my staff is anxious about reopening, even though they’re vaccinated

A reader writes:

I manage a staff of about 50 in a publicly funded, public-facing organization. We have been both open and closed during different phases of the pandemic but have been able to offer some level of service to the public except during the early shelter-in-place part of 2020. Obviously, this has been a stressful time for everyone on staff.

We closed our doors and went to virtual and curbside service when cases spiked in our area in the late fall. But now things are really looking up! Cases have been steadily falling since January and are very low in our area now, vaccination rollout is ramped up and 40% of people in our county already have their first dose, and vaccine eligibility is wide open now. All of my staff have had the opportunity to get their first dose of the vaccine and will get the second in two weeks.

We are going to reopen our facility to the public soon and it is causing a lot of anxiety among the staff. We have all the protections in place, plexiglass everywhere, masks required, social distancing, and a new high-quality air filtration system — but none of it, the protections, the vaccines, the plummeting case counts, low hospitalizations, even the warm spring weather — seems to have much of a positive impact on morale. There is a lot of misinformation and mistrust going around and when I try to share info from quality sources, like the positive trends state and local health departments or vaccine efficacy studies from the CDC, it doesn’t get through the gloom.

I personally feel very optimistic — while still remaining vigilant and cautious — about how things are going here. We live in a county where elected officials took the pandemic seriously. We did all the right things and kept each other safe at work during the darkest days of the pandemic. How can I help my staff let in a little ray of sunshine? Is there a way to make the transition into reopening to the public easier or do we all just need to work through the negative emotions in our own time?

Give people time. A lot of time.

The country has been through — and is still going through — a trauma.

We’ve watched the world as we thought we knew it upended overnight. The government misled and failed us on a massive scale. Hundreds of thousands of people died because of those failures. Many, many people lost loved ones. All of us feared that. We have been told time and time again that an end is in sight, only to have more mass-scale, avoidable death.

And that’s just the pandemic. We also came very close to having a free election overthown; we watched a slow-motion coup attempt being carried out in plain sight, and then suddenly in faster motion one horrible day. We saw people killed in our national seat of government, with more bloodshed only narrowly avoided. We saw swastikas and racist flags hung in our capitol.

We saw unarmed civilians murdered by police kneeling on their necks until they died, and shot while they were sleeping in their own homes. We saw the chilling way some of our fellow citizens responded to those murders, in some cases even our own family members.


Plexiglass barriers and warm spring weather aren’t going to heal that.

You’re right that lots of indicators are looking up, especially the ahead-of-schedule vaccination rates and the rapidly increasing vaccine supply. The news is getting better and better. But people are going to be anxious and suspicious for a long time.

So many institutions have lost people’s trust over the last year, and that doesn’t come back overnight. Even if your organization has done everything right, at this point people have grown used to not being protected by the people and institutions that were supposed to protect them — and instead have had to protect themselves, often at great cost. So yes, when your employees hear you want to reopen, some of them will be anxious. There have been too many businesses reopening before it was safe, and too many government bodies giving that their blessing. To people still reeling from that, this may feel like the latest in that pattern.

And you’re right that to a large extent, it’s not terribly rational now. If everyone on your staff is vaccinated, it makes sense to bring them back. That was always the plan, after all — not for businesses to stay remote forever.

But it’s too soon to expect the anxiety to lift. People are traumatized and grieving. Trust has been broken. It’s going to take time.

{ 747 comments… read them below }

  1. Neosmom*

    OP, I sincerely hope you enforce your safety protocols. My employer touts the masking and social distancing, but does not enforce them for the office staff and I sit at a reception desk (an open area) and daily deal with co-workers who are unwilling or unable to remember to fully cover up their noses and mouths and mock me for being concerned about my safety while at my workstation.

    1. Shenandoah*

      Yes, I agree with this. To Allison’s point – trust has been broken, and OP, your team will need to feel that you take their safety seriously and have their backs. If they don’t feel that, I can’t imagine morale will improve any time soon.

      1. DJ Abbott*

        Be prepared to enforce masks, distancing and any other safety measures in your own staff. Every workplace has that jerk who thinks they’re above the rules, so you may have one too.

        1. TootsNYC*

          and even if the OP is really, really fierce in enforcing rules with “that one person,” that may not be enough to make the colleagues feel safe.

          I don’t spend time with anyone who doesn’t take this all seriously, and I just don’t feel safe. There is an aura that I can’t shake. And if there were someone in my office who was like that, it wouldn’t matter what my company did.
          MAYBE if there was just one person, and that person got fired, or got shamed so hard they truly started wearing the mask and taking the safety steps…maybe.

          But anything short of that, I’m going to know that the moment the jerk can get away with it, they will, and bingo!

          you know what else? Even if I know that I’m vaccinated and so is The Jerk, I may not feel safe simply because The Jerk has shown me what sort of person they are, and they are still around me.
          Clients and customers coming in, who knows which of them would throw my health under a bus at a moment’s inconvenience? The mere presence of those people in the world has me really on edge.

          1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

            This raises another point about the pandemic trauma we’ve all been through. Ever since this thing started, we’ve had many opportunities to find out how many people there are in this country who believe in conspiracy theories about the pandemic being “fake” and elections being “stolen,” and/or think wearing a mask is a violation of their personal freedom. Then there are all the maskholes who walk around with their nose hanging out of their mask and are rude if you ask them to pull the darned thing up where it belongs. The list goes on and on.

            I can truthfully say that I have seen a very “unattractive” side of many of my fellow Americans this past year, a side that I would rather not have seen and now cannot unsee. It’s going to be a while before I can put that behind me, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to completely put behind me everything I’ve learned this past year bout how truly awful people can be to each other for really ridiculous reasons.

            Trauma is the word for it all right.

            1. JJ Bittenbinder*

              I don’t know if this helps at all, but to I try not to let myself feel pressure to put it all behind me. (I say try, because it involves noticing that I do feel pressure and working through that, but it happens less frequently and doesn’t last as long as it used to 20 years ago.

              Trauma is a really crappy way to gain knowledge and understanding, but if we can’t change that the trauma happened, at least we can use that knowledge to protect and nurture ourselves. I feel the same way that you do about learning how cruel and selfish people can be — people in my social orbit as well. I can’t unsee the Facebook posts that That Jerky Guy from My Kid’s School made mocking the ‘plandemic’ and all of the terrible things I saw from him…but now I know that I would not trust him with anything, ever, and I can take care of myself by knowing that I am an adult and can choose to stay away from him. (It’s a little trickier with the pandemic, because you can’t avoid viruses in the same way you can avoid, say, high school football games or whatever…and this jerk happened to have been responsible for an event that caused a cluster of Covid). And That Awful Woman Who Thinks Systemic Racism Does Not Exist? I will not vote for her, serve on PTO with her, accept her Facebook friend requests, etc.

              On the other hand, there’s that Nice School Secretary at my kid’s junior high who offers reassurance along with taking a message for the guidance counselor when I call because remote learning is destroying us but I won’t send my kid for in-person yet ( because of people in my town like the first guy who aren’t taking Covid seriously and my personal risk tolerance rubric tells me to hold off on returning to the classroom for now), so I know that she is someone I can approach when I need help navigating the sign-in for Zoom classes. And that hilarious woman who manages to issue a verbal smackdown to the guy posting his tenth Breitbart article of the day — a smackdown that is truthful and sharp and deserves a mic drop? I can send her a message telling her how much I appreciate having someone like her to walk this really rocky path with, and maybe even make a new (virtual) friend.

              And so on.

              Learning how truly awful people can be — and how many people there are behaving in these truly awful ways — sucked. Or, sucks. They’re still coming out pf the woodwork, at least in my neck of the woods. But I can use that knowledge to make decisions that reinforce self-care and feel just the tiniest bit safer.

              If none of that helps, I apologize for blathering on, and maybe this will help — you are far from alone in how you feel

              All the best,

    2. Spicy Tuna*

      This highlights one of the biggest losses of trust that so many people have experienced. On an individual level, I can’t even trust people who I thought cared about me to do a very simple thing in the name of protecting my life. I certainly wouldn’t trust my employer with that kind of responsibility.

      1. Instructional Designer*

        Yup. The trust is very low. This is why people like me, who are immunocompromised, have been forced to be home for more than a year. I have only left my house a handful of times since March 8th, 2020. And when I do go out, it’s to places where I can avoid people. If people were more caring of others, those of us who are high risk could continue to have some sort of life outside the home.

        1. Lady Meyneth*

          Hello, fellow immunocompromised home-prisoner! I’ve left my home exactly once since March 2020, to vote because it’s mandatory in my country.

          Many of my neighbors are stubborn anti-maskers who refuse to believe COVID is serious, even though we had 2 people die on my street alone, and several more hospitalized. Children are still playing together each day on the sidewalks, the gossipmongers still see each other every couple days for updates, there have been numerous birthday parties, and don’t get me started on the new year celebrations.

          Not a mask is ever in sight, and so I can’t even walk to my own fence to get my groceries without worrying someone will be lurking to try and convince me to be more social. And these are my neighbors of several years, not strangers.

          Is it any wonder I wouldn’t trust my workplace, great as they have been, to be a safe place for me?

        2. Tara*

          I know what you mean. During the most dangerous part of the pandemic in my region, I had been living with people who I had considered very close friends for nearly a decade. One of these people was the girlfriend of my actual roommate (but was still someone who was a close personal friend to me). When the pandemic started and her job went remote we offered for her to move in with us at no charge since her house had shoddy internet speeds and she would have had to quit.

          In front of me she talked of not caring about getting sick. “I’m young enough, so I won’t die. I can just ignore this and have fun.” Standing only a few feet from me, knowing that I’ve been terrified of covid because of a chronic respiratory disease which would make contracting it both more severe and harder to notice early warning signs.

          I couldn’t believe how little she cared about my safety.

          1. Écureuil*

            There are rules but then there is lack of enforcement. I see it on busses, in the subway, in stores. There is just no enforcement.

        3. Aaron*

          And the vaccines aren’t 100% effective so there will a danger until it’s extinct. I kinda worry about the precautions disappearing before this plague is gone.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            It’s doubtful that Covid will ever go extinct as its natural reservoir is not humans (smallpox WAS, as is polio), but I’m sure we’ll get to a point where enough people are vaccinated that it can’t keep a foothold in the human population and thus create more variations on itself. Basically I think it’ll end up like measles: a very dangerous virus that is everywhere but as long as you keep the vaccinations going you’ll be ok.

            I do believe we should keep a lot of the masks thing – like they do in other countries when you’re ill and you wear one to protect others.

            1. Dream Jobbed*

              I will definitely be wearing a mask in the future when I do not feel well, or have a fever. The flu for me is usually a day or two of mild sore throat, a day or two of mild achiness, maybe a low fever. Rarely enough to keep me home, just enough to tire me a bit. So I usually go to work. That doesn’t mean I’m not spreading it to people who shouldn’t get it. So yeah, I’ll be protecting people for the rest of my life. And I do not understand the mentality of people for whom wearing a mask is too much of a hardship to protect the vulnerable.

              1. Jen!*

                If your symptoms are that mild, it’s likely some other bug. If you actually have the flu, you should absolutely not be at work even masked.

            2. nonegiven*

              There are enough people in my life that don’t plan to get the vaccine, much less my state, I don’t see herd immunity happening. This thing will be around, mutating, from now on. We’ll end up having to take a new shot every year like for the flu.

          2. J.E.*

            I don’t think it’s ever going away. Medical experts have even said it will move from being pandemic to endemic and be one of those things that may always be with us from now on. It’s like Pandora’s box-once opened you can’t get the things back inside again. That being said vaccines are all we’ve got and all I can do is get vaccinated and wear a mask. Eventually I’ll have to be moving about in a society where 100% of the population will not be vaccinated or wearing masks. Basically I’m arming myself. I could say it’s some altruistic reason like I’m looking out for fellow human beings, but honestly, I’m protecting me myself and I because I’m sure not relying on everyone to do the right thing.

      2. TootsNYC*

        In my case, I might trust my employer long before I would trust my no-participating colleagues. But my employer can only do so much. And that loss of trust is going to cause lingering effects.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Too often, “mask required to enter the building” means “we say nothing if you slide it down to your chin once you’re past the lobby.”
        And “keep your mask on except at your desk” is a laugh for those of us looking to go back to cubicle warrens. My desk is 3 feet from a co-worker’s. And as good as the vaccine rates are, it’s still risky enough that no one running a lottery would offer those odds.

        1. allathian*

          Even cubicle warrens are better than open offices. And I certainly couldn’t stay in an airconditioned space without constant access to water, or else I get a dehydration headache. Not to mention that wearing a mask all day is horribly unpleasant. Better than Covid, sure, but I’m just glad there’s no way we’re going to be required to return to the office in any shape or form before the fall. We had a very liberal WFH policy even before the pandemic, but we did have some mandatory in-person meetings. Now those are on hold.

