Daily News

Opinion: The ‘New Normal’ Is Almost Here

Since the COVID-19 pandemic started more than 14 months ago, there have been a number of comparisons between this global conflict (yes, it can be called that) and the last one — World War II.

Indeed, the analogies have involved everything from how businesses rallied to produce items to fight the COVID war — reminiscent of Franklin Roosevelt’s coining of the phrase ‘arsenal of Democracy’ — to the rationing of food and other products (remember those toilet-paper shortages?).

World War II, or the end of that conflict, must have been on some minds on Monday when Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker announced he was eliminating virtually all COVID restrictions on May 29, in time for Memorial Day weekend.

There was no dancing in the streets, at least that we know of (maybe there will be some on May 29), but the announcement must have felt somewhat like the end of that great war, at least to the extent that this was the news everyone has been waiting and yearning for.

Finally — yes, 14 months deserves a ‘finally’ — there will be virtually no restrictions on any businesses in terms of the number of people they can serve, when, where, and how. This is certainly the news that those in the large and all-important hospitality sector have been waiting for. It’s the news the Big E has been waiting for. And the Basketball Hall of Fame. And MGM Springfield. And … the list goes on.

But while this is great news for all those in the business community who have suffered through those four phases of reopening (the governor dubbed them ‘start,’ ‘cautious,’ ‘vigilant,’ and ‘new normal’), there is room for one more, somewhat sobering analogy to World War II. When that conflict ended, there was great joy, but also some anxiety for many about what would come next. And things were not universally rosy.

Indeed, the war economy came to a screeching halt, and before it built itself back up again to make the homes, television sets, cars, and refrigerators that everyone was demanding, there was widespread unemployment and considerable labor unrest.

Now, as the COVID restrictions are lifted and we can all go back to normal, the question is — what will ‘normal’ look like? No one really knows the answer, but it’s almost certain it won’t look like December 2019 — at least not for a while.

It will take some time before people feel comfortable eating out in restaurants again. Likewise, many will still be hesitant to go the gym and work out on a treadmill next to someone not wearing a mask. And while we can expect Fenway Park to be full the first game after May 29, many will be hesitant about gathering in large numbers and close quarters. As for those hospitality-related businesses, especially those in downtown Springfield, most of them rely heavily on office workers, many of whom are still working remotely and may well be until September.

Meanwhile, the local economy faces challenges beyond COVID. Indeed, ‘help wanted’ and ‘we’re hiring; apply within’ signs are posted at virtually every business in the service and hospitality sectors. And there are still shortages of myriad products — from lumber to used cars — and prices are skyrocketing as a result.

There is reason to celebrate today, to be sure. Fourteen long months of restrictions, questions, and uncertainty about what next month will look like are seemingly over. But remember, after World War II, it took a while for things to be like they were before — and in many cases, they never were.