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For some of us, returning to pre-COVID life is turning out to be harder than we expected

Deborah Netburn, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES — Shelby Bernstein can’t wait for life to get back to normal.

In theory.

But as COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, Bernstein has found herself feeling increasingly anxious.

“Maybe it’s like Stockholm syndrome, except our captor is the coronavirus,” she said. “We’re all so used to the mental and physical havoc it wreaked upon us that any sense of normalcy feels wrong.”

Over the course of the pandemic, the 29-year-old product photographer limited her trips to the market, went a month without seeing her boyfriend, and only met up with friends at parks — mostly masked and 6 feet apart.

She returned to in-person work at a Santa Monica jewelry company in July, but spent most of the day in a bungalow by herself. She even tried to limit her bathroom trips to avoid being in enclosed spaces with other people.


Intellectually, Bernstein knows that her risk of getting COVID-19 in Los Angeles is significantly lower than it’s been in a year. Cases in the county have plummeted since reaching a peak in January, and more than 50% of the adult population in the state has received at least one shot. In addition, Bernstein received her first dose of vaccine a few weeks ago, giving her significant protection against the disease.

She’s not a hypochondriac or a hermit. She misses parties and getting on a plane to see friends. But she’s still not ready to ease up on the behaviors that have kept her safe — and given her peace of mind — this past year.

Medical experts say her concerns are valid. About 26% of Americans are fully vaccinated, and 40% have received their first shot. That still leaves most Americans unprotected.

At the same time, they note that for fully vaccinated people, activities like hugging or eating in a restaurant are safe, especially if vulnerable friends and family members are vaccinated as well.


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