          I’m in Finland, where approx. 15 percent of the population has received the first dose of the vaccine (a good score for a country in the EU), so going back to the office isn’t on the cards yet and won’t be for a while.

    3. Artemesia*

      I feel so blessed to be in a part of the country with good compliance to these measure — I never see people flout the max requirements at the grocery store and just went to an event yesterday where the promised adequate distancing and masks were in place. I took my grandchild to a playground tuesday and every single toddler and mother was properly masked (which also keeps little kids’ hands out of their mouths until mom has time to cleanse hands). The key for nervous employees is going to be a workplace that is properly managed, where masks are worn until we have more evidence that that is not necessary.

    4. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      ugghhh, it drives me nuts when people only cover their mouths and won’t cover their noses. That’s not helpful, people!

      1. Tired of Covid-and People*

        Or, when they pull down the mask to talk. We can hear you, and you spew more particles when talking! Ugh.

        1. Properlike*

          Happened to me at a store during curbside pickup, where I was explaining why I could NOT come inside just because they were short-staffed, and the dude lifted his mask to yell across the floor at a coworker inside. It’s gotta be 100% or nothng.

    5. Elliott*

      I recently went into a shop where one of the employees wasn’t wearing a mask, and it not only made me really uncomfortable

      1. Elliott*

        Whoops, hit submit too soon. Was trying to say it not only made me uncomfortable as a customer, but I felt bad for the other employee who had to work in close contact with that person without much social distancing. Theres been a lot of rightful focus on getting customers to comply with safety protocols, but these protocols need to be upheld by everyone.

        1. DJ Abbott*

          There was a staff member at my neighborhood branch who was a miserable person – cranky, mean, making it clear she didn’t care. I was tolerant until she tried to wait on me without a mask. I wouldn’t go near her till she put her mask on… instead she went behind plexiglass. At that point I complained to the manager.
          She had told me she was the manager – that was not true.

        2. Your Chin Isn't the Risk*

          I switched pharmacies over this issue. I was using a CVS and while the pharmacy staff were compliant with mask wearing, only about half the retail workers were. So I switched all of my prescriptions to a locally owned pharmacy and won’t go into a CVS ever again. I did write to CVS to tell them why I switched, but I doubt it did any good.

          1. Katrinka*

            I use a CVS located inside a Target. The pharmacy staff are Target employees, and the Targets around here have been VERY good about enforcing the mask requirement for both employees and customers. But if they didn’t, I would definitely have switched. They should know better.

    6. Cat Tree*

      I’m really concerned that as more people get vaccinated, mask compliance will become extremely lax. I stopped at a local grocery store last week, and there was just some guy walking around with no mask. No store employee said a thing to him. I abandoned my cart and walked out the opposite direction to go to a better store that is farther away.

      My best guess is that the guy would have said he was vaccinated, but not understood why that’s problematic. First of all, there are too many mask refusers that I simply don’t trust anyone to not outright lie to get out of wearing a mask. Second, I don’t trust all sincere people to understand what “fully vaccinated” even means. Some people think they’re protected the day they get the first dose. Some think they’re protected the day they get the second dose. But vaccines don’t work that way. Full protection isn’t achieved until 2 weeks after the second dose, and I don’t trust every stranger to understand that. Third, we still don’t know for certain that fully vaccinated people can’t still be carriers and spread the disease to unvaccinated people. So even a truly fully vaccinated person is being selfish to stop wearing a mask because they are protected, when they could still pose a risk to others.

      All this is to say that I’m not surprised by our recent surge in cases. Many people are becoming more complacent, when we really need to be more vigilant since an end is in sight.

      1. InTheTumbleWeeds*

        I’m afraid you wouldn’t be able to find a place to shop where I live. Of the three stores I was in last weekend, I saw the staff were masked (although at least half weren’t wearing it properly) and a small handful of other people besides myself wearing masks and the stores were packed. Additionally, masks are still “required” in our buildings at work and no enforces it. It’s frustrating, because it’s such a simple way to protect people.

        1. Cat Tree*

          I usually get grocery pick up, which doesn’t fully eliminate risk because a store employee still had to load my car. I also don’t love shifting the risk burden to someone else so it’s not a perfect solution.

          My state has been pretty good about masks since the beginning, but it varies. This particular grocery store has had tons of other problems even outside of the pandemic, but this is the first I’ve seen someone just blatantly not bothering with a mask. If my state removes the mask mandate, I’ll take one risky trip to hoard huge sacks of dry grains and then never leave my house for months while eating a bunch of bland food.

          1. Elizabeth*

            I felt that way about grocery pickup at first too– a little guilty about shifting the risk burden to someone else. Then I had a discussion with a family member about how me not going into the store cut the risk for the store employees, and if we multiplied that by a certain percentage of the store’s customers choosing curbside, it could help protect the store employees. Every person that doesn’t enter the store potentially keeps the virus load low for people who need to be in the store all day.

        2. Katrinka*

          This is why my county is seeing a surge in cases and hospitalizations. This is a little GOP corner and it shows.

          1. Amaranth*

            Our governor just declared all mitigation is now rescinded, go forth and mingle, but our Mayor kept the mask mandate in place. I am morbidly curious to see whether certain areas in the state have a covid spike. A lot of people seem to believe that as soon as you get the vaccine, all is well, even though we don’t have enough data yet to know if the vaccine lasts over time.

      2. Foof*

        Our hospital staff has been fully vaccinated for a few months now and darn right we still mask properly, all the time, every time. The only time i’ve felt justified letting up a little was for family meetings that need to be in person (think multiple specialists meeting with family all at once to decide on goals of care) and maybe a smaller room than preferred is available. We are lightening up on isolation not masks! And omg bonus it’s been nice not having any URIs for the past year too!

        1. DLW*

          You are so right about the URIs. I haven’t been sick with anything upper respiratory since 2019. One tiny silver lining in this pandemic. I swear that even when the pandemic winds down and masks are no longer required I’m still going to keep a mask in my bag to put on when someone starts hacking on the train.

          1. Lily*

            Ditto. I usually get some kind of respiratory infection this time of year. This year? Zero. Zip. Nada. Haven’t had to miss a single day of work. Even when the pandemic is over, I’ll be wearing a mask every cold and flu season from here on out.

        2. DJ Abbott*

          I notice the lack of colds too! Masking and being unemployed so I get more sleep are making the difference.
          I used to catch 2-3 colds a year because I didn’t sleep enough, and no masks. I wish I’d realized about the sleep.

      3. Elio*

        I live in AZ and our governor has basically declared “pandemic over” even though we aren’t close to herd immunity. So we’ve never had a state-wide mask mandate but cities and towns were allowed to have their own mask mandates. Now those have been over-turned. We’re still at the same levels as the summer surge last year so it’s not like we’re in that good of a spot. Businesses can require people to wear masks but often times it’s not enforced. However, I can’t blame the businesses to much of this because some of these anti-mask people will get violent.

        So I guess I’ll just refuse to participate in “re-opening the economy” as much as possible. I haven’t had the chance to get vaccinated yet and I would be pretty bummed out if I managed to dodge COVID despite working full-time during the pandemic only to get it now. I don’t get why people are babies about wearing masks. I work in a clean room and have to wear a bunny suit so only having to wear a mask and normal clothes is way less restrictive than what I’m used to.

        1. Al*

          I’m in AZ, too, and I’m so frustrated at Ducey! My husband works at one of the state universities, and they still have an on-campus mask policy, but the students are getting more and more resistant to following it.

      4. Magenta Sky*

        The CDC just finished a study that shows that fully vaccinated people not only don’t get sick from COVID, they don’t catch it and thus can’t transmit it to others (to the same percentages, 80% for one shot, 90+% for both). Masks for people who have been fully vaccinated are going to be an increasingly losing battle in light of this.

        1. Tremu*

          As it should be. Every measure we’ve taken (or that some people have pushed against) to keep people safe is a risk/burden calculation: is the harm, or burden, or cost of doing this thing (masking, banning large events, banning small events, closing restaurants, closing schools, etc) worth the lives it will save? And once the danger is lower, it stops being worth it.

          For a fully vaccinated person, the mask is no longer protecting against a (say) 1% chance of death for them. It’s not protecting against a 1% chance that they’ll contribute to killing someone else. It’s supporting the culture of wearing masks until we get herd immunity. And while that is a good thing, it’s a much smaller good thing with much lower stakes than wearing a mask was 6 months ago, for most people in most places. So if the cost of wearing the mask is high (and it is high, for people who need to wear glasses, for people who are working hard and breathing heavily, and for people who are already short of breath) then for some people, once vaccinated, it’s not going to be worth it. That’s OK. That’s how this is going to go. We are going to let go of our safety measures at different times and I would encourage everyone to not jump to harsh judgements of people who are taking different measures than you are. There will be plenty of people who are very obviously acting in bad faith, there’ll be no need to assume bad faith when it’s not very clear.

          1. Magenta Sky*

            “It’s supporting the culture of wearing masks until we get herd immunity.”

            I’m not sure I agree with that (or maybe I’m not quite understanding what you’re saying). 30% of Americans are still reluctant to get vaccinated, and not having to wear a mask (2 weeks) afterwards is a big incentive.

            There’s no *medical* purpose to masks two weeks after the second shot, but it’s more complicated than that. There are a *lot* of people still so lost in the blind panic that they’ll completely ignore the science and cling to their fear for a long time.

            1. BG*

              What do you mean there’s no medical purpose? Being 80-90% less likely to spread covid to others is very different than being 100% sure you won’t spread it. Especially while cases are still high, continuing with the extra level of protection by wearing a mask serves a very important medical and public health purpose.

              1. Magenta Sky*

                Do you expect people to wear masks during flu season? Or any other respiratory illness season? The risks look comparable for those who are vaccinated.

                And cases are *not* high, despite the ramblings of the news media. (There are a couple of recently published studies that show how biased the US news media is towards negative news. It’s not even subtle. There’s also a study showing how exaggerated people’s perceptions are of the actual risks.)Currently, national numbers are at about a quarter of the peak in January. In California, average new daily cases have gone down 95% since the peak in mid January.

                1. Kathlynn (Canada)*

                  It would be great if people would wear a mask during flu season. there are places where people do so.

                2. BG*

                  Just because cases aren’t as obscenely high as they were over the winter doesn’t mean they’re not high. Right now about 20 people per 100,000 are testing positive in the U.S. each day. Even you assume that’s all the actually positive people (unlikely, probably only 20-50% of positive people actually get tested and counted), that’s about 200 out of every 100,000 people who are contagious right now, or 1 in 500. Which means if you interact with 100 people in a given week, there’s a 20% or more chance someone has covid.

                  And yes, it would be great for everyone to wear masks every flu season, it would save a ton of lives and I hope we do.

                3. Amaranth*

                  Well, I’ll be wearing a mask during flu season from now on – this is the first time in about ten years that I haven’t developed a three-month long cough.

                4. JustaTech*

                  “Do you expect people to wear masks during flu season?”
                  Expect? No, because America doesn’t have a culture of wearing masks to protect others. But it would be really, really good if we could add that here.

                  And here’s why: this year, there were virtually no influenza deaths. I don’t think that there were any pediatric influenza deaths at all. Usually there are about 100. That’s clearly a side effect of the COVID restrictions. So maybe if we could keep up with wearing masks (which is a less substantial cultural change than getting enough sick leave) then maybe we could reduce influenza deaths in the future too.

                  Besides, I busted tail making all these pretty masks, why not keep using them?

                5. sequined histories*

                  Re: case are *not* high

                  My state’s 7-day average for newly confirmed cases is 4,100, up 42% from 2 months ago. Despite 25% of the adult population being full vaccinated, we seem poised for a 4th wave. We’re a transit hub, so it will surely spread from here. Maybe it’s the new variants, maybe it’s the lifting of various restrictions, maybe it’s pandemic fatigue. In any event, maintaining a cultural norm of EVERYONE masking up for another couple months–at least until everyone who’s willing to be vaccinated has their chance–could potentially save thousands of lives.

                  That seems worth quite a bit of inconvenience to me.

                6. KS*

                  Yes. People are nasty and SHOULD be wearing masks in flu season, since they were highly successful at preventing flu this year, and this is a norm in Asia.

          2. PT*

            There is close to no harm/burden/cost to wearing a mask, though. It is a minor inconvenience at best.

            If you’ve been wearing thick high filtration masks that are hard to breathe through and you are now vaccinated, you can switch to surgical masks which are more comfortable but still provide protection to those around you.

