There’s no doubt that the time Americans spent cooped up due to the COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically affected many of us. Nearly eight months after the first laboratory-confirmed case was reported in the United States, the country and military continues to learn, live and work within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID-19 guidelines and Department of Defense policy, as well as federal and state government health regulations. However, as restrictions in some parts of the country are eased or lifted, we can’t afford to let our guard down.
Since the pandemic began spreading nationwide, service members have operated under a non-standardized travel radius. Some installations were reduced to a 30 nautical mile (NM) radius, while others stayed near a 250 NM radius. Many people’s livelihoods, plans and vacations were put on hold. Graduations were canceled or altered, and relatives were sometimes forbidden to attend in the name of social distancing and safety. Schools initially closed for two weeks, which turned into indefinitely, forcing parents to make hasty arrangements for childcare. Not long afterward, many childcare facilities also closed.
We can assume some of those affected by this upheaval in their everyday lives resented their state and local restrictions. When those restrictions are lifted, there’s a potential for those people to engage in “social retaliation,” which is a nice way of saying reckless or risky behavior. This behavior is contrary to the measures we have taken to stay safe over the past several months, and it’s no way to react as the country and military recovers from COVID isolation.
It’s understandable to be upset about lost non-refundable monies, canceled vacations, postponed permanent change of station moves and delayed promotion boards. The pandemic has affected a lot of us in different ways — some more than others. Yet, there is no need to assume that your situation is any different than the single Soldier or vise-versa.
Early on, mixed messages concerning COVID-19 transmission methods and spread rates, along with the uncertainty of how long the virus can live outside of a host, led to confusion and contradiction. Is it on plastic, cloth or a metal surface? Are the ambient conditions hot, cold, humid or dry? Is the sun present or not? The fact remains that the life of the COVID-19 virus, outside of the body, has a lot to do with where it is located.
The efficacy of face masks has also been — and still is in many states — a highly charged issue. Initially, health officials said we didn’t need to wear face masks. Then we were told we should, but there were questions whether wearing a mask protected a wearer from contracting the virus or prevented a wearer from spreading the virus. Should everyone wear a mask or just certain demographics? Now we have been told we all must wear a mask to get the virus under control. All of this information played a part in the life and spread of the virus. Until the research was tested and verified, there was speculation, which led to mixed messages and frustration. This also leads to a desire to socially retaliate when the time is right and movement and travel restrictions are loosened.
So what does a post-COVID-19 environment look like? At this point, it is anyone’s guess. Will we ever get back to normal? The answer to that is also unknown. There are too many factors involved such as an approved vaccine, treatments and mutations of the virus. For the sake of argument, let’s agree there will be some type of a new normal.
Once stay-at-home restrictions and travel movement limitations are eased, we must address social retaliation. Post-COVID-19 is no time to lose sight of risk and safety. Just because you have been confined to home does not mean that once released and granted freedoms, such as the ability to move freely without an exception to policy, that you should act irresponsibly. Do not take the reduction in restrictions as an authorization to go out and swim in a reservoir after drinking alcohol or drive your vehicle recklessly.
The risks you take and the decisions you make in this new normal will have an impact on your future and possibly your life. Continue to apply risk management and use good common sense. Taking the reduction in restrictions as a pass to throw caution to the wind is a receipt for disaster. Remember, post-COVID-19 safety is still safety! It’s always better to assess the risk rather than to wish you had after the fact.