But for many Americans who have long since returned to pre-COVID 19 activities and are now forced to return to the officethe remark may ring true.
The problem is that what “returning to normal” looks like may differ from person to person, depending on the individual’s circumstances and by what criteria they judge the pandemic to be over. The Conversation asked three scholars from different parts of American society affected by the pandemic — public health, education and economics — to assess how “over” the pandemic is in their world. Here is what they said:
Public health: not all black and white
Lisa Miller, Adjunct Professor of Epidemiology, University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus
President Biden answered the question of whether the pandemic is over with a clear “yes,” but that’s not a black and white question.
It is true that thanks to generalized immunity to vaccines and infections, the United States is in a very different place than the country was even a year ago. But as an epidemiologist, I think the persistence of 350 and 400 deaths in the United States every day and hundreds of deaths per week in other countries of the world still constitutes a pandemic.
I understand the need Biden faces as a public figure to try to succinctly say where the country is and give some hope and comfort, but public health experts are still in a situation where no one can predict how the virus will mutate and evolve. These mutations may make the virus less dangerous, but it is also possible that the next variant may be more harmful.
Ultimately, whatever you call the current situation – COVID-19 still poses a significant and ongoing risk to the world. Pandemic or not, it is important to continue investing in the development of improved vaccines and to strengthen the preparedness of medical and public health systems. As COVID-19 drags on, the risk is that policy makers lose sight of these important goals.
The economy: back to a new normal?
William Hauk, Associate Professor of Economics, University of South Carolina
As an economics researcherI can talk about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy and its lingering effects.
And the good news is that the worst of the pandemic’s impact on the economy ended some time ago. After hitting a post-war high of 14.7% in April 2020 as the ravages of the pandemic took their toll, the unemployment rate was 4% or less for all of 2022. Notably, in the August jobs report, the total number of workers employed in the United States surpassed its pre-pandemic peak for the first time. .
While the labor market has largely recovered, there are still economic repercussions from the pandemic that the United States will feel for some time.
Supply chain challenges remain in some key areas, like computer chips. While we might have expected stronger recoveries in this area, geopolitical issues, like at war in Ukraine, continue to cause problems. As a result, a full recovery may not occur for some time and hamper efforts to combat rising inflation.
Finally, many Americans may be reassessing their work-life balance in the wake of the pandemic. Aggregate labor force figures suggest the ‘great quit’ could be rather a reshuffling. However, the rise of “quiet stop— the phenomenon of employees limiting their productivity and not going ‘over and above’ — may lead many to conclude that workers are not as intrinsically motivated by their work as they were before COVID-19.
So while the “pandemic” phase of COVID-19 may be over for the economy, the rise of a new normal could be seen as the start of an “endemic” effect. In other words, we are no longer in an emergency situation, but the “normal” we are returning to may differ in many ways from the pre-COVID world.
Schools: gaps exacerbated by the pandemic
Wayne Au, Professor of Education, University of Washington, Bothell
While it is true that public schools may have largely returned to “normal” functioning in terms of no masking requireda return to use high-stakes challenges to measure teaching and learning, and in person attendance policiesschools are not done with the pandemic.
The pandemic-induced trauma that many students have faced at home – through the death of friends and family members, the impact of a long COVID, the isolation and anxiety caused by job insecurity parents and unequal access to health care – lives inside of them as they attend classes today.
Many students need to relearn how to be with each other in person and in social and academic settings. In addition, students from low-income families are still trying to overcome the consequences of inequitable access to resources and technology at home during distance education.
The gaps in current educational outcomes are the same as before the pandemic and appear at the intersection of race, to classify and immigration. Similarly, the pandemic has exacerbated socio-economic inequalities in general, it has also deepened existing educational inequalities.
These issues have been intensified by the pandemic and could affect students – mostly from low-income backgrounds – for years to come.
William Haukassociate professor of economics, University of South Carolina; Lisa Millerassistant professor of epidemiology, University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campusand Wayne Aueducation teacher, University of Washington, Bothell