            1. Anon for this*

              I have cheerfully worn a mask ever since there started to be evidence that they were helpful. I have not been inside any public places sans mask since that time other than the dentist’s office, since it was a) a needed visit and b) impossible to wear a mask while they were dealing with my issue. I am most definitely pro-mask-wearing. But as Tremu pointed out, it can be difficult in certain circumstances. I wear glasses for reading, including on computers, which means I have to wear them for work. When wearing a mask and glasses, if I move my head at all or lean forward even the tiniest bit, my glasses tend to slide right off my face and onto the ground. Plastic frames NOT for the win. Plus the fogginess and so on…. I haven’t found a way to wear a mask and glasses for more than an extremely short period of time when I’m concentrating on it. Obviously, if I have to go back into work before masking becomes unnecessary then I have to and will figure it out. But spending an extended period of time unable to see because my glasses remain fogged up, and with the constant risk of them getting damaged falling on the floor, is more than a minor inconvenience. Again, much more minor than COVID, which is why I’ve done my part, but I hope I won’t have to start wearing both a mask and glasses all day. (I’ve also heard from a number of people doing extended mask-wearing that the skin on their faces is irritated and breaks out, itches, etc., which is more than a minor inconvenience, although of course less of an issue than COVID.)

              1. Magenta Sky*

                In addition to wearing glasses and all the fun that entails, my nose starts to run after about 5 minutes. This isn’t all that uncommon. After about half and hour, my sinuses start to drain, and more than about 2 cumulative hours per day and I’ll have a scratchy throat the next day *from the mask*. (Fortunately, I have my own office, and we’re only required to wear a mask if we’re in a common area, or someone else’s office, or someone else is in our office, so it hasn’t been a huge issue.)

                So you’re right, it’s not no harm/cost/burden to everyone.

              2. Magenta Sky*

                In addition to all the fun of wearing glasses, after about five minutes my nose starts to run. This isn’t all that uncommon. After about half an hour, my sinuses start to drain, and at about 2 cumulative hours in a given day I’ll have a scratchy throat the next morning *from the mask*. (Fortunately, I only have to wear a mask at work if I’m in someone else’s office, or someone else is in mine.)

                So you’re right, it’s not no harm/burden/cost to everyone.

              3. allathian*

                Yeah. I wear glasses as well, and I have very sensitive skin. There are lots of reports of “macne” or mask acne by peope who have to wear a mask all day.

                Honestly, if I had to wear a mask all day, I’d consider getting a pair of swimming goggles with my computer glasses scrip.

              4. Aerin*

                Yeah, I work in a call center, so in addition to dealing with the fun of foggy glasses I would be talking, for 10 hours a day, through a mask. It sounds like a bloody nightmare. I’m willing to go back into the office once I’m fully vaccinated (second jab in 2 weeks!) but I really, really don’t want to until masking is no longer necessary.

                1. RoseDark*

                  I don’t have to wear glasses (though it helps, and the last year I haven’t worn them at all because I can get away with not), but I work in food service so i have been talking through a mask 8-10 hours a day every day for the last year. It’s doable for me because I’m naturally a loud person, but there was a hell of an adjustment period where I got used to the volume level i needed to maintain.

                  When my boyfriend gets home from work I have to remind him that he’s yelling because he’ll forget to modulate back to an inside voice once his mask comes off.

        2. fhqwhgads*

          Right but mostly the reason of masked for vaccinated people in public right now is A) that study only came out yesterday, so it’s still relatively new to being “proven” and B) once they say “masks in public only if you’re not vaxxed” allllllllllllllllllllll the antivaxers will stop wearing one (if they hadn’t already) and will just claim they’re vaccinated as a means of getting away with it. So if “everyone mask in public” is the rule, there’s less debate in the moment. Some people will still try to argue, but it’ll be less.

          1. Magenta Sky*

            The same people who would falsely claim to be vaccinated are now falsely claiming an ADA exemption – knowing full well it’s illegal to make them prove it. There’s no change there.

            And what this study says is that the only people they put at risk are *themselves* and other people who have made the same deliberate choice. If *you* have been vaccinated, they are no more a risk to you than anybody else with a contagious disease. Less, in fact, given that these vaccines are significantly more effective than most at 90%+.

            I am opposed to *punishing* people who have done what they should specifically to protect those who refuse to.

            1. Ismonie*

              Well, the major hospital system I go to knows I’m fully vaccinated, and I still need to get pre-procedure Covid tests and mask up. And their staff has been vaccinated for months. So it’s not that simple.

            2. TootsNYC*

              there is no such thing as an ADA exemption for this. And as we’ve learned on AskAManager, any exemption that did exist would come with the requirement of “reasonable accommodation,” and it’s not reasonable to ask a business to subject all their other customers to the anti-masker’s germs. They can place their order some other way–hand them a list, or something. Order online. All those are reasonable ways for people to shop

              And it is legal to ask an employee for doctor certification of an ADA exemption. Not for obvious or observable disabilities, and not for unrelated medical situations, but if someone says, “I have a breathing disability,” an employer could ask for documentation.

              1. Magenta Sky*

                I was actually referring to a retail environment, where different rules apply.

                The point remains: little will change. The same people lying now will lie then.

                1. Ismonie*

                  I disagree. There are additional people who I think will stop wearing masks if vaccinated people do, because the tacit social pressure of everyone wearing masks will continue to exert pressure on a group of people who currently wear masks, because everyone does, but who are looking for plausible deniability not to.

        3. Cat Tree*

          As I said though, I have absolutely no way of knowing which maskless randos in the grocery store are fully vaccinated and which ones are lying whiners who can’t be bothered to wear a damn mask. I’m assuming you’re the latter.

          So until a critical mass of people are vaccinated, everyone needs to keep wearing a mask in public.

          Geez, learn to read. Or take your silliness somewhere else that isn’t literally a direct reply to a comment that already explained why your ridiculous reasoning is wrong.

      5. EchoGirl*

        Yeah, contrary to some of what I’ve heard people say, I think your first reason is probably a major reason that they’re asking vaccinated people to continue masking; until there’s a reliable system of verification to indicate who has and hasn’t been vaccinated, it’s too likely that certain people will just claim to be vaccinated when they aren’t.

        1. Magenta Sky*

          As opposed to claiming an ADA exemption that it’s illegal to make them prove, as they’re doing now.

          1. Cat Tree*

            No, those ADA cards absolutely do not allow maskless people to do whatever they please. The law doesn’t work the way anti-maskers want you to think it does. There are alternatives to masks, such as face shields or curbside pickup. These options allow people to not wear masks but also not endanger other people’s lives. Frankly, the anti-maskers attempting to co-op ADA for their own selfish reasons puts people with disabilities at greater risk and is also extremely insulting to us and appropriation.

            1. KAZ2Y5*

              People may wish that a face shield is an alternative to a mask but it is not. The air just goes right around the side. What a face shield does is protect your eyes from the covid-19 virus entering that way. It is a supplement to a mask, not a replacement.

          2. JM60*

            It’s *much* easier for anti-maskers to go without masks if vaccinated people don’t. If everyone else (including all vaccinated people) wear masks, the anti-maskers stick out like a sore thumb. If all vaccinated people go without masks, the anti-maskers blend-in, and no one is likely to make them justify their lack of mask usage.

            Additionally, I’ve never seen anyone take their claimed ADA exception seriously, in spite of seeing many videos of anti-maskers have such exceptions. Such exceptions would only require reasonable accommodation, and having to allow them into your business without a mask during a pandemic would be unreasonable accommodation.

            All things considered, mask-wearing is a relatively low-investment way to save lives. Please, keep wearing masks around others outside your home for a little longer.

            1. MarsJenkar*

              Yes. I don’t yet have the vaccine, but once I’ve had it (and waited whatever prerequisite time necessary after the final dose), I plan to continue to wear the mask anyway as an example to others, and as a reassurance that I’m still taking things seriously. (Further, I figure it’ll reassure people who don’t know me, and thus won’t know that I’ve received the jab!)

      6. Chinook*

        “Third, we still don’t know for certain that fully vaccinated people can’t still be carriers and spread the disease to unvaccinated people. So even a truly fully vaccinated person is being selfish to stop wearing a mask because they are protected, when they could still pose a risk to others.”

        This bears repeating. There are no studies to prove that vaccination or previously having Cobid will either make you immune or sop you from being a carrier. This is not polio or tb and there are starting to be. Small number of cases of 2nd covid in patients from last year. All we can know at this point about what the vaccine does (because only time can show us this) is reduce the symptoms and hospitalization rates – which is a good nough reason to get it, but too many people think it will stop the spread. Only social distancing, masks and handwashing will do that (and it works. There were no reported cases of seasonal flu in Alberta for the first time and they were doing random testing for it).

        As o th OP, you also have to remember that, for some of us, it has been over a year since we interacted with groups of humanity an that in itself is overwhelming. I just found a job and am in an open cubicle area and I feel stressed with interacting with others regularly. I am not worried about illness, it is just that my personal space bubble is now bigger than ever (it crept out over time to easily over 6 ft in all directions) and it will take time to bring it back to rural Alberta standards of maybe 1 to 2 feet.

    7. NoChinDiapers*

      Yes, this! I have experienced similar issues at my workplace and it has been extremely stressful to be at work, especially since I’m not allowed any remote work.

      OP, make sure your employees are following the policies, and the ones who may be anxious will very much appreciate a zero-tolerance policy for not complying with mask wearing! You have to be willing to fire someone for not taking the mask policy seriously, because it is a safety issue! I wish my employer would treat it this way.

      1. Jen*

        Completely agree. I had to go into a work training. While the policies sounded great – temperature checks, ppe, everyone having to sign a statement that they will wear a mask and will be written up if they didn’t – I went and it was near impossible to find hand sanitizer (eventually found only 1), several people wore masks below their nose while talking to supervisors who said nothing, and one person wore a neck gaiter which isn’t recommended. There are high risk people in my family and I resented having to risk their health with potential exposure since in practice the great guidelines weren’t being followed.

    8. Momma Bear*

      I think once people see that it works in practice, it will be better. A lot of people are skeptical about words on paper because honestly a lot of the public isn’t following it or is belligerent. I see on message boards people bragging about sending kids to school with symptoms because they still don’t believe it’s serious. I still see people with exposed noses – I’m sure your staff is not looking forward to getting into arguments with patrons about how to properly wear a mask. They need to know the org has their back and isn’t just going to make them canon fodder.

      I would also remind them of any EAP benefits you offer so they can speak with someone about their anxiety.

    9. Jen*

      Not sure where the op is from but there have been reports for my area that a fourth wave has started. In the beginning there were some areas that weren’t really affected and then the virus spread to those areas. Yes, there are positive indicators but I wouldn’t say that it’s a sure thing that we are out of the woods yet by any means. Sadly there are still people who don’t take it seriously and don’t take precautions. There are variants that are looking more concerning than originally thought. Other countries are still having lockdowns. There is good reason for caution

      1. PlantPerson*

        Same. Allison’s response left me with a lump in my throat. I don’t think a lot of us realize what we lived through in the past 12 months.

        1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

          This is me. Having it all spelled out like that hit me like a lead weight. I honestly have felt like I have been a bit ridiculous for not handling the pandemic as well as I should have, but when I read it all spelled out that way, I realize that I am actually pretty awesome for handling it as well as I have, and so are all the rest of us! I realize how traumatic the pandemic has been, and also how it has been combined with so many other traumas. Thank you, Allison! You made me feel much stronger when I had been feeling pretty weak!

        2. Cat Lover*

          I feel like this is one of those events that we will look back on and wonder how we made it.

        3. Miss V*

          Agree completely. I knew intellectually this had been an awful year, but seeing it all spelled out like that did two things.

          1- it really made me appreciate how well my workplace has handled things (not just Covid, but their actual commitment and not just lip service to racial justice, the fact that they’ve encouraged people to take PTO and have reminded people the EAP is there to be used )

          2- it made me realize exactly how unreasonably hard on myself I’ve been. *Of course* I haven’t done any writing in over a year. Of course my house is a mess and slowly descends more into chaos everyday. Look at all we’ve been through. It’s a miracle that some nights I have the energy to rewatch a trashy movie and knit a couple rows on a shawl.

          As always, Allison’s kindness and compassion is a ray of light in the darkness.

          1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

            Yep, it made me realize I have been being too hard on myself. I keep telling myself that other people have it so much worse, and that is true. I kept my job and pay, and if anything, our work has been more important in these times. I work for a really good and safety conscious employer. I can work from home the majority of the time. And I am usually pretty good at a lot of alone time.

            But it has been so very isolating, as a single, childless woman living alone. I have gained weight, I have not been getting enough exercise, I am not keeping my apartment neat and tidy at ALL, and I am so unmotivated. I felt like I was being really pathetic. Somehow Allison’s words made me realize – I am being too hard on myself.

            1. WWI Flying Ace*

              From one completely alone person to another, I see you and I applaud you. It has been very hard.

