The emergence of yet another COVID variant (Omicron) means we aren’t going to see an “independence” from the virus for quite some time. Like the sword of Damocles, COVID hangs over Biden, constantly threatening to unleash more chaos and confusion into our already upended world.

Yet, as we focus on the present mutation, we still haven’t fully reckoned with the impact the pre-vaccine era experience has had — and will continue to have -on our lives. 

Here are just some of the “long-tail” effects of life in the pandemic. 

  • The U.S. recorded more drug overdose deaths between March of 2020 and March of 2021 than at any time in history.
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Children’s Hospital Association declared that the pandemic-related decline in child and adolescent mental health has become a national emergency. 
  • A growing number of physical attacks on flight attendants (mostly over mask-wearing enforcement), prompted the Federal Aviation Administration to enlist the FBI in prosecuting individual cases of unruly passenger behavior.
  • Cities across the country have seen a rise in so-called “smash and grab” robberies of retail stores, incentivized in part by a pandemic-boosted online marketplace where organized criminals can sell the stolen goods.
  • A rise in violent crime in many cities, including Atlanta, Philadelphia and Minneapolis. A deep-dive into the causes of the surge by the New York Times found no “single, direct cause of the spike in homicides” but did note “one persistent, unmistakable factor: The continued destabilizing effects of the coronavirus pandemic.” As the authors of the piece wrote: “Even if it is impossible to definitively establish a link between the pandemic and the increase in homicides, its disruption to American lives, routines, schools, workplaces and relationships has been undeniable.”

Humans are incredibly resilient. But, we’re also sensitive to changes to our lives, especially those that impact our safety and security. 

Despite our technological ability to connect and be productive, it turns out that physically isolating from one another for months at a time takes an unpredictable toll on our society.

It also left many of us in a constant state of vigilance that is physically and emotionally draining. 

I have observed this pervasive sense of anxiety in focus groups. Just the other week, for example, a moderator in one group asked the participants to think about the things that make them feel hopeful these days.“There are just too many unknown factors to feel hopeful,” said one of the men. Another man in the group, when referring to his feelings about his own financial standing, said that he was “preparing for the worst and hoping for the best.”

“I don’t know what to believe anymore,” said one younger woman in a recent group.  “I don’t know whether to be hopeful for the future that things are going to be better or to be scared. What we’re going through right now, though it’s slightly getting better,  it’s still not like it was before.”

Governing in a time of crisis is always a challenge for a leader. It’s even harder to do in this polarized media environment. Every action a president takes to ‘fix’ one problem brings attacks on how this ignores — or minimizes — the others. 

Moreover, we also know that problems we are tackling today go deeper than government funding priorities. A society that has been pushed off-kilter can’t be easily placed back on its axis.

Perhaps the biggest lesson we’ve learned over these past 18 months is that society does not “bounce back” from a pandemic. While things like vaccines and improvements in the supply chain can fix immediate problems, there’s no way of knowing how long the aftershocks will continue. 

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