Getting used to feeling normal

·3 min read

May 30—Don't expect people to be invading your personal space anytime in the near future.

A new Realtime Research survey by the data firm Invisibly found that three-quarters of people say they will continue social distancing for at least six months more.

But it probably won't be that awkward kind of social distancing we've dealt with the past year: watching down the aisle of the grocery store to see which side the oncoming traffic was going to be on so you could veer the other way; doing a graceless stop and sidestep as you met people in a doorway waiting to see who was going to go through first; scanning a room to figure out where a 6-foot space from others was.

It's likely people will probably give up on real social distancing sooner than six months, assuming nothing unexpected comes at us on the virus front.

Already people have largely moved into "we're-almost-normal-again" mode. Right after the mask requirement was lifted, you may have gotten that side glance of criticism as you walked into the store maskless. But no more. We're sliding back into a more comfortable norm, a little more each week.

Invisibly's national survey, which asked the same questions about people's comfort level in doing a variety of things last July, shows an expected increase in activity now that the vaccine is being administered. But there remains a fairly high level of reluctance to get back to full normal just yet.

Just over half of respondents now say they plan to dine in at a restaurant and just under half said they'd consider going back to the gym. But 85% say they're still not ready to attend a large sporting event yet.

The survey found men are getting back to normal life faster than women, across nearly all categories. But somewhat surprisingly, younger people are less likely to be returning to normal activities than older Americans.

While returning to regular life will keep picking up as the virus risk wanes, the pandemic created some long-term changes in people and society. For one thing, our year of discontent appears to have eroded people's trust in our institutions even more.

One-third of respondents think the information given by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is completely untrustworthy, a big jump from earlier surveys. Just a slight majority of people think the CDC is trustworthy, but those in their late teens and early 20s have more faith in the agency.

One of the things I've heard over and over again while talking to people in recent months is the sense there will be a "new normal" once the pandemic is behind us. Remote working will be the rule for many businesses moving forward. More people will continue to shop online, but there will also be more interested in where our stuff comes from after realizing that being overly dependent on Asian-made goods has a big downside when there are shipping disruptions.

And there are scientific and medical breakthroughs spurred by the pandemic that will continue to bring big benefits. University of Minnesota researchers just developed a polymer "wafer" that, when placed under the tongue, can effectively deliver and preserve protein-based vaccines for diseases. The research could open the door for vaccines that can be more easily produced and distributed to communities around the world.

We will all get back to our sense of normalcy at a different pace, but at least we can see the finish line.

Tim Krohn can be contacted at tkrohn@mankatofreepress.com or 507-344-6383.

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