            2. OhNo*

              Another completely alone person here, and I identify so hard with what you said. It is hard, sometimes, to acknowledge what we’ve gone through even when parts of it didn’t hit us as hard as it might have for others.

              Everyone’s trauma may be different, but that does not mean it is less. It can be really hard sometimes when you are one of the luckier ones to feel worthy of getting support or grace for the trauma you have experienced.

              1. Caligirl*

                Completely alone here too (the 2 cats are wonderful, but still). When I do need to go in to work, i get overly excited to see the remotest of acquaintances. Alison and this community have always been a bright spot in the day and even more this past year.

            3. Hoping For Good Things*

              As a single child free woman living alone, I echo your comments. I will have to do a massive cleaning before anyone is allowed in my apartment after the pandemic. And if I’m not at home alone I’m at work in a place where my boss has lost my trust by how she minimizes my safety concerns and allowed a coworker to scream at me because I would not stop distancing. Allison gets it and I only wish my boss read this.

            4. Scarlet2*

              I’m in exactly the same situation and honestly it’s great to see that we’re not alone. I feel we need to acknowledge that we’ve all been in survival mode for a year now and there’s no point putting ourselves (or anyone else!) under pressure.

              I also dislike it when people keep bringing up that “a lot of people have it worse” or “our grandparents fought in a war, why do you complain about just having to stay home?”. It’s not helpful and it just feels dismissive. It sounds like some of sort of misery olympics where you need to be “a certain level of miserable” to be allowed to feel sad.

              1. A Genuine Scientician*


                There are absolutely people who have it worse than I do right now. That in no way means that what I have isn’t *also* hard.

                And sometimes it’s hard in different ways.

                Eg: I’m an introvert who lives alone in a detached house. I’m grateful that I don’t have to deal with not being able to escape from people, or things being too loud. I don’t have to try to juggle work and childcare, because I don’t have children. My job *can* be done online, even though it’s harder and less rewarding. As someone in younger middle age (I turned 40 during the pandemic), I’m at much less risk than many even if I do get this virus.


                It also turned what had been realistically 50ish hour weeks into 65-70ish hour weeks at my job, while the powers that be also cut our salaries. I have no work life balance. My schedule is horrendous because I *don’t* have family or childcare obligations that almost all the rest of my team does, so I’ve been forced into taking terrible shifts that we need coverage for simply because it’s possible for me to do so, and getting no compensation for that at all. I have not touched another human being since February of 2020; even if you leave off all of the sexual elements, I’m a bit starved for any sort of physical contact. I’m on Zoom as major element of my job for ~25 hours / week, so socializing there too is not really that restful. The parts of my job I like the most in normal times frankly do not exist right now, while the parts I like the least have expanded — not because my employer is cruel or anything, but because it’s necessary in order to deal with how things are right now. A number of my standard hobbies simply don’t translate into online versions; a few of them there is no online option (online volleyball, anyone?), and at least two of them the online option is such a pale imitation of what it’s like in person that doing that makes me feel worse because it reminds me how much I miss what I would normally be doing.

                So I don’t have the challenges some people do, but I do have other ones that some people don’t. It doesn’t have to all be a linear scale of “really hard” to “minor inconveniences”, and you can only complain if you’re beyond a certain point on the scale. This isn’t the misery olympics. There’s value in picking your audience — I wouldn’t complain about my current problems to a friend who lost their spouse to this illness, for example — but you don’t just have to grin and bear it just because you can think of ways it could be worse.

            5. Glitsy Gus*

              Another single, childless woman chiming in to agree. My house is a mess, I’m keeping it together at work, but really not excelling in any way, it’s been hard. beating myself up about how, since I have all this time I SHOULD be keeping all these things up better really hasn’t helped. I’m really glad I’ve been able to keep going to therapy or I would be a much bigger basket case than I am.

              On top of that, the social aspects are not easy either. I met up with a few friends for an al fresco drink about a week ago and realized, “Man, I’ve gotten a little weird over the last year. I do not know how to interact with more than one person at a time anymore.” So, yeah, socially distanced, commiserating high five from me.

        4. Corporate Drone Liz*

          Right? I feel so… validated. Yes, we adjusted to remote work and Zoom happy hours (both in our personal and professional lives). Yes, we adapted to the “new normal” (a phrase my fiance continues to loathe). And yet I still feel so off. I feel still trapped in my own home and feel suffocated for a sense of mundane normalcy. Framing it as trauma makes soooo much sense, and makes me feel less alone.

          1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

            Yeah, you get to a point where you just do not like your own home anymore because you feel trapped there!

        5. mh_ccl*

          Ugh. Whenever my kids are acting sh!tty or I’m getting overwhelmed, I try to remember that all this happened, that their father deployed for several months, and that we had to move across country by ourselves, during a pandemic, and settle into a place where we knew no one. It’s no wonder that we still feel uneasy during everyday life. I’m the first in the family to get a shot and will be fully vaccinated in 2 weeks, and I still don’t feel safe.

      2. Ms. Stemba*

        I’m glad I wasn’t the only one! This was a very clear and facts-based summary of what we’ve gone through in the past year alone, and it helps to put perspective on a lot of things.

      3. BeckaBeeBoo*

        Yes, thank you Allison for your articulate answer, that really addresses the trauma so many are facing– both the overt conscious trauma, and the deeper trauma that has laid root for years and is now exploding all around us. This was the answer I needed to today, as I sort through my own feelings about both my work and society trying to return to “normal”/

        1. The Original K.*

          I read a tweet after January 6 that said something like “this country’s addiction to ‘business as usual’ will be its downfall,” and I agree. It’s frankly pretty staggering that we’re expected to just keep working as though the last year didn’t happen, and IMO we haven’t dealt with the last year in a real way – it took until February for the government to even publicly acknowledge that hundreds of thousands of people are dead of COVID (and many of those deaths could have been avoided), which means millions are grieving.

      4. Llama face!*

        I teared up too and I’m not even American. But we have all been through trauma and loss (though you in the U.S. certainly had some extra!). My province’s current situation is not great (second highest per capita rate of new variant cases and some of the loosest restrictions) and we are daily facing inaction and betrayal by those appointed to represent us. It has eroded my faith in so many people and institutions.

        1. Glitsy Gus*

          Yeah, I’m in the US, but I have friends in other countries as well. While, obviously, I’m a bit more focused on what is happening here (and there has been a LOT) it really does seem like this past year has brought a lot of simmering things to the surface in a lot of countries. Like having everything grind to a halt everywhere caused a lot of reflection and reaction to things that had been glossed over a bit by the general business of daily life.

      1. Elenia*

        I know I felt my throat close up a little. We went through so much while being expected to carry on as usual.

    1. Seige*

      Yeah, I needed this. It’s been such a bad year. It feels like we’ve been saying that for as long as I’ve had awareness of the larger world, but damn, it’s be *such a bad year*.

    2. JC*

      My therapist said yesterday they are bracing themselves for a ton of ptsd cases as things begins to reopen and get back to “normal”. Thank you for acknowledging that people won’t just be springing back to “normal”.

      1. Fieldpoppy*

        I teared up too. I’m not in america — I’m canadian — but even without an attempted coup in our own democracy, it’s been a completely traumatizing year. I’m completely burnt out, and anyone acting as though a vaccine should just take away that bruising and fatigue is going to make me freeze up. Our province just went back into full lockdown, and half the people I’ve been in contact with this week are on the verge of tears. That doesn’t pass quickly. We need to tend carefully to where people are, not hurry them toward cheerfulness. Thank you for naming it, Alison.

        1. Former Employee*

          Greetings from America. I imagine that you may have also been somewhat worried that if there were a successful insurrection here, there might be some fallout that would have an impact on Canada. After all, we share a border.

          Take care and stay safe.

          1. Awesome Sauce*

            Another Canadian here. There has already been plenty of fallout – the political climate in the US has been bleeding across the border for years. There were repeated pro-Trump protests in multiple cities even AFTER the insurrection. (Thankfully they seem to have died down.) We are experiencing extreme racist violence and open white supremacy here as well. BIPOC folks in Canada have died as a result. I imagine all of that would have gotten worse if the US insurrection had been successful – it would have emboldened the far right here.

            1. Nessun*

              Agreed. Even watching from north of the border, the events in the US capital were amazing and heart wrenching to see. We always know there will be fallout in Canada with whatever goes on with our neighbour, and it’s hard to live through it even vicariously. Same for watchin what’s happening in ON when I’m in AB – it’s more heartbreak and frustration and it bleeds over when I think of family (in both the US and Canada) impacted by all of this. Being so far away doesn’t help. We all need so much time to process what’s happened, and realistically we can’t fully process something traumatic until the event is over – and this case the event keeps going! Finding the end of this long slog is soul crushing some days; it’s good to have the perspective of understanding just how much we have persevered through. To whatever degree we’ve succeeded, be that seeking care, allowing ourselves time and space to be less than great at all we usually accomplish in a day/week/month (year!), we all deserve the kudos for getting as far as we have – even just making it out of bed in the morning some days.

            2. nonegiven*

              It would not have been successful. I’m just glad there wasn’t more bloodshed than there was. The military would have put it down, if necessary.

              The wordings of the current oath of enlistment and oath for commissioned officers are as follows:

              “I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”

              1. c-*

                You have a lot of faith in the military. The military is usually right behind a coup if they can get away with it. The US have helped antidemocratic coups succeed or last in many countries; if you think you’re safe just because you live there, you’re playing with fire.

        2. A tester, not a developer*

          I think we’re from the same province! Add in the emails we’ve gotten from our school board that we *might* not return to in person classes after Spring Break (or that they’re going to change the date of the break – again) for that extra level of stress.

    3. JC*

      My therapist said yesterday they are bracing for a ton of PTSD cases as things start to go back to “normal”. We have been getting through this in survival mode and we are only now starting to process things. Thanks for acknowledging that people aren’t just going to be happily springing back to “normal”

      1. Exhausted Trope*

        I never even thought about experiencing PTSD. I’m grateful for my company’s EAP and all available mental health care provisions.
        We’re going to need it.

        1. Ally McBeal*

          This was my first thought – if employers want their staffs to feel less anxious, part of the answer is to SERIOUSLY beef up the company’s mental health support. The EAP at my last job was miserable – you couldn’t just look up therapists on the plan, you had to call someone at the EAP (who I seriously doubt was a trained MH professional) and tell THEM why you needed therapy. They were also only open during business hours, so anyone who didn’t have an office had to either step outside or risk all their colleagues overhearing their issues. Then, as is typical, you only got so many sessions through the EAP-provided therapist, so you’d then need to start over with a whole new therapist. I’ve never worked anywhere with decent MH benefits.

          Basically, it’s WELL past time for employers to consider mental health coverage as essential to benefit packages as physical health coverage.

      2. Guacamole Bob*

        I think there’s a lot of stuff that will only hit once we go back to “normal”. My early elementary kids just went back to in-person school for the first time in a year, and we’re starting to see the impact that the pandemic has had on the social skills for one of my kids in particular. He’s always been a little bit of a “march to his own drummer” sort of kid, but was making good friends in kindergarten last winter after a little bit of a rocky start. Then the pandemic hit and he’s seemed pretty happy and okay for the last year at home with just his family and the occasional outdoor scheduled playdate in the park… and it’s becoming clear now that he’s back in school that he doesn’t really know how to interact with other kids anymore, or at least that he’s now socially immature for his age in key ways. This past year was poised to be a year of social growth for him and now we have to figure out how to help him catch up.

        It’s not nearly as serious as PTSD, but it makes me see why your therapist thinks there’s a lot of stuff that will come up for people and really be visible in new ways only after the pandemic ends.

        1. VX Associate*

          I can relate to your kiddo. I worked through a lot of my social anxiety when I was in college but it used to be so bad that I couldn’t be in a store during normal business hours because I’d have a panic attack. I always did my shopping in the middle of the night. I went to the store once a few weeks ago (I’ve been doing grocery pick-up since last March but something came up that necessitated being in the store) and immediately started melting down in a way that I haven’t since probably 2006 or 2007. Once everything is “normal” again I’m going to have to start over. Losing progress you made on an issue is frustrating.

        2. This is so hard*

          We had the opposite experience with our early elementary child who just went back to school – we sent her back because she was in a full on mental health crisis from the isolation. As in I made calls to schedule intake for a psychiatric partial hospitalization program. She didn’t go because I found that there wasn’t time for her to complete it before school reopened, and decided to prioritize school instead. She still needs support, but she’s suddenly a different kid. Not a single violent outburst since we told her she was going back (several a week before that.)

          This has been just exhausting to navigate.

    4. Anon This Time*

      Getting a bit misty here. I think I needed to read this all spelled out in order to relax myself about things like the cleanliness of our house, annual creative projects I’m not doing this year, and the state of my body.

