COVID in review.

COVID in Review: How Has the Pandemic Changed Us?

Over two years ago, COVID-19 rapidly spread across the globe, changing the fabric of society. Masking has become the norm. Reports of newly-discovered variants crop up every few months. Many are battling COVID-induced brain fog and debilitating fatigue. Others are struggling to find ways to cope with grief and loneliness. Some would argue these changes may last forever.

In a short series, Verywell looks back at the ways COVID-19 has changed our lives. Our reporters asked the experts how the virus will continue to affect public health in 2022.

Are More Variants Coming?

Jessica Olah / Verywell

Alpha. Delta. Omicron. The Greek alphabet almost doesn't seem long enough to keep up with the ever-emerging COVID-19 variants. Over the course of 2021, new variants consistently appeared with varying degrees of alarm. Is this what lies ahead for us in 2022 as well?

What we learned: The state of the pandemic is dependent on global cooperation. Experts say vaccines need to be distributed everywhere to help minimize mutations.

What to expect: We can expect that variants will develop as long as the virus is able to mutate. So, we'll likely see a few more variants in 2022. But it's difficult to tell whether they will be milder than previous strains.

Will We Wear Face Masks Forever?

People wearing face masks globally.

Verywell / Jessica Olah

At the beginning of the pandemic, masks were our primary line of defense. As vaccinations came into the picture, mask guidelines began to loosen. But surges seem to always bring us back to square one.

What we learned: Mask recommendations are often in flux because the government has to adjust to emerging research and constantly-changing case counts. 

What to expect: The habit of mask-wearing might take hold in the U.S., even after the threat of COVID has subsided, to protect against other illnesses like the flu. But there's still no end in sight to masking up.

Will COVID Be the New Flu?

COVID as the new flu season.

Verywell / Jessica Olah

Eradicating COVID-19 entirely is no longer a realistic goal. Instead, the hope is the virus can look a bit like the flu—always around but much less dangerous.

What we learned: Though comparisons between the two are often made, COVID-19 is still much more severe and unpredictable than the flu.

What to expect: Viruses want to evolve to be mild enough to survive and continue replicating, which leads to milder illness in humans. So Omicron's emergence is a good sign. Still, no one knows how long until COVID-19 is considered endemic, like the flu.

What Should We Expect From Long COVID Treatment?

Long covid clinic illustration.

Verywell / Jessica Olah

Patients and researchers alike have been searching for clues about what causes long COVID and how to treat it for the past two years. Still, long COVID raises more questions than answers.

What we learned: In 2021, researchers made significant advancements when it comes to understanding long COVID. Drugs for different diseases were repurposed as treatments. And we gained a deeper understanding of the mechanisms behind some of these lingering symptoms, like previous EBV infections reactivating.

What to expect: There is still plenty of progress to be made. Long-haulers want to see more collaboration within the medical community in understanding the condition.

The Pandemic Raised Mental Health Awareness. Will It Last?

Woman laying on a couch reading and listening to music.

Verywell Health / Jessica Olah

If this pandemic has had a silver lining, it’s the fact that many more people are now aware of the importance of mental health. Unfortunately, that's in part because people have been struggling with isolation, addiction, and grief.

What we learned: Many people reported feeling anxious and depressed last year. This was especially true for people living in areas hit hardest by the pandemic, and for healthcare workers.

What to expect: Hopefully, people continue to prioritize mental well-being in the new year. The rise of digital mental health services and online substance use treatment makes accessing care easier—and in turn, reduces stigma.

How Did COVID Change Addiction Treatment?

Someone lying on a couch with bottles of alcohol on a table.

Verywell Health / Jessica Olah

People are struggling to cope with the immense stress of COVID-19 and its impact. Since the pandemic began, we've witnessed a sharp increase in overdoses and substance abuse.

What we learned: Harm reduction groups widely promoted the use of Naloxone, also known as Narcan, a life-saving medication that can reverse an overdose caused by opioids.

What to expect: Experts hope to see a greater emphasis on addressing the root causes of addiction, such as poverty and housing, to prevent people from relapsing and reverting back to substances to cope.