As I’ve done every week for the last eighteen months, I checked the most recent COVID-19 numbers. Compiling COVID statistics for 38 states and 140 counties requires significant effort. First, one has to ensure infection rates, hospitalizations, and deaths are accurately recorded. Next, you must interpret that data and decided what information must be presented to executive management. Management then reviews that information and determines how specific healthcare operations in each location will respond to projected trends. For example, Alaskan healthcare operations, where care is rationed, require a different response than California, where COVID is declining.

However, times are different than a year ago. After a year and a half, your team gains credibility. There is a well-developed cadence to performing these calculations and presenting useful, intelligible information. Then again, eighteen months ago was a different era, when people clamored for information and longed for some respite at home (or working from home). Throw in some false pandemic information, fake medication news, fake vaccine news, fake ‘stolen election’ allegations, and an attempted January 6th insurrection have pushed people to a breaking point. 

‘Karen’ examples are everywhere. In recent years, the term ‘Karen’ has become a worldwide meme for a specific type of person who exhibits behaviors stemming from a sense of entitlement or privilege. Unfortunately, the term ‘Karen’ has become generalized, meaning the term ‘Karen’ is synonymous with both males and females. Also, the meme has evolved into ‘Coronavirus Karen,’ where someone refuses to wear a face-covering in shops, won’t stick to quarantine, and thinks the whole pandemic thing is overblown. Unfortunately, examples are easy to find.

Threatening assault and murder is not a First Amendment right. Disorderly conduct disrupting school board meetings isn’t either. But in the wake of nearly 720,000 U.S. COVID death, threats are appearing reasonably mainstream. Stories of cruel, seemingly irrational, violent conflicts over coronavirus regulations are broader pandemic symptoms. For instance, two men on an Allegiant flight from Mesa decided to duke it out after one refused to wear a mask. A Tennessee teenager asking his school board to impose a mask mandate in honor of his grandmother, who died from COVID, was jeered by spectators, as if the crowd was saying, “F*** your pain.” A California parent, angered by the requirement that children wear a mask, beat up a teacher. Angered by COVID-19 rules for children, an Arizona father arrived at an elementary school intending to make a “citizen’s arrest”. A Missouri medical center distributed panic buttons to employees after an increase in assaults on health care workers.

In the COVID war, the fog has crept in. A coworker recently confessed that the pre-COVID morning routine—waking up before 7, shower, dress, drive to work—now feels unimaginable. He cannot put himself back at the ore-COVID life. My company recently announced a switch in its dress code from business attire to blue jeans and business casual dress shirts. I believe they did it because many forgot how to tie a tie, dress appropriately, and interact. There are faces I see in Zoom meetings that I no longer remember. If I had to fly for company business, I can’t recall our company’s expense reimbursement procedures. All I see are angry faces. It appears to be a different world.

Social psychologists claim many are likely to accept incivility to achieve what they want. Incivility permits the dehumanization of all those in the opposition. Not even God has control over decency. A terminated patient technician from Peconic Bay Medical Center said she wouldn’t receive the vaccine, even if God instructed her to. “God could come down and say to me, ‘You must take this vaccine.’ And I’d be like, ‘Sorry, Charlie. It’s not something that somebody specifically or a specific group has to tell me it’s safe. My research has to tell me it’s safe … I have to see it for myself.”

Citing court records, the New York Times reported on a Florida woman who admitted that she intentionally coughed on and threatened a mask-wearing shopper during an interaction caught on video, was sentenced to 30 days in jail, six months probation, and participate in a mental health evaluation along with anger management. Strangely, I feel for this woman. For the last nineteen months, most of us have worked from home. Tasks appear, and we complete them. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner come, and we eat. Needs arise and are met. For a slim few, a finite suite of moods get pulled, and the world becomes two-dimensional. It’s either-or, this or that, fake. And when incivility stirs, it often seeps into work. 

In the COVID meeting starting this blog post, a new employee with only two weeks’ experience as a Senior Business Continuity Business Analyst stood and publicly stated my presentation was worthless (at least to her). The examples offered had no helpful information, no vaccination efficacy statistics she could use, nothing that she felt could benefit her knowledge as someone who once had COVID but survived. She demanded presentation format and statistical changes that would serve her (but not the company). A few Directors in the room attempted to provide her background. She ignored them and continually harped on her requirements. Her incivility roared.

After the meeting, I penned a tough but diplomatic email stating I was resigning from further COVID activity. As I told a friend later that evening, “I just didn’t need that level S*** anymore.”  

Some day not too long from now, most of us will meet friends. We’ll enjoy concerts, movies, and theater. A lot of us will go to weddings, baby showers, and graduations. We won’t have to wonder about what to do on weekends, because we’ll be doing it. We’re likely to be the same, but at the same time, a little different. Our brains will be flawed and feel utterly strange of having to work with others again. I can’t wait.