      Along with all of the above, in 2020 I lost my last remaining grandparent, got groped on my birthday, was still emotionally recovering from a (thankfully failed) break-in attempt, choked on smoke for several weeks, and got suddenly body-slammed by chaos/stress/absolutely inhuman work demands for months on end (AAM tips got me out of that job!)

      I’ve been in a much better position for a couple months now, in fact a more relaxing and better-paying position than I’ve ever had by far, and my immediate family + my high-risk friends and myself are all fully vaxxed. But the fact that I haven’t Mary Poppins’d my house into a zen paradise yet, and still have stress and don’t feel magically tranquil all the time yet, is something I’ve felt subconsciously frustrated about.

      All of which is to say, I really appreciate this compassionate answer. I will give myself some more time.

    5. What's in a name?*

      This post deserves a pulitzer prize. It is probably the best post I have seen while reading AAM.

    6. Junior Dev*

      Yes. This was beautifully written. And I’m glad Alison took the time to go into all this instead of just providing scripts for the immediate work issue.

      People don’t feel safe. As someone who has had CPTSD for most of my life I’m recognizing the effects of sustained trauma on my friends, family, and colleagues. Many people won’t feel safe for a long time and they are justified in feeling that way.

    7. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Legit cried. Not American (English) but so much of it is true in our country too and what led to my hospitalisation for a nervous breakdown last year. It’s going to leave a lot of people with not only physical problems but also severe mental ones.

  2. Tobias Funke*

    Thank you Alison, for this excellent explanation of how this all has been traumatic and how trauma trains us. It is not a switch that we flip.

    1. EPLawyer*

      An excellent summary. It explained so much of how we are feeling — even as signs point to hope. It’s going to take time. A LOT OF TIME to feel back to normal.

      I am about to get my second shot. I still don’t feel comfortable going back into a courtroom. Even pictures of crowds make me shudder. Not to mention all the OTHER stuff.

      1. Liz*

        I’m with you. I’m getting my second in a couple of weeks. But I work from home. so not out and about all that much. But even when I’m “fully” vaccinated, i have no plans to stop wearing a mask, social distance, washing my hands 40 times a day, etc. I may feel a bit more comfortable doing certain things, like going to get my nails done, or maybe even eating INSIDE a restaurant. But that’s about it. Just the thought of people near me makes me cringe a little bit.

      2. Momma Bear*

        I have friends who are pushing hard to get together after our 2nd shots. But we have kids who can’t get vaccinated. I’m not ready to expand my pod, and it’s making me irritable.

        1. Catty*

          Yep! This is our struggle too. I’ve heard that we can’t get reach herd immunity until kids get vaccinated which may be early 2022.

          I can get vaccinated but my kids can’t so we’re still being cautious.

          I think OP should keep in mind that while staff may be getting vaccinated, they may have family members or children that cannot get vaccinated and therefore may not be as eager to get back to in person. They may also have kids doing remote school. Ours is still only 3 days in person and 2 remote or all remote.

    2. Aggretsuko*

      I’ve been agoraphobic since we went home. I just had my second shot and while I will be trying to get over the extreme agoraphobia, I don’t think I am gonna go back to normal instantly either.

      1. Rebecca1*

        It’s not a phobia if it’s rational! If you still feel that way two weeks post-shot, it becomes a phobia.

    3. AGD*

      I keep having the weirdest dreams. Everything we managed to adjust a year ago means we now/soon have to somehow adjust back. Which is better than, you know, current circumstances hanging around indefinitely – but requires effort in and of itself.

      1. Le Sigh*

        For months I’ve been having dreams that I’m in some sort of otherwise normal, closely packed environment — a store, a concert, whatever — but only then do I realize I don’t have a mask and I wake up in a panic.

        So fun!

        1. Ebeths*

          I frequently have this exact same dream! Just recently had a version where I was riding in a car with a good friend and chatting (just like the olden days) and suddenly thought wait, why is she in my car! Why don’t I have a mask on! I figured it must be one of those collective dreams that lots of people have like the one where you’re at your high school and realize you haven’t been in classes all semester. And like that dream, maybe I’ll have this mask one periodically forever. Sigh.

        2. allathian*

          I’ve had this nightmare too. I can’t imagine how I’ll ever deal with crowds again. I had mild agoraphobia even before the pandemic hit, but now just the thought of being in a packed crowd again, mask or no mask, gives me the heebie-jeebies. I was willing to endure some slight discomfort for the reward of a concert or play before. I have no idea when I’ll get back to that state, if ever.

        3. me too*

          This is my new “at school without pants” recurring nightmare.
          Going to some packed place, having fun, flaunting mask rules, then feeling crushing guilt.
          And then waking up going THANK GOD THAT WASN’T REAL (and also when will there ever be fun again?)

    4. CareerChanger*

      Well said. Today I filled out a “return to office” survey, and I had to think about it, but finally I wrote that I’m just not *ready*, emotionally/mentally, to cheerfully march back into the office after my 2nd shot. In fact, I expect to sob when I see my cubicle again, with my calendar still set at March 2020. So I’m not worried about health (for myself; some others are and I respect that) but like…I can’t just act like the past year didn’t happen. I’m going to need some time to readjust.

      1. Glitsy Gus*

        Yeah, fortunately my manager is very chill about WFH because I already told her that when the office reopens I will probably want to start out going in once a week, maybe even once every two weeks at the beginning. I am VERY awkward around people now, and while I do actually miss my coworkers and kind of look forward to some aspects of going back, I already know it’ll be really overwhelming at the beginning.

    5. Malarkey01*

      On top of the excellent trauma points Alison made, for some of us there have been bright spots or silver linings in the absolute gloom. WFH, cutting out the commute, getting to spend so much time with my kids (blessing and a curse), getting to slow down and reprioritize, etc. I would give it all up not to have gone through this year and not to lose a love one, BUT that doesn’t mean I wasn’t hoping that some of the better parts might stick around.

      We’re having to simultaneously continue to live through the trauma and after effects while also losing the things that made it a little easier to endure. It’s a real double whammy.

      1. Jackalope*

        Yeah, that’s part of it too. Especially since a lot of places are wanting to go back to in-person things before it’s fully safe, for those of us who have appreciated part or all of the things being at home (WFH, etc.), it’s not only going back in and doing something potentially dangerous but also losing something that has been nice.

  3. Crivens!*

    Also, vaccine eligibility may be wide open but a LOT of people are still having trouble getting access to vaccines. I’m in Cook County, IL and unless I made searching for open vaccines another part-time job for myself, I haven’t had any luck for weeks even though I’ve been eligible. I won’t feel safe going back into any office until I’m fully vaccinated and until cases remain down for a long time.

    1. Cleo*

      I wouldn’t either but it sounds like the staff here was already vaccinated as essential workers.

      1. Lance*

        The staff has, but the customers haven’t necessarily, and vaccines aren’t infallible. It’s still reasonable to be concerned.

        1. Cleo*

          I’m not disagreeing – but the comment I responded to seemed to suggest that the OP shouldn’t have folks return until they’ve been vaccinated, but it sounds like they will have been fully vaccinated by then,.

        2. Spearmint*

          Well, I’m not a doctor but everything I’m seeing from reputable sources says the evidence all points to vaccines dramatically reducing you odds of being infected, all but eliminating your chances of getting a severe case, and significantly reducing if not eliminating your odds of spreading it to others.

        3. Jen!*

          Vaccines aren’t infallible, but they effectively eliminate the chance of dying or being hospitalized.

      2. Crivens!*

        Sure, but that doesn’t make interactions with customers who may or may not be vaccinated not risky. It’s reasonable for people to also not want to be around vaccinated people, and plenty of us still aren’t vaccinated (yet!)

          1. Crivens!*

            No, just clarifying my own point: if I was a staff member, I’m not going to feel good being around unvaccinated people regardless of my own status, and OP cannot guarantee that customers are vaccinated, especially when a lot of people are still having trouble getting appointments.

            1. Jen!*

              Even with masks and plexiglass? Vaccines (even without those measures) mean that you’re very, very unlikely to get the virus and even if you do, virtually guarantee that you’re going to have a very mild case.

              It feels like some people expect there to be a point at which there is a 0% chance of getting even mildly ill and until that happens won’t be comfortable.

      3. And they all rolled over*

        The staff is NOT “vaccinated” yet. They will be in four weeks, two weeks after they have received their second shot.

        1. Youth Services Librarian*

          THIS. Please stop saying everyone is “vaccinated” until the two weeks after they have had their shot. Also, the mere existence of a vaccine, even if everyone is or will be eligible soon, does not translate to vaccination of everyone.

      4. fish*

        They actually haven’t! They’ve received a first dose but not second. the full effects of the vaccine are not realized until 2 weeks after the second shot. For the two-shot vaccines, it’s a 5 (Pfizer) or 6 (Moderna) week process. It’s not clear that they do intend to wait.

        Shaking my head at waiting a year to reopen, then reopening three weeks before vaccination has taken full effect.

        1. Allonge*

          To be honest, that sounds incredibly unlikely for OP. On the other hand, if in 4, 3, 6 weeks (or x weeks after receiving the vaccine) I was expected to go back to the office, I would appreciate being told well in advance – I think some mental preparation for this will be necessary for everyone. Managers have to plan in advance, and everyone who is understandably nervous about doing things that were considered way too dangerous to do in the last year need some time to get to that level.

          1. And they all rolled over*

            A fine point, but in that case, part of the point of the X weeks notice is to give staff time to wrap their heads around it. And part of that head-wrapping involves moving from a place of negativity about the prospect (where LW’s staff is now) to a place of positivity, neutral-ness, or at least mere wariness.

      5. Beth*

        But they might well have family members and housemates who aren’t vaccinated yet—and there are no guarantees at this point that having been vaccinated will prevent you from being a carrier of the virus, as the nurse who gave me my first shot was very careful to point out. Plus, even the staff themselves won’t have full immunity until 2 weeks after their second shot. If OP’s office has been able to function remotely for this long, I can absolutely understand why their staff are reluctant to rush back now, when another couple months could make a big difference safety wise.

    2. ThatGirl*

      Hey – have you tried one of the mass vax sites? Look also for local clinics. I got lucky with our park district but otherwise I was gonna probably need to drive out to Aurora or Batavia. (Crivens! and I know each other, but for reference, I’m in DuPage Co.)

      1. Crivens!*

        Yup, I go to three different sites several times a day but no luck. Sadly all the community sites coming up are for residents of those communities or patients at those centers so we don’t apply. The closest we’re finding is over 100 miles away right now. :/ We’ll get there, though!

        1. ThatGirl*

          Boo. I hope you can find something soon! Not having a car (for yourself) makes things harder too.

        2. Tired of Covid-and People*

          I got mine at Jewel Osco. My local CVS is doing them now too. Forget Cook County, it’s a disaster. But if you want to to try, be sure to register and click the link at the exact time in the text message sent to you. The appointments book up in fifteen minutes.

          1. DLW*

            Yeah, Illinois has been a bit of train wreck as far as vaccinating. But today I got my first dose at the DuPage County fairgrounds through the county health department (been eligible since the end of February). I had absolutely no luck with CVS, Walgreens or any other pharmacy. And no luck with my own doctor despite being part of a huge medical group.
            There are several mass vaccination sites opening up that will vaccinate any Illinois resident regardless of where they live. Those may be a possibility even if they require a lot of driving to get there.

        3. Maggie*

          Cook County just released a bunch of appointments about 1/2 hour ago. If you hurry, you might be able to get one!

        4. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

          Yeah, I finally got lucky when a hospital I have used in the past started offering vaccination to anyone who has been a patient there. Up till then I felt like I was beating my head against a brick wall trying to find an appointment. I’m getting my second shot the 12th of this month, and I. Cannot. Wait.

        5. Super Duper*

          I’m in Cook County, too, and I’ve heard a lot of people are having success getting help in the Facebook group Chicago Vaccine Hunters. Worth checking out! My spouse got an appointment by calling the health department over 100 times. It’s crazy.

      2. Moonlight Elantra*

        I’m in Will Co, but was able to get the shot in Batavia last weekend. Very easy, super nice folks staffing it. It’s kind of a hike from Cook, but worth it if you’re willing to drive.

        1. NotSoAnon*

          I’m in Mchenry and was also able to get mine yesterday at the Kane county vacation site in bhatavia. It’s open to all Illinois residents and was very well run (at least when I went)

          1. AnonToday*

            All residents or just 16+ with medical conditions? I’m trying to help some older (but not elderly) family members find vaccines. Thank you!!

            1. ThatGirl*

              The Batavia site is open to everyone who’s currently eligible — up to 1C I think. As of April 12 it will be open to everyone.

