has worked in various fields throughout his career, giving him a broad perspective on different topics. He has served as a public relations executive, a public information officer in state government, a state regulator, political appointee, a Republican political operative, and a cannabis consultant. He currently splits his time between Albuquerque and Socorro, where he operates a small outdoor cannabis farm with his significant other.
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