First question: Is your life back to normal?

In pondering how you are doing in the midst of this pandemic, you know that none of our lives are back to normal. I have difficulty remembering exactly what normal life was like two or three years ago, before we heard of COVID-19. But masking and social distancing were things we didn’t worry about. We were able to visit family and friends at their homes or as needed in the hospital or nursing facility. We went out to dinner, shows, or events. If we became ill and had flu symptoms it wasn’t cause to panic, get tested, quarantine, worrying about ending up in the hospital perhaps even in ICU on a ventilator or worse, in the morgue.

So after waiting months for the long promoted miracle vaccines, nursing home residents and seniors were among the first to be vaccinated. Soon fully vaccinated people were able to go without a mask in many situations. Breakthrough illness soon reminded us nothing is magic, even the vaccinated can still contract COVID. Luckily it is less severe.

People who recovered from COVID initially thought they had natural immunity, only to now find it didn’t last as long as they hoped and they can get sick again. Folks who’ve had COVID also sometimes get symptoms long after being sick, that can be worse and lasting long term.

Vaccines continue to be a part of the puzzle we don’t all agree on. In Lycoming County, only 45 percent of our neighbors have been vaccinated. That number includes children under 12, who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated, and must rely on masking, social distancing, and the health of people around them to not get COVID.

Lycoming County has now moved to the Extreme Risk category for people who are unvaccinated. This is the highest we have been in since December 2020-January 2021. Mandates in workplaces will increase our number of vaccinated people and others will ponder what is happening and decide it is time to be vaccinated. It behooves us all to be careful. While you ponder, please note: neither the vaccines, masks, or social distancing work posthumously.

The most important part of this pondering process is to realize things will eventually get back to something we will all recognize as our new normal! There is hope in the midst of today’s chaos.

Second Question: Are you having fun yet? Before you crumple up your newspaper and throw it at me, I know the last 18 months have been really stressful!

Many things you enjoyed or depended on, you have not been able to do. Other things are now done differently.

Keeping in touch with family and friends is very important. The summer has allowed us to gather outside, but as it gets colder, group Zoom calls and connecting by phone and internet to chat or play games becomes more important. Remember those without internet or WiFi service as you connect to those important to you.

Wear your mask when you need to. Masking is something I tired of before we even started, however masks work! They are now being mandated again in a number of places including many schools, and encouraged in public and crowded places. So join me (everyone — both vaccinated and unvaccinated) in using them as necessary to keep us all safe.

Then make a list of your favorite hobbies or activities. Spend some time every day intentionally doing one or two things you really enjoy.

Having fun is a state of mind rather than a state of being. You can have fun on your good days and your bad days, on days when things are normal and on days when things are in chaos. Take time every day to do both some fun things and some things that are important to you.

All of us have an incredible amount of anger related to the pandemic. Every day scientists learn new things about how COVID-19 affects us short term and long term. As the rules change, we must make new decisions. It seems that every time we make a choice it affects more than just you, it affects your neighbors, friends and family. May your decisions today in this time of COVID-19 always be made in the best interests of your own health, the health of your family, and the health of our community!

Gwen Berntine is retired from United Churches of Lycoming County where she served as executive director, and she is a member of Let’s End COVID!, a group of concerned people working to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic through education, outreach and mitigation.

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