      3. Snow Globe*

        Are there any sites near you that don’t require appointments? FEMA is running a site in our community that is walk-up only. I was expecting long lines, but they are set up very efficiently to do about 60 vaccines every 15 minutes, so the wait was very short. I know FEMA is working in states across the country, but I don’t know if the others are set up like this.

      4. retirement is all it's cracked up to be*

        Actually, you need to go further out than that. Kane County (Batavia, part of Aurora) has done an abysmal job of setting up appointments. I managed to get one by being on a list for Meijer for weeks, but if you want appointments soon, you’re probably going to have to look downstate.

    3. RabbitRabbit*

      Log into your computer and be ready at 6 am for the Walgreens appointments to be refreshed on their website. They book both appointments at once so grab the closest available one for you and move fast. (Make a free account ahead of time if you don’t have one already.)

        1. RabbitRabbit*

          Sorry to hear that! I got my husband’s shots scheduled just over a month ago using this method. There was a quirk where choosing “eligible essential worker” did not show any results but picking “eligible under my county’s guidelines” did.

          1. RabbitRabbit*

            Just clarifying for others reading this: he was qualified as a particular category of eligible essential worker at that point, but picking that option said there were no openings for him. However, that was also listed under the county’s guidelines for who was eligible… so there should not have been a difference in choosing that category but it did indeed show him options then. Just putting it out there for anyone struggling with the Walgreens site if it’s still being tricky.

        2. C*

          Not sure if there are rite aides, but mine here in CA opened more slots at midnight and CVS was immediately after midnight too.

      1. KayZee*

        This is what I did and so did my friend. It works and it’s easier than the CVS site.

      2. PostalMixup*

        Do you know the time zone trick with Walmart? Walmart posts appointments at midnight, but for some inexplicable reason, they show appointments 7 days out from the date *on your device*. So a person in NYC can see appointments in Chicago an hour before someone in Chicago can. If you tell your phone you’re actually in Eastern time, it’ll let you see and book all those appointments at 11pm. I’ve never personally used this trick, but it’s has become such a thing where I live that there are basically no appointments left by midnight.

    4. CookCountyInfo*

      Couple of things here, Cook is releasing more vaccine appointments tonight (4/1) at 4pm. I love driving, so I went to a mass vaccine site in Springfield and it could not have been easier, tons of available appointments, etc. Cook is hard hit, but if you’re in IL and you’re eligible the national guard sites out of the city are doing very well.

      1. Crivens!*

        Oh great to know, thanks, I will start refreshing sites at 4 today! I don’t drive so it’s gotta be in the county.

        1. Student Affairs Sally*

          I’m so thankful to be in Sangamon County/Springfield. My aunt lives in Cook and had a really hard time getting an appointment (and she’s a social worker who works primarily with the elderly, so she’s essential and her clients are all high-risk). I don’t have any suggestions beyond what other folks have recommended, but I’m sending good vibes to you and all Chicagoans!

        2. TC*

          Looks like it ate my previous reply but you got the message about 4pm today. MAKE SURE you are signed up on their site first , you must use the link that they send you (via text and email) with the signup code. Both myself and friends have gotten appointments this way!

          Just before 4pm click your signup code link (it’ll show your code big towards the top of the page so you’ll know it’s the right link) and refresh like made until they show up. Was about 4 minutes after the appointment drop time when they finally showed and I got one.

          1. TC*

            Also once you’re signed up via the county site, they text and email the day before they’re scheduled to release a batch of appointments. Those are coming more frequently this week which is great news!

            (I never removed myself from the alerts in case I could help someone else.)

      2. Tired of Covid-and People*

        You going back to Springfield for the second shot? Maybe I would have driven four hours for the J&J, but the others? Nope. I was very happy with my Jewel Osco experience.

    5. 5guys*

      Froedtert South St. Catherine’s clinic was an easy appointment!
      262-577-8300. I know it’s a schlep from cook county, but they are offering 16+ for Illinois residents as well.

      Thank you, Allison. This post hit so many nails on the head and put perfectly into words what so many of us have been feeling.

      1. ThatGirl*

        I had to look that up and it’s in Pleasant Prairie, WI … which may work for some people, but not for folks in Chicago without cars.

        1. 5guys*

          Totally! I know it’s quite the hike. Just another option in case people are able to make it there.

      2. AnonToday*

        Is this for all people 16+, or just those 16+ with additional conditions?

        I have some family members in Illinois that are getting very discouraged by the poor rollout and I want to offer them some hope with these resources and info. They’ve followed the rules to a T, but have watched acquaintances lying about eligibility or who don’t even believe in the virus getting slots easily.

        Thank you all so much for sharing!

        1. 5guys*

          All 16+! I’m so sorry your family has had a hard time. We have also followed all the rules to the point where leaving the house with my husband for the first time in over a year felt SO strange. This felt very ethical to us. We were honest with our eligibility and they said come on in. My guess is higher supply than demand.

          1. Properlike*

            And with required computer sign-up that’s not centralized, not equitable.

            Most of my Midwestern friends and family have had luck registering at pharmacies in red/rural counties and making the long drive. If the residents of a given county aren’t going to take advantage of vaccine availability, then I have no issue with someone else getting it “out of order.” The faster we’re all vaccinated, the better off we’ll all be. If you *do* get it out of order, pay it back by helping your eligible friends and family set their appointments, and driving them to get their shots, windows rolled down!

    6. No Name Today*

      “another part-time job for myself,”
      This is what it was for me. At first, I said it was like trying to win tickets from the radio station for Springsteen’s Born in the USA tour. But that was maybe one or two times, tops. This, this was endless…
      My partner is over 65 and eligible late December/January. Through signing up with every pharmacy, hospital and the county I spent up to three hours a day to get an appointment in March.
      All time records:
      2.5 hours in virtual drug store line to be told all appointments are filled.
      73 calls in 25 minutes to 211 to schedule an appointment (all lines are busy, please call back)
      one day, I did get through. On hold for 53 minutes and disconnected. (He tried that, was on hold for over two hours before he got disconnected.)
      twice I scheduled appointments through a pharmacy chain 50+ miles away to be told all spots filled by the time I finished the application form

      1. Tired of Covid-and People*

        It has truly been Hunger Games to get an appointment, yes, I worked it like it was a job. Ridiculous. Then you see some jerk giving shots to his cronies that were allocated to a community hospital in a poor city neighborhood. We can’t go back, but if only the DPA had been invoked early on…

    7. Artemesia*

      Cities were grossly underserved with vaccines. They have high concentrations of health care facilities and so the top priority people sucked up all the vaccine and didn’t have enough while the next layers of need were unserved. In Chicago and Nashville the first vaccines went often to those not living in the city, but medical personnel who live in the suburbs who got per capita vaccine allocations of their own. Suburbs were able to vaccinate teachers for example before the city because of this imbalance. In Chicago’s early days of vaccine, 40% went to workers who don’t live in the city. It is still even know at 20%. I managed to get the vaccine fairly early and got my husband on a waiting list that came through when I got mine, but it involved spending a lot of time at midnight pouncing on available slots as they became available. I snapped up one for me and then was never able to get one for my husband on line — we are both very old. When original allocations were made, they should have factored in concentrations of health care facilities if those were going to be prioritized.

      1. Filosofickle*

        I hope they are figuring out how to reallocate. I live near San Francisco, and folks in all the close-in Bay Area counties are scrambling in a mad dash. But if you look 2 hours inland, Central Valley, there’s tons of availability. People are reporting back that pharmacies told them to bring back carloads of people and they’ll vaccinate, no questions asked, because they can’t give them away out there. (One trick if you’re not eligible is to call and ask to be put on the waitlist for leftovers. And they’ll more than likely tell you to come out that day because they always have leftovers.) It’s not just that the cities got too little, it also seems like the more rural areas are just more hesitant as well.

        1. Thomas Merton*

          I’m in Sacramento and I am not seeing any availabilities. For a moment there was an appointment in Modesto, but it disappeared by the time I clicked on it. Will keep trying (c’mon Sutter Health).

          1. Filosofickle*

            Oh, interesting. Via a Bay Area Vaccine Hunters on FB I’ve seen loads of folks report getting appts in Stockton / Modesto, some in South Sac. Mostly through the drugstores and Kaiser, IIRC. Sutter not so much. The new 50+ eligibility, though, has blown everything up and all bets might be off. Kaiser is so overloaded with callers they’re not even allowing everyone in the queue. (p.s. Groups like that are sharing amazing info, like when new openings drop and tips for each system. People have also put together apps & bots to scrap info. It’s restored my faith in humanity.)

      2. PostalMixup*

        Same here in St. Louis. Rural MO had all these mass vaccination sites with hundreds or thousands of doses leftover (not an exaggeration), while you couldn’t find an appointment within 100 miles of StL or KC. All our doses went to the healthcare systems, who were openly only vaccinating the very oldest patients first, so if you were 50 with a qualifying condition you were SOL unless you drove out to mask-optional-land. Add on that the big hospitals in the city have locations in outlying areas, so a bunch of the city’s doses actually went to the exurbs. As a result, St. Louis City has a vaccination rate 50% lower than St. Louis County.

    8. TC*

      Wait have you signed up on the county site?? You have to register first, and if you are in an eligible group they give you a link and signup code, you HAVE to book through the link with the signup code.

      They email and text each time there are going to be vaccines released (the text comes many hours or a day before–not at the time of). I found it surprisingly easy to get an appointment this way once, as did other friends who were also eligible. Just refresh like mad at the time the appointments go up, and wait a few minutes, then you can grab one. They send you text notifications each time more will be released, and there’s been an uptick in those within the last week (even the last two days in a row–more will be today at 4pm!). I don’t get the impression they release extra appointments throughout the day, just at the time when they say appointments will be released.

      Tl;dr make sure you’re signed up and try the county site today at 4pm!!

      1. Crivens!*

        I have, for some reason I was not getting text or emails so I just signed up again just in case. Will be signing in and checking frequently this afternoon!

    9. Liz*

      That’s how it is where I am. Its kind of a mess trying to get an appt. I was lucky; one of the larger medical provider groups in my state is running a number of “mega sites” for vaccines. Since I was a patient, i was able to sign into my account, and sign up for alerts. I know initially anyone could set up an account, but i think they may have stopped it as they were overwhelmed. Even so, it was a few months before I got the link to be able to make an appt.

    10. Momma Bear*

      It is crazymaking. Our state is telling people to pre-register but that doesn’t get you an appointment. Most people I know got an appointment by basically stalking every option until one opened up. It should not be this hard.

    11. SherBear*

      Join the Chicago Vaccine Hunters Facebook group! There is a ton of information on the best places to look and when – yesterday there was a place in the city that had a surplus so anyone was able to go as a walk in for a good couple hours before they ran out. I used one of their tips and got my first shot 2 miles from my condo.

    12. nobadcats*

      For people in Chicago, especially Northside, check out

      They are coordinating with Swedish and other hospitals for vaccine clinics. I was searching lots of sites before this one, and once my roomie found it on Sunday, I had an appt for my first jab yesterday and she’s got hers coming tomorrow. It’s also free. I was in and out in just over 20 minutes (including the 15 minutes I had to sit and wait afterward).

      Hope that helps someone in the area!

      1. EchoGirl*

        That seems to only be available for people with a preexisting relationship with that system (or else the link you sent isn’t the right one). The link in your comment sent me to a login page, and creating an account required you to have an authorization code from an invite letter of some kind.

        1. Old and Don’t Care*

          I think it’s absolutely reprehensible the way the hospitals are prioritizing their patients with existing MyChart accounts. It’s a federally funded vaccine, not a marketing ploy. It makes me seethe how much vaccine went to hospitals that is not accessible to most people.

    13. JM60*

      I’ve heard people in Illinois who are able to get the vaccine by driving to a rural county on the other side of the state. So that may be worth looking into if you’re able to make a day trip.

    14. Esmeralda*

      Yep, my college-age son in Chicago has been unable to get vaxxed; he’s now off chemo but even when he was, he couldn’t get vaxxed. I’m hoping by the end of May… (he can’t drive to someplace outside Chicago that does have vaccines either, as his illness = doesn’t see well enough to drive). He takes public transportation, goes to school, goes to work…

      1. EchoGirl*

        I think there may be a program in the City of Chicago to subsidize rideshare rides for vaccines; I don’t know details but it may be worth looking into. (Once more people are vaccinated, I’d wonder if anyone is arranging volunteers to give people rides, but I understand that they probably don’t want unvaccinated drivers giving people rides right now.)

    15. AdminsRuleTheOffice*

      Hospitals are having vaccine clinics, especially if you’re a patient there, and/or your doctors have offices there. I was able to log into my patient account at Swedish Covenant on Foster, follow the Covid links, answer the questionnaire that asked what my particular eligibility was (hello, Higher Education), and then picked an appointment date and time. Looking forward to April 12!

