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Amy Roberts: The new abnormal

Many states, counties, and local municipalities are openly flirting with the idea of “reopening” their economies in some form. There’s a decent amount of debate regarding what “reopening” looks like, but most seem to agree it looks far from the normal we all knew prior to March.

Face masks might become the new polite offering when entering a friend’s home, replacing the currently polite offering to remove your shoes at the front door. Though I’m wearing a mask when I have to jet to the grocery store, I still can’t quite get used to the look. Or, more accurately, I can’t get used to the look of everyone else donning them. I’d estimate more than 75% of shoppers wore one at the store I patronized over the weekend. I had to remind myself I wasn’t about to witness a robbery; these people were just buying bananas.

At my office, we’re having frequent discussions about what reopening might look like. I never dreamed I might be legally, if not ethically, be obligated to take temperatures prior to allowing someone inside, but it’s a reality we’re grappling with. Though there’s no official mandate or recommendation yet, temperature taking and mask wearing are commonly referenced as part of a reopening plan. Along with lots and lots of plexiglass. Airlines are releasing “what if” renderings that include the removal of the middle seat and dividers between each individual seat. One airplane design company, Aviointeriors, unveiled a design with the middle seat in each row facing the opposite direction and all three seats outfitted with a three-sided shield. I’m not sure how it would feel to be sitting backwards while flying, but this would at least solve the ‘who gets the armrest’ dispute. The company noted it could take a year to get their designs approved by aviation regulators and outfit planes, which is roughly the same time a fast-tracked vaccine could be available. This seems to suggest an expectation that whatever the next normal is, it doesn’t look much like the old one. That’s a lot of time and expense to take on if the travel landscape isn’t expected to change permanently.

These observations got me thinking about other dramatic shifts we’ve lived through and, eventually, accepted as our new normal. I’m old enough to recall welcoming a visitor as they exited the plane. It felt odd the first time I had to wait for my parents at baggage claim rather them greet them at their arrival gate. But, in the interest of public safety, this quickly became a new normal and we’ve never gone back.

It felt odd the first time I had to wait for my parents at baggage claim rather them greet them at their arrival gate.”

So too have other safety measures. Many schools, concert venues, and sporting arenas now have metal detectors at their entrance. Ten or 15 years ago, enduring a pre-flight level of security to see a football game wasn’t even whispered about, but it quickly became an expectation and we all stopped loading our pockets with coins to keep the line moving.

Even in Park City, there are now removable traffic bollards along Main Street. These concrete vertical posts are put into place prior to large events to prevent a vehicle-ramming attack, something few of us would have ever considered necessary not too long ago. Now, not having them seems irresponsible.

It’s impossible to say what a post COVID-19 world is going to look like. Right now, it’s difficult to imagine we’ll accept a six-foot wide space requirement permanently or that we’ll never again know if someone is smiling at us behind their mask. But there was also a time, not too long ago, when it was completely foreign to walk barefoot through airport security.

No matter what happens, it won’t feel normal until it suddenly is.

Amy Roberts is a freelance writer, longtime Park City resident and the proud owner of two rescued Dalmatians, Stanley and Willis. Follow her on Twitter @amycroberts.


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