So you think it's time to move on from COVID? Here's why that's not happening anytime soon.

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Mandates are lifting. Employers are calling us back to offices. And even some of the strictest and most vigilant among us have decided that enough is enough.

Americans are moving on from COVID-19, and I can’t fault them for it if I'm being honest. It has been a horrible two years as we watched this pandemic pillage the world of life and common sense. And while I will be one of the last to take off my mask and get near people again, I understand why many of you are rushing back to “normal.”


Allow me to make a case that this pandemic isn’t over and won’t be anytime soon. Medically speaking, the pandemic isn’t over. That’s just the facts of it. But I'm talking about so much more here, about why "normal" will never be what any of us remember. I’m talking about the cultural impact of COVID-19. The things we lost and what that will mean for generations of us.

The loss of life

Can you believe that more than 930,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 since we all first abandoned our lives as we knew them? Do you remember how this all started two years ago?

We got word in March 2020 at work that all of us at USA TODAY were going remote and assumed it would be for a couple of weeks while this all got sorted out. We joked about getting a small break from what had been a tumultuous news cycle. I was just glad to be able to work from home.

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Then things got disastrous. Stores ran out of toilet paper. People started getting very sick. Schools started closing. Offices stayed closed. People started dying, and the descent into chaos began.

Fast-forward to now. States are no longer battling each other (or the federal government) for masks and other personal protective equipment. Those lifesaving supplies – along with vaccines – are in wondrous stock. Yet we are still seeing thousands dying each day.

How, then, do we move on from that staggering amount of loss? Families of almost 1 million Americans will learn, generation after generation, about how at least one of them died during a pandemic that overwhelmed and beat us.

And believe me, they will ask why. The answer will include our bickering and political strife that will paint a picture some of us will be ashamed of.

Nurses were abandoned

Think back to the pandemic’s origin in America. Think about how we felt collectively about medical professionals. They were overworked and underappreciated.

And nurses? They were heroes in our society. They were a source of comfort in our darkest times and a source of strength in our weakest moments.

What in the hell has gone wrong since? Well, many have turned on them. Picture that. In the middle of a culture-changing medical emergency, nurses and first responders were left to fight the virus without the needed protections, then later became the face of vaccine mandates when many decided they would rather leave the job than take the shot.

Columnist Connie Schultz: 'I'm a mess': A nurse who cares for dying COVID patients on the personal toll

Whether you agree with how all that played out is irrelevant to the fact that it happened, and this will have a long-lasting impact on the profession and medical care.

The nursing shortage will continue to get worse, and we can point to how some responded to this virus as one of the primary reasons.

Don't get me started on teachers and education during the pandemic. We whiffed on that so aggressively that my wife and I are looking to homeschool a second year.

The failure of two presidents

This one is perhaps the most outrageous reason the impact of COVID isn’t going away. Whether people like this or not, the absolute fact is that both President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden failed us.

They failed us on a level that hurts my heart to think about.

Trump admitted to downplaying what was known about COVID while publicly making declarative statements that downplayed how ruthless the virus was and offering ways to fight it. He then attacked scientists and really anybody who suggested we were losing control of the pandemic.

The National Mall in Washington, D.C., in September 2021 featured a project by artist Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg, who uses miniature white flags to symbolize the lives lost to COVID-19 in the United States.
The National Mall in Washington, D.C., in September 2021 featured a project by artist Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg, who uses miniature white flags to symbolize the lives lost to COVID-19 in the United States.

Biden, who was elected on promises to control the pandemic, has presided over an administration whose messaging made Ikea instructions look easy to understand. That coupled with being woefully late on home tests and offering free masks on the back end of the omicron variant and well after delta ripped through the country. Too little, too late.

Why does all this still matter?

Columnist Jill Lawrence: Is this the beginning of the end for Trumpism or the Republican Party?

I tested positive for COVID. Do I have to tell people? How do I tell them?

Well, because Trump hammering on science undermined his own great work to get the vaccine out – and created the foundation for the vaccine to be questioned by those blindly anti-vaccine and those who had become worried and just wanted answers.

Biden's administration bungled messaging on masks and misread the trends in a way that frustrated anybody who was trying to do their part to keep things under control, and undermined his own great work distributing the vaccine. Not to mention it fed anybody looking to deal in misinformation and capitalize on confusion.

You see, both presidents combined to fail in a way that gave the pandemic room to grow and the following variants a head start.

The impact of that level of failure will stay with our government and our democracy for several voting cycles. We will be dealing with the political aftermath of all that well past the terms of both. Yes, I know Congress was equally petty and useless. But I only have so much time, and that lot requires a whole book of examination.

And then there is 'long COVID'

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists 18 post-COVID conditions that range from fever to difficulty breathing and being unable to concentrate. And we know so little about how that happens that the same CDC website offers this advice for people dealing with COVD months after being infected: “The best way to prevent post-COVID conditions is to prevent COVID-19 illness.”

Thanks for that, CDC. You’re doing great.

Several studies have been done, but it's too early to really know what the quality of life will be for people living with COVID-19 past the initial infection. But the impact is likely to include medical emergencies and mental health issues for years to come.

The Department of Health and Human Services says people could see limits to "major life activities." That list is long and varied, including everything from eating to communicating.

The United States alone has had more than 78 million COVID cases. I’m not a mathematician, but even I can see that the potential for long-term symptoms is frighteningly high, and what this means for those infected is still largely unknown.

So now what?

All of this is to say that while we might be done with the coronavirus mentally as a society, it isn’t done with us.

It will be a force in our lives politically, medically and culturally for years to come, and the seeds we sowed during this pandemic will grow and help shape the endemic.

Let's just hope we handle what's next with clearer heads and better leadership.

Louie Villalobos is an audience development editor and a member of USA TODAY's Editorial Board. Follow him on Twitter: @louievillalobos

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Is COVID over? No. The pandemic will be with us for years.