What will be the new normal after COVID-19 is gone?

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In the past week, I’ve talked with a lot of overworked grocery store clerks, desperate restaurant servers and teenagers in fast food drive-thrus who handle my plastic credit card like it’s a live grenade.

Then everyone sanitizes their hands and moves on.

Traffic is quiet on the county’s busiest roadways. Like a Sunday morning at 6 quiet. Parking lots at food and liquor stores are full, but everything else is a ghost town.

COVID-19 presumably started last November when a bat transferred the virus to an Asian anteater called pangolin, which then passed it on to a 55-year-old man in Hubei providence in China. And like a math problem gone haywire, the coronavirus now is a worldwide pandemic.

For most of us, however, it’s more of a crisis of uncertainty, doubt and fear.

The most prominent question asked in the past couple weeks has been: When will be get back to normal?

The bigger question is: What will be normal?

Will future sporting events be moved to a sterile soundstage and performed without fans? Sounds silly doesn’t it? But that’s exactly what World Wrestling Entertainment will do next weekend with its Super Bowl, Wrestlemania.

Is fighting for the last pork chop and rationing toilet paper in our future after the last sniffle is wiped away from the virus?

Will we be forced to spend more quality time with our children and parents?

Will “Wash hands!” replace “Let’s Roll!” as the nation’s rally cry?

For now, a lot of our community is hurting. And we’re scared. The local places where we took our first dates, gather for lunch and celebrate birthdays and anniversaries have their chairs stacked on tables and most the lights turned off. Some are closed until this virus goes away. Whenever that is. The rest are trying to stay open by offering takeout and delivery menus. It’s certainly not ideal, but it’s better than nothing.

As a community, we can do our part by supporting our local businesses. We can still eat out, even if it means sitting at our own dining room table with to-go boxes. We can check on our neighbors to make sure they’re all right. If they’re part of the group who are more vulnerable to the coronavirus, we can do their shopping.

And we can pray.

COVID-19 clearly turned out to be more serious that we expected. Having lived through a myriad of other health scares, it certainly fooled me. Like a hurricane warning, it took a catastrophe to make us pay attention to all of the other warnings that turned out to be false alarms.

Experts said the worst is yet to come. More people, including some in our neighbors, will be diagnosed with the virus. And some may die.

It’s difficult to know if anything else will be restricted or shut down. The truth is, there isn’t much left. We can’t eat out or enjoy Happy Hour. Our children can’t go to school. We can’t visit our grandparents at assisted living or nursing homes. Many shelves are bare at grocery stores.

We shook our heads in disbelief when we heard stories of bread lines in Russia and fighting for a pair of blue jeans. Now we shake our heads because COVID-19 has forced our country to accept rationing Chef Boyardee, Ramon noodles and bologna.

Gasoline is finally cheap enough we can finally afford to go anywhere we want. The problem is, nothing’s open. You can’t even go to most beaches.

So, we’re stuck. We can choose to ignore the warnings and live dangerously, or we can work together by staying apart. We can stay informed and remain diligent to protect ourselves and our neighbors.

If we do that, we will get back to normal.

Whatever that may be.

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