May 6, 2021

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For some, returning to pre-COVID life is more difficult than expected

For some, returning to pre-COVID life is more difficult than expected


Shelby Bernstein can’t wait for life to return to normal.

In theory.

But as COVID-19 restrictions dissolve across the county, Bernstein felt increasingly anxious.

“Maybe it’s like Stockholm syndrome, except our kidnapper is the coronavirus,” he said. “We are all so used to the mental and physical chaos it has caused us that any sense of normality seems wrong.”

Over the course of the pandemic, the 29-year-old product photographer restricted her travels to the market, went a month without seeing her boyfriend, and only met with friends in parks, mostly masked and two meters away.

She returned to work in person at a Santa Monica jewelry company in July, but spent most of the day alone in a bungalow. He also tried to limit his trips to the bathroom to avoid being indoors with other people.

Intellectually, Bernstein knows that his risk of contracting COVID-19 in Los Angeles is significantly lower than in one year. Cases in the county have plummeted since they peaked in January, and over 50% of the adult population in the state has received at least one stroke. Additionally, Bernstein received her first dose of the vaccine a few weeks ago, giving her significant protection against the disease.

Maybe it’s like Stockholm syndrome, except our kidnapper is the coronavirus.

Shelby bernstein

She is not a hypochondriac or a hermit. He misses the holidays and takes a plane to see his friends. But she’s not yet ready to ease the behaviors that kept her safe – and gave her peace of mind – last year.

Medical experts say his concerns are valid. About 26% of Americans are fully vaccinated, and 40% have received their first shot. This still leaves most Americans unprotected.

At the same time, they note that for fully vaccinated people, activities such as hugging or eating in a restaurant are safe, especially if vulnerable friends and family are also vaccinated.

But while experts may say vaccines offer excellent protection from the virus, some people can’t help but feel that it all sounds too good to be true. And while cases and deaths are decreasing in California, they are increasing in other parts of the country.

As with almost everything in this pandemic – family reunions, business closures, schools – Angelenos’ feelings about the county reopening range from euphoria to alarm.

Some of us jumped at the opportunity to see movies in real theaters, grab a drink at a bar with friends, cheer on the Dodgers, or join a small dinner with fully immunized friends. However, for others, even the fully vaccinated, it is difficult to shake the fear that any relaxation of safety protocols will lead to another increase.

“Whenever I see people eating out or hanging out with their friends unmasked, I shiver and feel hopeless,” Bernstein said. “I hate feeling this way, but unfortunately for me and many others, I think this looming sense of fear will be with us for a long time.”

Customers dine inside a sushi restaurant in Long Beach.

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

A recent survey by the American Psychological Assn. found that 49% of Americans feel uncomfortable adjusting to in-person interactions once the pandemic is over. Likewise, 46% said they are not comfortable going back to their pre-pandemic life.

Either way, those who felt anxious were equally likely to be vaccinated, said Vaile Wright, the association. senior director of healthcare innovation.

“This suggests that the vaccine in and of itself is not an anxiety reducer, or at least not an anxiety eliminator,” said Wright, who worked on the study. “We’ve been in this routine for a year and it’s going to take some time to change it.”

Dr. Ella Shadmon, who is a family doctor in Pasadena, recently traveled with her husband and two teenage daughters to Arizona for spring break. It was the first time the family had been on a plane since the start of the pandemic.

As a medical professional, Shadmon received his first vaccine in January. Her husband and one of her daughters are also fully vaccinated.

The family wore N-95 masks for the short flight from Burbank to Phoenix and stayed in an Airbnb once they arrived in Sedona. They dined in the restaurants – outdoors – and checked before the staff were completely masked.

Because she is vaccinated, Shadmon does not feel at risk of contracting COVID-19. However, she found herself struggling with a variety of feelings during the journey.

“It was weird. It was exciting. It was too crowded. It was full of mixed emotions,” he wrote in a Facebook post. “Getting back in isn’t as easy as it sounds.”

Dr. Ella Shadmon and her husband, Ittai, during a recent vacation in Sedona, Arizona.