      I also don’t have a car, so getting County lists of vaccine sites waaaayyyyy across the city or pharmacies in the suburbs was not helpful to me.

    16. Ally McBeal*

      I live in west Michigan and was singing the same song as you on Tuesday night. All my aunts and uncles were getting vaccinated, Detroit was (rightfully) getting the bulk of the vaccines, but I’m in my mid-30s with no major risk factors, so I figured I’d have to wait a lot longer. Woke up on Wednesday morning to an announcement that eligibility was expanded to everyone 18+, statewide, and had an appointment (for tomorrow!!) booked by 1pm that day. Help and hope ARE coming.

    17. Broadway Duchess*

      Agreed! I have had no luck in Cook County via the website — even though I was in 1B. The list reopened at 4 this afternoon and 22K appointments were gone in 20 minutes. I never even made it out of the virtual waiting room.

  4. Jules the 3rd*

    This made me tear up. Yeah. It’s going to take some time to heal, if we ever can. Be patient and thoughtful, and open up *slowly*. Don’t push.

    1. ophelia*

      Yep. I don’t often expect to get weepy while reading AAM, but this response really hit me. Thanks, Alison.

      1. Tuesday*

        This really hit me too – to see everything all laid out in one place and someone actually acknowledging what it has cost us. I feel like all of this has been made harder by people insisting after every event that this isn’t a big deal, you’re making something out of nothing. You can’t heal from something if you don’t acknowledge what has happened. I really appreciated this response.

    2. Lunch Ghost*

      You hit the nail on the head for me with the ‘if we ever can’. That’s the part that makes me cry. (Somehow I managed to be traumatized enough to cooperate with safety measures like wearing a mask or getting a vaccine, but untraumatized enough to want to go back to public events and spending time with people in person. Sometimes I feel like the only person in the world in this in-between state.)

      1. Student Affairs Sally*

        I think most of us WANT to go back to public events and in-person visits with loved ones – we’re just terrified of it at the same time.

        1. AnonEMoose*

          So much this. I’d love to be able to do the stuff I did pre-pandemic, without having to think so much about “what if someone is carrying a potentially deadly disease, and doesn’t even know it?”

          Another factor is some of the things we’ve learned about other people…that some people just can’t be bothered to care about literally anyone else. That it’s ok with them that others die, provided that they’re not inconvenienced. And other stuff. But that’s a difficult one for me, and I don’t have the first idea how to begin to heal from that.

          1. Jules the 3rd*

            This is where I’m having trouble too. Watching people just not care if strangers die makes me angry, and I’m having a very hard time caring about that group.

            It gives me more compassion for BIPOC, who’ve been dealing with the same lack of care about their lives for decades. Vaccine hesitant? Well, they have a very good reason for that (Tuskeegee experiement; Henrietta Lacks; state run eugenics programs until 1974; etc) .

          2. Anon for this*

            One of the most horrible moments for me in the pandemic was early on, when there was the outcry that we should let the over 65 crowd sacrifice themselves for the economy. One of my FB friends had a post angrily arguing against that, and one of *her* FB friends came on and argued that he was fine with it and didn’t care if his older family members died or not. (He also did not indicate anything like an estrangement that would make that make sense.) I was so horrified that he was fine having them all die so that people would have more money.

            1. Anonosaurus*

              I’ve also encountered people in my social circle who seem frighteningly relaxed about older or vulnerable people dying just so that the bars can open etc. It’s been a bit of an eye opener. Seems like it doesn’t take much for some people to be considered expendable for the sake of others’ convenience and pleasure. On the other hand, I’m writing this on a cellphone powered by components made from non-renewable elements dug out of the earth by African children, so who am I to point the finger?

            2. Keymaster of Gozer*

              The point when several of my (totally healthy) friends had died to Covid and I was stuck indoors (autoimmune disease) and then saw people I thought were friends posting about how we should just let everyone who was at risk of Covid die..

              ..was about the time my brain completely crashed and rendered me insane.

            3. Third or Nothing!*

              Yep. I’ve run sooooooo many miles just trying to work off the rage at how people can be so flippant about other people’s lives. And then earlier this week my own father informed me that he absolutely will not get the vaccine and that I am being ridiculous. This from the man who had to *hold me down so my mother could give me breathing treatments for asthma at age 4.* There is no amount of running that could burn off all the feelings I feel about that.

        2. megaboo*

          I think it’s also how others react to wearing masks. I think the masks will be around for awhile. When we reopened we had some really nasty interactions with people who would not wear their mask (for example, videotaping the encounter and then digitally stalking a member of the staff). That is terrifying.

        3. Tired of Covid-and People*

          Yes. I never thought I would go two Easters without attending church. They aren’t requiring masks at my church(I may never go back there), so although they are having a service, I won’t attend. Electronic church and home-cooked dinner for me. We are a long way from normal, for sure.

      2. Christina*

        You are absolutely not alone. I am incredibly anxious about going back to work, but desperately looking forward to going to dinner with friends and traveling to see my family that I haven’t seen in a year. I think the key for me is, I’m willing to take the risks on things that I really value (friends, family), but less willing to take the risk for work (especially when it feels like going to work could put my friends or family at more risk than if I work from home).

      3. Tshalya*

        I don’t know that I consider myself in between. I was not and am not convinced that any of the stay at home orders were necessary. I wear a mask when it’s required because I’m not gutsy enough to outright break the rules, but that’s the only reason; I have zero concern about getting sick. I definitely don’t wear it outside and won’t make anyone wear it around me. I almost lost my business because of the stay at home orders. I lost 25 year friendships over this issue not to mention I won’t spend time with family members because they were okay with me almost losing everything so I could “do my part.” Our relationship is severely damaged because of that. All that is to say, I think all of us are coming out of this less trustful of people and resentful. I’m not sure some of the damage can truly be repaired.

  5. Charlotte Lucas*

    My mom is vaccinated,n& just yesterday she was telling me that she wants to go in a store but isn’t ready yet. I think it will take some time.

    A few years ago, I fell on some stairs & broke a bone. Even after it healed, it took me a while to trust stairs enough to use them again.

    1. Karen*

      Thank you – this is so on point for me. I cut my finger with a table knife a couple of years ago, badly enough that it needed five stitches and I have mild nerve damage. I still flinch sometimes as I’m shuffling them from dishwasher to drawer to table to sink.
      It really helps me to have identified a point of personal context for feeling the way I do about the present and the future.

      1. Sled Dog Mama*

        My husband and I were in a car wreck, gosh it’s been 10 years ago now, I was sleeping at the time. We were totally fine and the wreck was not at all his fault but for about 7 years I couldn’t fall asleep in the car.
        I used to get horribly carsick as an adult and the only defense seemed to be sleeping so either I was driving or sleeping prior to this. On the up side I no longer get carsick.

      2. Elenna*

        Ugh, yeah, I got stung by a bee once almost 10 years ago and I still get nervous when I hear buzzing (used to have no fear of them at all). At the actual time of the sting, nothing terrible happened, I wasn’t allergic or anything, just had the usual swelling. My emotional reaction was mostly “carrying around a swiftly-melting bag of ice on my very first day of high school is embarrassing” and “this is a nice excuse to not practice piano”. And yet somehow this seems to have caused a mild phobia…
        TL’DR trauma is weird and can happen even if you feel like objectively nothing too bad happened.

    2. Sylvan*

      Yes. It’s going to take time for us all to feel better.

      I think, sometimes, that people can feel worse when a stressful event ends — when they’re on the other side of it and feeling safe enough to process it. (Is “process” the word I’m looking for? Sounds pop-psych-y.) You might expect people to feel better immediately, but they might have a pretty rough time at first.

      1. Ari*

        Process is indeed the word. And it’s not just used in pop psychology. We use it in my trauma specific therapy sessions all the time. Of course, in those sessions the verb ‘to process’ has very specific meanings and practices that I doubt pop psych stuff gets into. But, I think a lot of trauma processing work can be useful for dealing with other parts of life. Same thing with grief processing.

    3. Lacey*

      Yeah, someone ran a red light and I couldn’t stop in time. I only hit the corner of their car, everyone was fine, but it was two years before I stopped slowing down at green lights.

    4. Former Employee*

      Your mom and me and probably lots of others, especially those of us who are older.

      It doesn’t help that I have/have had serious medical conditions and feel especially vulnerable.

      Best of luck to your mom.

  6. singularity*

    I appreciate Alison’s response SO MUCH. I work in education and have been doing hybrid teaching since Sept of last year and the prevailing attitude among the administration and higher ups is to pretend as though everything is perfectly fine, even though we’ve had 4 staff deaths from the virus this year. Safety protocols are not equally enforced and monitored across the board.

    It’s traumatizing. I’ve had family die from this virus and yet some of my co-workers still want to yank down their masks and get into my face to speak to me, so making sure everyone understands that they have to wear masks and socially distance, no matter their personal opinions on vaccines/the virus is a good first step.

    1. Artemesia*

      I have seen this too — walk up to you and yank the mask down to speak when talking is the best way to spread the virus in addition to shouting and singing.

      1. Sylvan*

        I saw this yesterday. The same woman pulled down her mask to listen to other people talk??

        1. Self Employed*

          Yes! I kept having this problem with people in my apartment building. They go to talk to the desk clerk and pull their mask down when they talk. Not just tenants–our police and various contractors too. (Half our police refused to get vaccinated.)

          1. Former Employee*

            They should be fired and replaced with people who possess sufficient brain cells.

        2. Lyra Silvertongue*

          A guy in the hardware store near me pulled his mask down to sneeze. I have no idea what these people have been taking away from a year’s worth of global public health messaging.

          1. Tired of Covid-and People*

            Public education has been woefully inadequate. Covid funds should have been used to buy billboard space and other highly visible means of demonstrating proper masking. Messaging works, look at how public smoking went from fashionable to despicable.

            1. pancakes*

              Education seems to have little to do with the matter. Politicians with Ivy League graduate degrees (and dozens of staffers to prepare briefings for them) have sided with anti-mask activists. Smoking and the dangers associated with it weren’t and aren’t nearly as politicized or partisan as mask-wearing has been made out to be.

  7. ThatGirl*

    I get it. My husband gets his second shot next week; I get my first one tomorrow. Neither of us work in public-facing positions, though he does work with students, mostly by appointment. Nothing is going to dramatically change in May even though we’ll both be fully vaccinated by then. But it still all feels weird, it will be weird to be around a lot of people again, weird to have in-person appointments, to go out to restaurants again… no matter how much or little you’ve been through in the past year, it’s been a traumatic year for a lot of people on national, local and personal levels, and it will take time.

    1. who knows*

      And even when it’s two weeks after the second dose, who knows how effective the vaccine is against all the new variants. (Maybe the vaccine is effective against the original strain plus a couple of the new variants, but not against certain other new variants — we still don’t know.)

      I will feel *safer* later this month once my second dose has had time to kick in — but I don’t know when I’ll feel truly SAFE.
      And that’s setting aside my fear of mass shootings, etc, just thinking about covid.

  8. Wendyroo*

    I’m looking forward to having my vaccinations and going back to the office, but I don’t want to be forced back 5 days a week. My partner has been fully vaccinated but he is still struggling with anxiety/OCD that was worsened by the pandemic. Unfortunately there is no shot for that..

    1. Seashells*

      Same here. People are being lax with masks, social distancing, etc. and it’s SO hard for me.

      I try to do any shopping early in the morning to avoid crowds. I had to go get TP yesterday after work and it was all I could do not to run out of the store. People with no masks, no social distancing and I even saw one maskless cashier lick his finger to get a plastic bag open!! That would gross me out in “normal” times but in a pandemic?? It took everything in me to not run out and pour sanitizer on me.

    2. Nessun*

      I’m hopeful that the committee looking at our office reopening is examining the idea of a WFH/office hybrid model. I’d like to have a little face time at the office, but yeah, being at home is not the hardship it might once have been thought, and I’ve worked (mostly successfully) through the whole lockdown/open/lockdown we’ve been through. They seem to be open to the idea, and I’ll lobby my boss hard to be in that group if it’s offered. Luckily, he’s a pretty good guy about this type of thing.

  9. Health Insurance Nerd*

    I am feeling so incredibly emotional reading the response to this question. Obviously I knew all of that happened (and is still happening), but seeing the words all in one place, laying bare what we’ve dealt with as a country and society over the last year is overwhelming. Thank you, Alison, for this, and perfectly illustrating the challenges we’ve all been managing through.

    1. Allison*

      Absolutely the same feeling from me. So thankful for this post and to know we’re not alone.

    2. Lita*

      It really just got to be so much that it all blurred together. Seeing it laid out, what happened in less than one year, is jarring.

  10. shedubba*

    I tried to go to church this last week. I’m fully vaccinated and case counts are down in my area. I couldn’t make it through the service. I started crying and had to leave. Trauma is the right word.

