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In the dictionary of 2020, ‘new normal’ is the scariest term

Pandemic. Flattening the curve. Social distancing. Masks. Takeout meals. Zoom meeting. Virtual school. Essential. Non-essential. Ventilators. Vaccine. Stimulus checks.

This is the dictionary of 2020, the year of the coronavirus.

For millions of parents, the morning assignment is not packing Johnny’s lunch, but rather making sure his computer is set up for the virtual math lesson with his fourth-grade teacher at 9 a.m.

Millions more of us are going to work … at the dining room table … in jeans and a T-shirt.

We don’t go to lunch. We order takeouts, meet in the park and sit tables away from each other.

We don’t go to meetings and doctors appointments. We Zoom in.

We don’t hug or shake hands or slap each other on the back. The high-five is an endangered species.

This is our virtual world, a knockoff of the life we have come to know.

We accepted this upheaval because we were told it is temporary. Our assignment was to flatten the curve. Take a look at the state-by-state graphs of cases, hospitalizations and deaths that rule our assessment of the coronavirus. Even in the most threatened parts of our country, those graphs show we have gone past a flat curve to a descending curve. And the health knowledge of the past eight weeks tells us the threat is for the most part very specific – elderly, nursing homes, public transportation, urban centers.

But some political leaders doubling as social engineers are changing the rules. The new mountain to climb is a virus test in every living room. Or a vaccine.

Never mind what you were told six weeks ago. Never mind that sanctified health models overestimated the mortality toll by a lot. We’ve got a new standard of safe, even as you wear your mask everywhere and socially distance because you were told that would help. It has.

But get ready, instead, for the “new normal”, perhaps the most chilling term associated with this crisis.

This new normal includes declarations — in May — that there won’t be school in a school come fall. Suddenly, in-home schooling that people used to snicker at is the universal means to educating a child. This new normal says working at home is the same as going to the office. Suddenly, proving our workplace worth hinges on our computer communications dexterity.

This new normal says a restaurant can survive with 20 instead of 40 patrons sitting at tables, we can play our spectator sports without spectators, we can work out via You Tube rather than the gym, we can go to a rock concert from the comfort of our couch.

Apparently, it’s okay that the House of Representatives vote by proxy from home under a version of “essential work” that a few Washington power brokers have devised. Apparently, they don’t need to meet while debating the next trillion dollars in debt that our sons and daughters will have to pay off. Apparently, we can mail our vote in and 120 million or so ballots will arrive to the proper place, with no chance that anyone might trifle with our democratic decisions.

Time out. This smells. And a lot of the odor carries a political stench. It feels like the power of health concerns is being used to wedge in agendas that could not be sold the old fashioned way. Temporary seems to be on the fast track to permanent.

But this virtual world is a substitute and should not be trumpeted as an improvement.

What if Johnny’s family doesn’t have adequate in-home technology for his education? He’s at a learning disadvantage and we can’t buy standard computers for every student in America. What if Johnny feeds off the classroom and presence of a teacher, which is the way it should be? What if Johnny’s parents need to go to work and can’t afford or access day care?

There is a reason for the term “body language.” You learn things in a face-to-face conversation that cannot be learned any other way, whether it’s in a school, an office, a meeting room, a restaurant or a baseball stadium. Zoom communication does not equal the intangible value of a public meeting or a courtroom proceeding. Those touchstones of our system require face-to-face communication. Anyone claiming they can be our future is misguided.

The terms essential and non-essential have become the border war of this pandemic. Frankly, we are all essential. But we have figured out nurses, doctors, truckers, farmers, ranchers and grocery store stock personnel are indispensable.

We’ve been told journalists are essential. Now we have to show we are worthy of that designation.

If we are not questioning how and why the terms for normalcy have been moved from flattening the curve to guaranteed health, we are not doing our essential job.

David F. Troisi is retired as editor of the Sun-Gazette.

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