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Coping with a ‘New Normal’

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Since March 2020, the world has been coping with a “new normal” of the COVID-19 pandemic, full of changing guidelines on masking, social distancing, and quarantine. Recently, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced a major step toward the post-pandemic world and said that fully vaccinated people do not need to wear masks indoors or outdoors, unless required by federal, state, or local laws, such as in hospitals, schools, and airports. 

Because sickle cell disease (SCD) affects the immune system, individuals with SCD are at higher risk for severe COVID-19 complications, including blood clotting, damage to blood vessels, and acute chest syndrome. For this reason, SCD warriors have been encouraged to continue taking all precautions against COVID-19, even if they’re vaccinated. (In addition to keeping all precautions, the CDC, SCDAA, and other medical authorities recommend that SCD warriors and their families get vaccinated.)

While it is a relief for many to be vaccinated, there is still a stress that makes it hard to go back to a normal social life. Everybody has different personal boundaries, so part of this anxiety is the pressure to constantly figure out what these boundaries are with each new COVID-19 update. Do you wear a mask only indoors or when seated in restaurants? Is it safe to be in a large crowd? Is it safe to travel? These are just some of the questions that come to mind when regulations get updated. It feels like we’re coming out of a bunker or safe house, hesitant and often scared about what to expect. 

My mask is more of a comfort measure now, I feel safer when wearing it. At the back of my mind, there’s that constant reminder that we are still living in a pandemic. I’ve had those awkward moments meeting up with a friend; I’m wearing a mask while they aren’t. It’s a new type of social situation to navigate. For me, when meeting up with friends and family, it’s easier to be upfront about preferences so we can find a middle ground. Health is everyone’s first priority, so if done in a respectful way, it’s not hard to make those boundaries.

For the SCD community, returning back to “normal” is not that simple. Some SCD warriors are worried about the vaccines, while many have already gotten vaccinated. It means something different for everyone, but it’s important for people to feel like they can make their own decisions, and equally important to not feel pressure to start decreasing precautions. It is key to get information from reliable sources, to talk with your providers, and pay attention to your own comfort level. 

This pandemic has changed so much in our lives and everyone is eager to put this time behind us, but it’s not that simple for everyone. It’s okay to feel hesitant to lower your precautions. It’s okay to ask for more information and take things slow. In the whirlwind of the past 18 months, we’ve learned so much and are still learning how to adjust and adapt. We’ve learned to appreciate the little things, like a walk outside or a trip to the grocery store. And as a community, we have banded together to support each other and come out stronger.

-Rafia, Sick Cells Medical Writer Intern, First Year Medical Student at University of Illinois – Chicago

To learn more about COVID-19 and the vaccine, follow @project_scovid on Instagram and Facebook. 

The CDC and SCDAA MARAC recommend that all sickle cell warriors receive a COVID-19 vaccination. The vaccines are a safe and effective way to protect SCD warriors and their families against COVID-19.

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