Don’t Look Up

Is COVID-19 gone or are we just looking away?

Toby Mohr

More stories from Toby Mohr

Now we have a new idea: return to normal life without safety measures and just ignore COVID-19.

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Now we have a new idea: return to normal life without safety measures and just ignore COVID-19.

Life looks a lot different today than when the school year started.

Fall semester started with the return to fully in-person classes and a campaign to promote getting vaccinated. 

Then the campus mask requirement was dropped just before spring break. Now testing requirements are gone and the university’s COVID-19 dashboard was taken down.

Everything looks like it’s “back to normal” but COVID-19 didn’t go anywhere.

Since the beginning of the pandemic we have wrestled with the idea of getting back to normal. We expected the virus to pass after a few weeks of lockdown and then everything would open up and pandemic life would be over. 

When COVID-19 proved it would not simply go away, we learned a “new normal” which included masks, safety rules in public and eventually vaccines. 

The new normal was all about getting back to the most important parts of our lives while still taking measures to be safe. It included making decisions based on a balance between safety and risk to live a pandemic life that is both fulfilling and safe.

Now we have a new idea: return to normal life without safety measures and just ignore COVID-19. 

Universities around the country saw spikes in positive cases after students returned from spring break. 

That should have been expected with students traveling around the country to go home or on vacation for a week. But the UW-System chose that time to get rid of the mask requirement across all campuses. 

This was also the time when UW-Eau Claire took down their COVID-19 dashboard that tracked case numbers and then paused the testing requirement for unvaccinated students a few weeks later. Now COVID-19 on campus is quite literally out of sight and out of mind.

This isn’t just an Eau Claire problem, it feels like society is just ignoring the pandemic.

Eau Claire County reported 112 new COVID-19 cases last week, up from 52 the previous week. Wisconsin also recorded an average of 672 new cases per day last week and three deaths according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

But while cases rise, schools are abandoning safety rules, businesses are ending any remaining precautions and governments are removing any legal mandates. 

We’re not back to normal because COVID-19 didn’t go away. We’re not living a new normal because we are throwing out the safety measures that got us to this point. 

We are going back to normal life by trying to ignore the problem, by refusing to look up. 

COVID-19 transmission is lower than it has been at other points in the pandemic and the accessibility of vaccinations and boosters make it possible to ease some restrictions. 

The new world we live in requires that we monitor the pandemic and keep safety measures in place while we return to the most important parts of life. 

It is a new normal that we can not simply ignore.

Mohr can be reached at [email protected]