Will we ever return to “normal”?

On Feb. 18, USC announced that weekly surveillance testing would no longer be required for those vaccinated beginning March 1. The University also rescinded the “no-guest” policy, allowing guests who are currently USC students in residence halls and the outdoor masking requirement was lifted Feb. 16.

With coronavirus protocols gone, the question of “are we getting back to normal?” surely enters the minds of people. The pandemic has claimed countless lives, affected people’s livelihoods, and put a huge strain on the mental health of many, so it’s understandable that many are so ready to close this dark chapter.

The pandemic, which continues to unfold, has forever impacted our view and understanding of multiple aspects of society, altering what the new normal might look like.

Over the past two years, students have had their fair share of fully distance learning and blended courses. Even with restrictions lifted, virtual class options at USC will likely remain as online learning becomes more normalized and, for some students, the preferred option.

Whatever their preference, the pandemic has encouraged students to work in a remote environment. He also highlighted the importance of digital literacy skills for students and faculty, which is essential in the 21st century.

The University has also increased the number of mental health services for students and faculty in response to the impact of the pandemic on student mental health. Over the past two years, USC has added 50 new faculty members and expanded its range of services to include individual therapy, group therapy, crisis support, psychiatric services, and specialties for gender bias. These services will continue to benefit students even as we return to some semblance of normality, as mental health issues extend far beyond the pandemic.

The workplace is another area affected by the pandemic. Like schools, most non-essential jobs have moved to remote support. After operating under these conditions for almost two years, some companies are more inclined to implement a long-term hybrid approach to the workplace. According to a global survey conducted by Slack in October 2020, they found that around 12% never want to go back to previous ways of working and 72% prefer a hybrid model.

Due to the shift work modality, opportunities for virtual jobs are increasing. On campus, many non-essential work-study jobs are virtual, especially those focused on social media, graphic design, or writing services. Last fall semester, the work-study job fair was itself virtual, as it has been for two years now. Virtual jobs for students are helpful as they eliminate travel time to location and also allow students to work from anywhere. These remote work-study opportunities will and should continue to be offered even as coronavirus protocols diminish.

As positive cases dwindle and protocols continue to lift, it’s important to remember that the impact of the pandemic remains. The college experience and feasibility of virtual learning and working has changed with various fields and societal roles significantly altered.

So what to do?

Adapt. If a professor is unwilling to offer a virtual option, ask them to reconsider, citing the benefits and comfort some students may feel in this medium. With most students back on campus, take advantage of the many campus events, explore Los Angeles, or even just study at the library. After being isolated for almost two years, the students must use their time wisely. Don’t try to go back to what was normal for you in 2019. Adapt, change and create a new normal.

Norma A. Roth