The Twitter Discourse Around “Going Back to Normal” Is Getting Very Tense

With the CDC easing restrictions for vaccinated Americans, debates around what constitutes safe socializing have become a hot topic

April 6, 2021 10:02 am
The Twitter Discourse Around “Going Back to Normal” Is Getting Very Tense
Claudio Schwarz/Unsplash

About a month ago, when President Biden announced all American adults would be eligible for the vaccine by May 1st, many of us started to fantasize about the hottest Hot Girl Summer of our lives. 

As more and more Americans across the country received their first and second doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, Twitter users began sharing all the wild shenanigans they plan to get up to this summer, like eating indoors, hosting intimate dinner parties and maybe even hugging their fully vaccinated loved ones! After what has been a long, horrendous year, thinking about how a somewhat normal summer is within close reach can be almost therapeutic. But of course, it’s not all sweet daydreams of bar-hopping and making out with strangers, because it’s Twitter. 

Yesterday, user Lauren Walker tweeted, “there is a small but loud and absolutely real subset of people who don’t want the pandemic to end because they like being the best at following The Rules,” setting off what would become the site’s discourse of the day. 

It can be difficult to pinpoint who, exactly, Walker’s now-viral tweet is targeted at. More than likely, she is referring to some users with large followings who have cautioned people to not go “buck wild” this summer, adding that if we’re lucky and very good, we might have a normal summer … in 2022. Basically, there is a small but vocal contingent of mostly non-medical professionals who are shaming and scolding fully vaccinated people for threatening to commune with friends and do quote-unquote normal things this summer. 

Public shaming has been a big facet of the pandemic from the beginning. Sadly, the U.S. government fucked up so tremendously during the early days of the virus (and then continuously throughout) — offering confusing, contradictory and inadequate information, guidelines and restrictions about the virus — that its citizens were forced to self-police each other. This often came in the form of online condemnation, and there have been many conversations concerning whether or not publicly shaming people for gathering or not abiding by COVID guidelines actually does any good. While it might feel like you’re doing the right thing, studies show it ultimately doesn’t work

And hey, seeing people go about their daily lives as if nothing was wrong has been understandably infuriating for those of us who have had to make sacrifices, live in isolation and even gotten sick or lost loved ones to the virus. You have probably passed silent judgment on someone incorrectly wearing their mask in a public space, or even verbally instructed them to pull it over their nose. Recently on a plane I had to (politely) tell the person sitting next to me to put on their mask. These are all reasonable, appropriate responses. 

But to bring it all back to Walker’s tweet, there has emerged a breed of online commenters who like to gloat about how they haven’t left their houses since last March and condemn those who don’t observe the same stringent rules. They have, in effect, simplified acceptable pandemic conduct down to a simple binary of what is and is not acceptable.

Of course, for most of the pandemic, that binary was a very real one, and the CDC and other scientists had to deal with resistance and misinformation from people who had no business commenting on the nature of viruses. But now the pendulum has swung back in the other direction, with well-meaning rule-followers undermining the CDC’s latest advisories by asserting that fully vaccinated people should stay in isolation. This has naturally prompted a wave of sardonic responses: 

That said, not everyone is on the side of these putative virus police. Some have claimed the subjects of Walker’s tweet are made up and her tweet is putting blame on those who have taken the pandemic seriously. Or, worse, that people who have been irresponsible throughout the pandemic are pointing to relaxed rules to retroactively justify all the shitty things they did before there was a vaccine and thousands of people were still dying every day.

Others have pointed out how reopening will affect disabled people and those with social anxiety and agoraphobia. Working from home, Zoom and virtual access has allowed people with disabilities, in particular, to participate in work and other social activities without the sense of injustice or inequality that often attends it. Many are now, justifiably, worried that the imminent “return to normal” will mean a return to shutting disabled people out. 

These are valid concerns that merit attention while the country begins to reopen, but they’re perhaps being unfairly conflated with the legitimately self-righteous tweeters to whom Walker was wryly referring — especially since the antics of that particular group have been joked about on Twitter since at least November 2020. It’s perhaps easy to be in total isolation for a year when you have the privilege to work from home and the means to have your food delivered to you by someone else.

Hopefully most of us can agree that just because vaccines are flowing doesn’t mean the pandemic is over. Despite some states prematurely lifting their mask mandates, the CDC still recommends everyone, including those fully vaccinated, continue to take precautions like wearing masks in public and around unvaccinated people. Additionally, there is a lot of paranoia concerning new, quickly spreading variants, and cases are still rising in many states. This is certainly not the time to get complacent, especially when we’re so close to the end. 

But to tell fully vaccinated people they should continue to stay in isolation until 2022 is pretty inane, and many have pointed out that it could just cause already vaccine-hesitant people to not get the shot. As of now, we know Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are 90% effective in preventing COVID-19 infections. The CDC (please listen to the CDC!) has said those who are fully vaccinated can gather indoors with fully vaccinated people without masks or social distancing, and just recently announced they can also safely travel. That could all possibly change as we learn more about the virus and the efficacy of the vaccines, but for now, please avoid shitting all over our Hot Girl Summer fantasies. It’s all we have. 

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