'Return to Normal' Leaves Immunocompromised People Behind

erasing virus

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Key Takeaways

  • COVID fatigue is leading many to push for a “return to normal” despite the ongoing pandemic.
  • These attitudes are influencing government decisions and resulting in the abrupt ending of public health measures.
  • Immunocompromised people still face a very real threat of severe illness or death when it comes to COVID-19, and it’s our communal responsibility to continue to take the necessary steps to protect them, experts said.

The United States is on the verge of reaching a grim milestone: 1 million deaths from COVID-19. But COVID fatigue, or the urge to reopen everything, has dominated media narratives in the past weeks.

Two years into the pandemic, Americans seem fed up with COVID-19 restrictions. Many are expressing strong desire for a “return to normal,” while states like New York and California have ended indoor mask mandates.

But for the millions of immunocompromised U.S. adults, complacency is not an option. This group is at a higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19.

As a result of the push for normalcy and the lifting of COVID-19 measures, immunocompromised people are being left in the lurch.

In a viral tweet, disability blogger and advocate Lisa Marie Walters stated the problem plainly. “Immunocompromised people can’t just live in a vacuum,” she wrote. “They’re a part of society too. They’re your doctors, teachers, bankers, baristas, grocery store clerks etc. Please stop saying that high risk people should just stay home so others can live their lives without inconvenience.”

Robert Amler, MD

All public health measures depend on cooperative behaviors. Even restrictions that are officially mandated lose their effect when fatigue causes us to drop our vigilance and let down our guard.

— Robert Amler, MD

What Is COVID fatigue?

COVID fatigue can be described as “a state of near burnout brought on by months of pandemic-related disruption without a clear end in sight,” according to Robert Amler, MD, dean of the School of Health Sciences and Practice at New York Medical College.

Amler, a former chief medical officer of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, where he specialized in infectious diseases, said the combined effects of frustration, isolation, boredom, and feelings of ineffectiveness have taken their toll, leaving people more impatient than ever to see the pandemic come to an end.

The U.S. is not alone to face COVID fatigue. In Canada, a convoy of demonstrators occupied the nation’s capital city for weeks to demand an end to all COVID-related health measures (though it has become clear the occupation was more about white supremacy and aggrieved entitlement than anything else). A number of Canadian provinces have also announced plans to ditch vaccine and mask mandates in the coming weeks and months. 

According to Amler, the fatigue-related attitude shift in North America is likely part of the reason driving governments to change their approach and abandon safety measures.

“All public health measures depend on cooperative behaviors,” he said. “Even restrictions that are officially mandated lose their effect when fatigue causes us to drop our vigilance and let down our guard.”

Legacy media has also contributed to the push for lifting all restrictions. As Scientific American columnist Steven W. Thrasher pointed out in his recent article “There Is Nothing Normal about One Million People Dead from COVID," mainstream publications have “been beating a death knell of a drum for getting ‘back to normal’ for months. The effect is the manufactured consent to normalize mass death and suffering—to subtly suggest to Americans that they want to move on.”

The Virus Still Threatens High-Risk Individuals

In reality, however, the virus doesn’t care about what people want, and it will continue—at least for the foreseeable future—to present a significant threat to high-risk individuals no matter how real COVID fatigue may be.

“The virus is still around, still virulent, and still can cause deadly infection, especially in those with compromised immunity. Even people without symptoms can spread the virus to them,” Amler said, underscoring the need to continue taking precautions regardless of local public health measures.

He said every eligible person should be vaccinated and boosted at the recommended times, and everyone should continue to wear masks indoors and observe other basic precautions to prevent transmission.

We must take careful steps to avoid exposing the immunocompromised and children under the age of five, he added, as they can’t be vaccinated but can become infected and spread the virus to others.

He said there are also ways to address COVID fatigue without completely abandoning those whose lives are most at risk.

“Take steps to reduce fatigue without reducing the protective measures that will work to stop transmission of the virus and eventually stop the pandemic,” he said. “Seek mental health support if you feel the need. Fight fatigue by being creative with daily routines, maintaining connections with friends and loved ones, learning about the progress made so far, and focusing on hope for a post-pandemic return to greater freedom and enjoyable activities.”

What This Means For You

If you’re experiencing pandemic fatigue, you’re far from being alone. Make sure to prioritize your mental health by being creative with your routines and keeping touch with loved ones while also remembering that immunocompromised people need our continued support and protection.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

1 Source
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  1. Harpaz R, Dahl RM, Dooling KL. Prevalence of immunosuppression among US adults, 2013JAMA. 2016;316(23):2547. doi:10.1001/jama.2016.16477

By Mira Miller
Mira Miller is a freelance writer specializing in mental health, women's health, and culture.