Dr. Ella Shadmon and her husband, Ittai, during a recent vacation in Sedona, Arizona.

(Courtesy of Ella Shadmon)

Coming back isn’t as easy as it sounds.

Doctor Ella Shadmon

For Shadmon, this murky space where we are no longer in the middle of the pandemic, but not quite out of it, was the most difficult phase to navigate.

When cases were high and vaccines low, it was easy to know what to do to stay safe: stay home as much as possible. Wear masks. Maintain physical distance.

“We are now in this middle ground,” he said. “And because every state, county and community does something completely different, the situation gets worse 100 times over.”

She is no longer concerned that she or her vaccinated family members will become carriers of the disease, but what about others? Have all those people who dine indoors in restaurants got the vaccine? In both Arizona and California, the answer is probably no.

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“When will the feeling that the crowd is wrong disappear? I’m not sure when I’ll get there personally, ”he said. “I think we need full herd immunity. But when we get to at least 50% [vaccination] mark, I think I will feel very different. “

Reports of new coronavirus variants and their potential to overcome vaccine protection have also added to some people’s anxiety.

“There is such an enduring feeling of lack of security and trust because information is constantly changing about variants, vaccine efficacy and duration of immunity,” said Laurie Stone, a psychologist from West Los Angeles. “I don’t trust that much.”

Stone received his second dose of the vaccine in February, but that’s a little comfort.

“I still have this chronic apprehension,” he said. “It’s hard to relieve fear.”

Laurie Stone, a therapist in West Los Angeles, outside her apartment in West Los Angeles

Laurie Stone, a therapist in West Los Angeles, has been fully vaccinated since February, but said the vaccine only gave her 25 percent more peace of mind.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Dr. Marybeth Sexton, an infectious disease specialist at Emory University School of Medicine, said it makes sense that even vaccinated people still feel anxious about reopening, especially when most Americans are not yet protected.

For unvaccinated people, “it is vital that they continue to do the things we know work: wear a mask in public, keep their distance from people, and avoid things that can lead to large-scale events like indoor eating, drinking in bars. and large indoor gatherings, ”Sexton said.

But he said those rules shouldn’t apply to vaccinated people.

“If you’re vaccinated, doing those things is very low risk,” he said. “Two weeks after the second dose of Pfizer or Moderna, or the first dose of Johnson & Johnson, the risk of contracting the virus is greatly reduced and the risk of being hospitalized or dying is almost zero.”

Viewers have spread with the COVID-19 safety precautions in place at The El Capitan Theater in Hollywood.

Viewers have spread with COVID-19 safety precautions to watch Disney’s “Raya and the Last Dragon” at Hollywood’s El Capitan Theater.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Chunhuei Chi, director of the Center for Global Health at Oregon State University, agreed that fully vaccinated people could safely go out to dinner and a movie, but added that no one should expect everything to return to pre-pandemic state all at once. .

“Returning to normal isn’t a quick leap, it’s incremental,” he said.

Even in Taiwan, where there have been no new coronavirus cases for more than six weeks, the government still requires people to wear masks on public transport, Chi said.

For those who are experiencing extreme anxiety, Charmaine jackman, a psychologist and wellness expert, recommends focusing consciously on the present moment.

“If you’re spiraling, notice it, stand back and don’t judge yourself,” he said. “Concerns about the future can be intense. Be in the present moment. Don’t go too far. “

Another thing to consider: judging others for taking fewer precautions harms your mental health.

“We don’t know why people are making the choices they are making. There might be a good reason, “he said.” It helps to think about it this way for your self-care and peace of mind. “

Achieving that peace of mind could happen by gradually re-entering society.

You could start with something relatively easy, like going to the supermarket with a mask, Wright said of the psychological association. Then experiment with a small gathering in the courtyard and later a meal at an outdoor restaurant.

“When we practice avoidance, we implicitly tell our brain ‘It’s too scary’ or ‘I can’t handle it,'” Wright said. What can reverse these messages is facing safe situations.

We all have different tolerances for uncertainty, he said. Some of us may only feel comfortable if we can be sure that we are 100% safe.

But it will always be elusive, regardless of whether we are in a pandemic or not.