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If we will all do our part, we can change and thrive

As states and local governments relax stay in place orders and businesses begin to reopen, it is essential that everyone take a moment to look beyond the obvious relief and joy they feel, to understand what is and is not happening.

We are not “returning to normal.”

Normal is how we lived our lives before COVID-19 overwhelmed health systems around the world and crushed our economies as we struggled to respond.

That normal is not now an option. Why not?

The threat of COVID-19 has only slightly receded, not resolved. Every day, the virus still spreads and every day I hear stories from friends around the state of tragic deaths, many that may have been preventable.

Physical distancing (separating ourselves from others) by at least 6 feet, wearing a mask in public, and careful attention to hand hygiene are all essential basics that each of us must master.

A deeper question was asked by a friend recently, “who do you consider to be responsible for public safety from here forward?”

Who indeed?

Public health officials can set the stage for us with the best available understanding of this novel virus, but the responsibility for implementing the plan belongs to each of us.

Every person, young or old, rich or poor, sick or well, must take personal responsibility for their choices.

Will you go into a crowded public space if doing so is not truly necessary?

Will you wear a mask while in public?

Will you shout “Liberty” to justify ignoring basic public safety practices, or will you place the well being of others ahead of your own desires?

It is necessary to “reopen” our businesses and increase economic output.

Not to do so would only deepen the harm to our society and has its own mortality risk.

As we do open businesses and activities, remember, this is the new normal, not the old one.

The new normal requires us to protect ourselves from others and protect others from us. Asymptomatic carriers appear to abound, making how we engage each other in public key to preventing viral spread.

When will this end and the old normal return is a common question with a dissatisfying answer.

The old has passed away, and now all things are new.

This new normal will continue for many months, only gradually improving.

We will slowly gain the upper hand in this battle, and the more onerous restrictions will diminish.

We will acclimate to the new reality of living with the ever present risk of a pandemic.

The risk was always there, but never fully accepted, until we had no choice but to acquiesce to the truth.

Remembering 9-11 and our response is useful.

While we have largely recovered from that horrific event, evidence of its devastation yet remain, not just in the memorials, but in our daily lives and in our psyche.

We no longer ask when air travel or security concerns will return to the normal of 9-10-2001.

We all understand that normal is no more.

Welcome to the new normal.

If we will all do our part, we can change and thrive.


Dr. Mark Horne is president-elect of the Mississippi State Medical Association and a member of the Mississippi State Medical Association COVID-19 Task Force.