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October 9, 2020

SMITH | The “New Normal”

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This Friday, I went to get dinner with a friend at Moosewood. We talked about our classes and agreed about our mutual stress but excitement over another Cornell semester. It was a Friday like most I’d experienced at Cornell, relaxing for a moment after a busy week, except we were wearing masks, we talked about the differences between our online and in-person classes and discussed our preferred surveillance testing sites. At one point we marveled over how if, one year ago, someone told me I would be wearing a mask every time I went outside, taking classes over Zoom and getting tested to see if I had been infected with a disease responsible for a global pandemic, I would have politely asked what that person was smoking. Now, however, I feel more strange seeing a maskless face or being in a crowded space than I do putting on a mask before going for a solitary run. 

I’ve lost track of the number of references to the “new normal” made in the last several months. This phrase raises some loaded questions, like what “normal” even means, but, for the most part, I understand what everyone is getting at. I’m used to the hand sanitizer stations everywhere, watching my professor start buffering in the middle of lecture and I’m quite content with ordering contactless delivery when I’m not in PJs and not up for cooking. I fill out my Daily Check over my morning cup of coffee, I’ve figured out my favorite testing site on campus and I don’t even really think much of the fact that twice a week I have to stick a cotton swab up my nose for 20 seconds total. I don’t even think much of the fact that my new job involves wearing two sets of gloves, a PPE gown and putting annoyingly long labels on disproportionately small test tubes. If anything, I find myself focusing on how much I dislike the word nostril and fixated on how to overcome the disparity in label proportions that make them crease and upsets the machine that reads them if I don’t. See? Much stronger feelings!

I don’t know if there’s some apathy settling in given the fact that there is very little I can do other than sit tight, physical distance and wear a mask while essential workers, scientists and public health experts do their thing, a testament to human adaptability, just playing into my introverted side … or maybe all of the above. 

What I do know is that whenever there is a vaccine and physical distancing and other CDC guidelines are lifted, my face will feel strangely naked without a mask. The first party I go to will feel otherworldly and it may take some time before my mother stops sending me mass quantities of Lysol wipes to carry in my backpack. Heck, I sometimes catch myself wondering where characters’ masks are when I watch movies or TV shows.  Whether you are used to the “new normal” or yearning for just “normal,” it will be impossible to act like COVID-19 (and 2020 in general) never happened. But, until the “new, new normal,” see you from six feet away.

Emma Smith is a junior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She can be reached at esmith@cornellsun.com. Emmpathy appears every other Friday this semester.