Two years after the start of the pandemic, the world is taking cautious steps forward

Another positive: omicron wave and vaccinations left enough people with protection Experts say future surges are likely to require much less shock to society against the coronavirus.

Nowhere is the shift in the pandemic more evident than in the country’s hospitals, where intensive care units were overflowing with terminally ill patients just a few months ago.

Julie Kim, chief nurse at Providence St. Jude Medical Center in Fullerton, Calif., is thrilled as she recalls the pandemic’s harshest days, when doctors and nurses worked around the clock and didn’t go home because they were afraid to bring the virus back to them.

At one point during peak summer 2020the 320-bed licensed hospital had 250 COVID-19 patients and the hospital had to use offices to overflow beds.

The pandemic has eased to the point where there were only four COVID-19 patients in the hospital as of Tuesday, Kim said, and medical staff feel better prepared to treat the disease with the knowledge gained from those darkest days. However, many are traumatized by bitter memories of the last two years, and they will never be the same again, she said.

“It’s hard to use the word ‘normal’ because I don’t think we’ll ever go back to pre-COVID. We are adapting and moving forward,” said Kim. “It has affected many of us. Some people are moving forward, and some are still having a hard time dealing with it all.”

Mask mandates, vaccine requirements and other measures against COVID-19 are being lifted everywhere. The last mask mandate in the US state of Hawaii is set to expire in two weeks.

But health experts are also calling for caution.

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Dr. Albert Koh, an infectious disease physician and epidemiologist at the Yale School of Public Health, said it is certainly good news that the US appears to be at the end of a peak. But he warned against any claims of victory, especially since there could be another option lurking around the corner.

“We’re getting new options, and those new options are causing big waves, waves of epidemics,” Ko said. “The big question is, will they be as mild or less severe than omicron? Will they potentially be more serious? Unfortunately, I can’t predict that.”

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In Portland, people are returning to movie theaters, concerts and gyms after a long, dark winter, and bars and restaurants are filling up again. Safrin said many customers tell her they are dining inside for the first time in months.

Kalani Pa, who owns the Anytime Fitness franchise in suburban Portland with his wife, said the past two years have nearly put him out of business, but with Oregon’s mandate ending on Friday, his small gym is suddenly back to life. This week, the franchise signed three new members in just one day, and this week, a cafe opened next to the gym in a facility that had been empty for months, boosting attendance.

“Sometimes things have to get worse before they get better,” Pa said before rushing off on a field trip to a new member.

Demand for testing has also fallen.

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Jacqueline Chavira remembers the fear on people’s faces as they lined up in Los Angeles by the thousands for testing during a surge in late 2020 that caused an astonishing 250,000 infections and more than 3,000 deaths a day in the US at its peak.

Infections ran out of control for weeks, and on some days the queue of cars at the Dodger Stadium proving ground, one of the largest in the country, stretched for almost two miles.

At the height of the micromicron surge, a Chavira non-profit called CORE was running 94,000 tests per week at 10 centers in Los Angeles County. They spent about 3,400 last week, and most of them were related to work or travel, not because the person was sick, she said.

“You feel relieved,” Chavira said.

However, not everyone is ready to dive back in. Many remember last year when mask rules were loosened and COVID-19 seemed to loosen its grip only to roar back as the delta and micron variants took hold.

Amber Pierce, who works at a Portland bar-restaurant, was out of work for nearly a year due to COVID-related layoffs and narrowly escaped infection herself when the virus swept through her workplace. During the peak of this winter, she said, a regular customer died.

She still wears a mask even when she is outside, and was recently eating pizza outside just because her brother came to visit for the first time in over a year.

“I’ll make sure there’s no splash when those masks come off and everyone starts to feel comfortable,” she said as she applied hand sanitizer.

“It’s still anxiety – she said. “In any case, it will hit you, whether you actually get sick or not.”

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