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What is the ‘new normal’ approach?

President Joe Biden may take a new approach that makes COVID-19 the new normal.

A line of cars wait for COVID tests.
A line of cars wait on Pioneer Road to get tested for COVID-19 outside of the Draper Senior Center in Draper on Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022.
Mengshin Lin, Deseret News

Six former health advisers to President Joe Biden have called on the president to adapt a new pandemic strategy — that COVID-19 is a part of our lives and this will be the “new normal” going forward.

  • The scientists — who include Dr. Luciana Borio, a former acting chief scientist at the Food and Drug Administration, and Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, an oncologist who advised former President Barack Obama — opined in three opinion articles published on Thursday in the Journal of the American Medical Association that society has to prepare to live with the coronavirus for the foreseeable future.

The Biden administration should take a step back to look at the bigger picture of the pandemic, the scientists said. The goal should no longer be about dropping COVID-19 case numbers or eliminating the virus altogether.

  • Instead, the scientists said, the administration should look to “lay out goals and specific benchmarks, including what number of hospitalizations and deaths from respiratory viruses, including the coronavirus, that should trigger emergency measures,” according to The New York Times.
  • “From a macro perspective, it feels like we are always fighting yesterday’s crisis and not necessarily thinking what needs to be done today to prepare us for what comes next,” Borio told The New York Times.

In the three opinion articles, the scientists said the American people need better access to COVID-19 testing, especially low-cost tests. There also needs to be digital data collection that happens in real-time so that the country is up to date on what is happening with COVID-19. And, the scientists said, new COVID-19 vaccines need to be made to stop new variants or consumed differently, such as through nasal sprays or skin patches.

  • As for vaccine mandates, the authors said it would be best to push them out more broadly. And high-quality masks — like N95s — should be available for free.

We’ve heard about this idea of the “new normal” since the start of the pandemic. It was a signal that our normal — for the pre-vaccine time, at least — would be filled with coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths before we could get things under control. Quarantines, lockdowns and social distancing would be our new world.

  • The vaccines changed that idea as they allowed for people to resume their daily lives. People could visit their loved ones again. Sitting in movie theaters wasn’t as worrisome anymore. The world opened up again. Our new normal appeared to fade and the original normal appeared to come back.

As head into these winter months, the new normal looks a lot like the original new normal. There has been a lot of worry over the omicron variant, which appears to create mild COVID-19 symptoms among the fully vaccinated — and even more milder symptoms among those with a booster. Unvaccinated individuals still remain at risk for severe illness and death.

This is a part of what to expect with variants like omicron. As new variants rise, more people will be infected and gain immunity to COVID-19. A COVID-19 variant with mild symptoms is a sign that the virus might be becoming more endemic, similar to how the flu works its way through the U.S. every year.

Suggesting that a new normal is here means that our society has been forever changed. In some ways, it has. But the idea of a new normal — as my former colleague Boyd Matheson wrote — suggests panic, instant reaction and fear, not preparedness or faith.

  • “Remember, it is against the laws of nature and nature’s God that a storm continues forever,” he wrote. “Even the fiercest wind, in the most violent storm, eventually subsides. Stillness follows and a moment of calm confidence comes. The most resilient of beings — human beings — adapt and move forward one ‘new now’ at a time.
  • “Finding, and even creating, stillness in the present is important and possible. Finding stillness in the perpetually uncertain is nearly impossible,” he said.

We can live in the “new now” and still go about our lives as we did before, only with different preparations. Maybe we wear N95 masks to the grocery store. Maybe we take an extra COVID-19 test when we’re headed off to see our families. There are practical ways we can keep the virus from spreading, while at the same time going about our daily lives.

It’s really unclear what the “new normal” approach really means. But it implies that we’re going to have to deal with COVID-19 for the rest of our lives. Some of us may already know this. The Biden administration may know this. That’s why it’s important to understand what it means to be successful against the variant going forward.

“The administration had a strategic plan a year ago and executed very well on it through June, with a lot of people getting vaccinated, and drove down case counts very successfully,” Emanuel told The New York Times. “As we transition to endemic Covid, we need to change our understanding of what a success is, what target we’re aiming at.”