When abnormal becomes the new normal

Updated: Nov 8, 2021


The Covid-19 pandemic has spawned new travel protocols at every airport. Photo by Mar-Vic Cagurangan

Dr. Anthony Fauci said we are likely to return to normalcy by May 2022. We are not holding our breath. When we’ve lost confidence even in the nation’s top doctor, we don’t know what and whom to believe anymore. We fall back on our own intuition.


We have been falsely told a number of times that “normalcy” was just around the corner. This time though, we shrug it off as yet another "false alarm.” We don’t even know anymore what normal looks like. It means we resume our pre-pandemic routines, right? Hmmn...


We have been wearing face masks for nearly two years that being barefaced in public now makes us feel shamefully naked. Face masks have become part of our “normal” outfits.


Those old enough to remember 9/11 may have hazy recollections of what the world was like before the World Trade Center’s twin towers collapsed and subsequently redefined “normal.”


I remember that the process of traveling was not as tedious then. Security screening wasn’t as intrusive as it is now. You didn’t need to worry about wearing a nice pair of socks because there was no requirement to remove your shoes.


There were no long checkpoint lines and passengers could walk right to the gate, carrying drinks, perfume, lotion and other liquids. But after 9/11, even baby bottles have become suspect.


Security measures evolved with new threats. We must take off their belts, jackets and hats. We must extract items, such as laptops and similar devices, from our carry-on bags for scanning.


Last month, I traveled for the first time in 20 months. More than the fear of getting infected by Covid, my anxiety was triggered by the pandemic-driven measures and protocols.


Flying to Hawaii requires logging into the government’s safe travel app, uploading your vaccine card and downloading a QR code.


Aboard the plane, public announcements disrupt movie viewing, reminding passengers of what to do—"wear your masks”— throughout the flight and what to expect upon landing in the destination. It evoked an eerie dystopian feel. It’s “1984” in 2021.


Flight attendants did their rounds every 20 minutes, waking up sleeping passengers—unapologetically—when their masks were pulled under their noses or completely off their faces.


Upon landing, there’s a long line for temperature check and QR code scan. It occurred to me that this might be the new normal, another layer of inconvenience piled up on top of the post-9/11 airport policies and procedures.


Hotels and restaurants in Hawaii follow the same procedures that I have become familiar with. Log in, wear your mask and show your vaccination card like a badge of privilege. Only the vaccinated can enter.


At a certain point, it begins to feel oppressive. When is this going to end? When it begins to seem nonsensical, we start questioning the policies that we were told would, but did not, curb the Covid transmission.


On Guam, we continue seeing a spike in breakthrough infections despite the policy that divides the community between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated. We succumb to the pandemic of experimental government policies.


Now we have booster shots. Will it curb breakthrough infections? It may or it may not, said Dr. Ann Pobutsky, the territorial epidemiologist. “We don’t know. We are going to watch it. That’s all we can do: watch what happens,” she said


Thank you for the candor. Thank you for not giving us false hopes.


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But Dr. Pobutsky was miffed by people’s “obsession” with breakthrough cases. “Ever since we started vaccinating, there has been an obsession with breakthrough cases,” she said. "People continue to ask about breakthrough cases. They want to hear about every single breakthrough case and it is just, to my mind, getting a bit ridiculous.”


Ridiculous? Well...


When a government policy that affects the way we live is premised on curbing infections but is not living up to its promise, it is fair to demand more transparency and justifications for limiting our movements and ostracizing the unvaccinated. Banning people from fitness and wellness facilities—on an island teeming with a high rate of noncommunicable diseases that can be prevented by fitness activities—is, to my mind, a bit ridiculous.


Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero last month issued a new executive order extending the public health emergency for yet another 30 days. Recycling this directive ad infinitum can’t be the new normal.



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