North Texans are Ready for 'Normal' Life. Doctors say It Depends on Vaccines.

North Texans are anxious to get the pandemic behind them.
North Texans are anxious to get the pandemic behind them.
"Woman receiving a vaccine" by SELF Magazine is licensed under CC BY 2.0
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In Texas, the economy has reopened and coronavirus infections are on the decline, so it’s easy to feel like things are returning to normal. But when exactly "normalcy" can be restored depends on Texans' willingness to get vaccinated, said Dr. Erin Carlson, an associate clinical professor in the College of Nursing and Health Innovation at the University of Texas at Arlington.

According to current estimates, Texans should be able to return to life as they once knew it by the spring of 2022, she said. At the same time, certain permanent societal shifts are likely to have occurred.

“I don’t know that we’ll ever get back to ‘life-before-COVID normal’ completely,” Carlson said. “I think it’s like a 9/11 event where it changes some things forever.”

After more than a year, the country may be ready to kick COVID-19 to the curb, but many public health experts believe that some things have forever changed, regardless of when the coronavirus becomes fully contained.

While the pandemic is trending in the right direction, Carlson said things certainly won't feel normal until kids can get vaccinated. That may start to happen sometime in the fall.

Children are such a large part of the population that America can’t hit herd immunity until they’re also vaccinated, she said. In addition, kids’ ability to attend in-person classes is an important measure of normalcy, because many families can’t return to business as usual until their children are back in school.

Inoculations will also help to squash new variants from cropping up, some of which could wind up being resistant to the current vaccines. The United States is in a good position because of its robust vaccination program, Carlson said.

“You can’t have variants without transmissions, and so the more we can lower transmission through vaccination, the fewer variants we will have,” she said.

According to recent estimates, Dallas County could hit herd immunity as soon as June, said Dr. Philip Huang, director of the county’s health department. Each week, tens of thousands of new shots are being issued, but those numbers are declining now that the most eager have received their vaccines.

Around half of people living in Dallas County have gotten at least one vaccine, Huang said. However, a return to “regular life,” where Texans can again roam without masks, may not be feasible until the fall or winter.

“If everyone will get vaccinated as quickly as possible, we will certainly get there sooner,” he said.

These days, North Texans can quickly and easily get vaccinated at Dallas’ Fair Park site, Huang said. The limitation of vaccine availability has diminished, such that people can even drive up without an appointment.

COVID-19 rates are slowing down, but people still need to take the necessary precautions, especially if they haven’t been vaccinated, Huang said. That includes wearing masks and social distancing, among other coronavirus safety guidelines.

Even though mask usage has become politically charged, it could eventually become more normal for American culture, Carlson said. In many Asian countries, residents fighting an illness will don a face covering to protect others.

Rigorous hygiene upkeep and sanitization efforts may also become part of the norm, she said.

Some people may still be hesitant to get the vaccine, but Carlson said they should remember it’s not just for their own benefit. Rather, doing so can help to protect the broader community from falling ill or dying from the disease. It also helps to save COVID-19 “long-haulers” from experiencing long-term effects.

Carlson has a message for anyone still on the fence: “Get vaccinated,” she said, “if not for yourself, for the health of your community.”

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