    1. Self Employed*

      Hugs. You aren’t the only one who feels that way. That’s why my pastor is going to keep doing Zoom services indefinitely, even though it will mean budgeting for tech to broadcast properly from the sanctuary instead of everyone’s laptops.

  11. TaterB*

    This is now one of my favorite responses. Thank you Alison, for acknowledging that so many of us are still dealing with mental and emotional effects of the past year.

    I think we are going to continue to see employees “jumping ship” in response to tone-deaf leadership.

    1. research anon*

      I 100% left a better paying job IN HEALTHCARE because of this. Not because of the physicians but the leadership. What was the tipping point is when another female leader complained when I wasn’t on video – because I had my son with me. Working and schooling at the kitchen table. And she wanted me in an office, in my home. My boss pushed back and asked “will you buy her a home and office furniture?”

      I’m so glad I left and I’m encouraging my team to only come in as patient needs necessitate. From now until forever as far as I’m concerned

      1. pbnj*

        I’m glad your boss stood up for you. You gotta love those higher-ups that think if they have room for an office, everyone else must too.

    2. Crowley*

      Came here to say this. I’ve never before felt while reading “yep, might as well close comments on this one, nothing more needs to be said”. And I’m not even in the US. Thank you Alison <3

    3. Mattieflap*

      Just this week I started a new job because my old company was completely tone deaf. The last year has been business as usual, produce produce produce. We were a remote workforce prior to the pandemic so there was no reason anything should be different, right?

      And when my kids’ Dad died in September unexpectedly and I was suddenly full time parent to two minor children (we had been divorced and shared custody) my previous job tried to deny me 3 days of bereavement leave because he was an EX-spouse. The fact that my kids lost their Dad made no difference. The fact that my life changed irrevocably in an instant didn’t occur to them. Ultimately I pushed back and was given the time but I never should have needed to and it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I knew then that they didn’t care about me or my life circumstances and I needed to leave.

      They were a healthcare company. Shame on them.

      All the reports are that the culture at my new job is very different and I’m keeping my fingers crossed. In the last year, I have had to change nearly every single aspect of my life including death, moving, and job change. If my old job had been even a little bit better than they were I might have stayed. But they couldn’t manage it and I left.

      1. Crowley*

        Oh my god. I’m so very sorry all that happened to you. I hope your new job is one million times better than the old one <3

      2. allathian*

        Oh no, I’m so sorry that happened to you and very happy to hear that you’re in a better job now.

  12. MeowMeowFuzzyCatz*

    Thank you so much Alison, I have been hard on myself lately thinking why am I so anxious all the time ??

  13. AnonEMoose*

    Alison, I want you to know, the compassion and sensitivity of your response just made me cry. Thank you; I needed to read that today. And I couldn’t agree more.

    OP, give people time. Give them room to feel what they’re feeling. One of the worst things about some workplaces I’ve had in the past is that they expected everyone to be “on” all the time, and to never be upset about anything, and any shadow of remotely critical feedback was the person offering it “being negative,” no matter how justified.

    I know you’re feeling optimistic, OP, and that’s great…but please don’t go the route of trying to get people to be all “up” and “happy” right now. You likely wouldn’t, anyway. But right now, it’s more important to validate that you are hearing what your employees are saying, and to treat their feelings as valid. For me…I’m introverted, anyway, and the idea of being around people right now is stressful; very stressful. Just let your employees know that “hey, I understand, things are hard and scary right now, because it is hard and scary.” Give them whatever flexibility you can to just step away and breathe for a few minutes if they need to.

    1. Self Employed*

      Alison linked to an article on toxic positivity recently, and it definitely applies here.

    2. Ms. Frizzle*

      That part around validation is so important! I went back to teaching in person in October, which was terrifying. The worst part was that our leadership kept insisting that being back in schools was safe and wasn’t going to spread the virus. Regardless of whether or not that’s true–and it’s definitely not 100% true all the time–it felt so invalidating to have them insisting that it was safe when it felt so, so unsafe to the school-based employees. If they’d said that they realized it was scary and risky but was necessary for students, I would have agreed with them. But the insistence that our fears weren’t real was very unhelpful.

      OP, I’m glad you have the data to support a safe reopening, but it’s also important to empathize and validate even when it seems illogical. I can totally see coming at this from a place of data and evidence, but at least for me that just made me feel more defensive and anxious. The good news is that time really DID help, and even before teachers got vaccinated I was feeling much more comfortable in the classroom.

  14. Sami*

    Since it sounds as though you’ll have the public in and out all day, mask enforcement is tough. Tough.
    It’s not really fair to put that burden on your employees. We’ve all seen evidence of nasty rudeness and terrible violence regarding the correctly wearing of masks. That would be a HUGE concern for me about returning to work.
    How is this being addressed?

    1. cdw*

      If the employees are fully vaccinated, they’re not going to get sick regardless of whether others around them are masked. Vaccines are extremely effective against any infection or transmission and nearly 100% effective against serious injury and death.

      1. RabbitRabbit*

        Employees are generally expected to be the mask enforcers for a business, to protect their customers/clients.

        1. WellRed*

          What in life is 100% effective? We are not guaranteed that in anything. Living carries risk, always has, always will. I think, though, that LW needs to slow her roll way down here. It’s gonna take awhile.

          1. Need to Remain Anon for this one*

            I think it is also thinking about what we are being asked to take a risk for. I took a risk to go to a doctor’s appointment, because the risk was small due to the facility and masking, as well as social distancing, and the risk of missing the appointment seemed worse.

            However, I have heard so many people use the “nothing is without risk” position as a reasoning that people should be okay with taking risks for any reason. My job is generally very low risk, but in this situation, it would be a lot higher risk. The idea that I might have to increase my level of risk because it seems nicer for everyone to work in an office to some higher-ups doesn’t feel right.

          2. 3DogNight*

            The risk here isn’t so much getting sick, but getting murdered because this public facing employee told someone to put their mask on. That’s the risk. People are getting beaten to death because they are enforcing their employer or state’s mask mandate. I wouldn’t go back either. And, yeah, it’s a minimal risk, but I don’t want to take the risk.

            1. Ev*

              Seriously, as someone who has to enforce mask wearing at a place similar to OPs, I’m not worried so much about Covid when I enforce masks (that are mandated in my state). I’m more worried about getting shot, stabbed, or otherwise physically assaulted. We have had to ban people for threatening staff over this. It’s not a thought exercise that will never happen and it needs to be talked about.

        2. Lucy Day*

          This. My concern isn’t really me. I have a medically complex child for whom covid-19 would likely have severe consequences. My child can’t get the vaccine. I just got my first dose today but because it is not 100% effective I’m going to be taking precautions for awhile even after my second dose so that she doesn’t get sick.

        3. Ace in the Hole*

          Nothing will ever be 100% effective at keeping you safe. So what is an acceptable level of risk?

          I’m not being sarcastic… this is a genuine question people need to consider, and everyone’s answer will be different. But we are very very bad at assessing risk intuitively, and we tend to think novel, catastrophic, low-probability risks are much more dangerous than they actually are.

          Whether we’re talking about covid, cancer, or shark attacks, a lot of people I’ve spoken with seem to stop at “there’s still a risk, and ANY risk is too high!” I find it’s often very helpful to compare new risks to other, more familiar ones to see how it compares with risks I am already comfortable engaging with. And also to consider the various long-term or subtle types of harm I might face by taking or avoiding each option.

          1. Ismonie*

            Right now, we don’t have enough information about what the risk is. For example, what the risk is of new variants. Whether vaccinated people can bring it home to fragile housemates or children. We also don’t have longitudinal data on the vaccine. Immunity to coronavirus usually is 1-2 years. That doesn’t mean everyone is immune for 1-2 years, some are immune longer, some shorter. And that’s without a pandemic-causing virus that has a ton of opportunities to mutate, and keep mutating, because wide swaths of (any) country and the world aren’t vaccinated yet.

      2. serenity*

        If the employees are fully vaccinated, they’re not going to get sick regardless of whether others around them are masked

        The science on this is still evolving and I don’t think it’s possible to make this statement now with 100% certainty. Sorry. The (to-be-confirmed) CDC Director made a claim on TV similar to this earlier in the week and received a LOT of pushback from epidemiologists.

        Not to mention, this leaves out high-risk individuals, for whom this has yet to be confirmed.

      3. not that kind of Doctor*

        I think this probably doesn’t matter. Anxiety is emotional, not rational; no matter how well someone “knows” they’re not going to get sick, even the most miniscule possibility is going to reignite that trauma.

        Facts are critical, especially if misinformation is part of the problem, but it’s still going to take time for the fear to abate. Rational people are going to be flinching in public for a while yet.

        1. Self Employed*

          Thank you.

          And all the public health officials are saying we still do need to stay vigilant, keep masking, keep washing hands. It’s too soon to know if people who have partial vaccine protection and catch COVID but don’t die of it will be long-haulers (though there’s anecdotal information that long-haulers often improve after vaccination) and that is what I worry about the most. COVID isn’t just SuperFlu. It’s a clotting disease. Those clots can cause permanent damage.

          1. MM*

            The thing that I will 100% still be worrying about after full vaccination is the potential for long-term cognitive effects.

        2. Anonosaurus*

          I’ve also encountered people in my social circle who seem frighteningly relaxed about older or vulnerable people dying just so that the bars can open etc. It’s been a bit of an eye opener. Seems like it doesn’t take much for some people to be considered expendable for the sake of others’ convenience and pleasure. On the other hand, I’m writing this on a cellphone powered by components made from non-renewable elements dug out of the earth by African children, so who am I to point the finger?

      4. Mental Lentil*

        Vaccines, while effective, are NEVER 100% effective.

        Lots of people take the flu vaccine and still get the flu.

        1. allathian*

          Yeah. But flu is a lot less contagious than Covid, so if people continue to sanitize, wear masks in flu season, and to WFH when they have flu symptoms, future pandemics will be a lot less severe.

      5. lost academic*

        You are flat wrong. Vaccines do not entirely prevent getting the virus nor do they fully prevent transmission and the manufacturers have made the data on this very, very clear. Preventing serious injury or death is a huge boon but doesn’t solve the problems being discussed.

      6. Sled Dog Mama*

        It’s been said many places this vaccine is between 72-95% effective at preventing symptomatic infection depending on your age and a lot of other factors. (I found those numbers in a Yale Medicine comparison of Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, link to follow)
        So even people who get “fully vaccinated” are still going to get sick, 5-18% of them.
        What this vaccine is effective at is preventing “serious illness” what exactly that means is anybody’s guess. My understanding is that it means you aren’t likely to need hospital care but between not sick and requiring hospital care there’s a lot of space.

        1. Spearmint*

          Yes, but they’re nearly 100% effective at preventing severe cases. Essentially n one has been hospitalized with COVID-19 who was fully vaccinated (yes, a few anecdotal cases here or there, but nothing that ha shown up in studies). Not be glib, but if you’re fully vaccinated than you should be no more afraid of COVID-19 than the common cold.

          1. Properlike*

            Those studies were conducted on people who were in REALLY good health, because they don’t let people with pre-existing conditions into initial studies. And in a real-world scenario, I may not be hospitalized with Covid (or is it that I may be hospitalized in a “normal” year but I wouldn’t be put on a ventilator and I probably won’t die), but does getting sick worsen or complicate a pre-existing condition?

            Some people DO have to worry about the common cold. Last time I had the flu, it was a week long and excruciating, and our whole household passed it around for three weeks despite flu shots well in advance… so if I don’t want Covid at a level that could be like that flu, I feel it *is* glib to chastise me for being “afraid” simply because I don’t want to experience a significant illness even if it doesn’t put me in the hospital.

            1. misspiggy*

              The trial groups for Pfizer and AstraZeneca were heavily weighted towards elderly and more (although not most) medically vulnerable groups.

            2. Ann O'nymous*

              The common cold and the flu are two entirely different things and it really doesn’t help that people conflate the two.

          2. EchoGirl*

            I think people are also concerned about transmission. If someone gets vaccinated and then gets COVID, *their* chances of a severe infection are much lower, but there’s the secondary risk that they could still transmit it to unvaccinated people. (I know vaccine reduces transmission as well, but I’m not sure what the studies are as far as transmissibility for actually infected people who are vaccinated.)

          3. BG*

            This isn’t true. Israel regularly reports on fully vaccinated people who have been hospitalized and died– I think last I saw was 30-something deaths among fully vaccinated people, and several hundred people hospitalized in serious condition?

            I mean, this is among millions of people, so it still means the vaccines are tremendously effective, don’t get me wrong. But it does no one any favors to pretend that they 100% (or virtually 100%) protect you against hospitalization and death, and that anyone who’s vaccinated who’s still anxious about getting seriously ill is irrational.

            1. Spearmint*

              I would say 30 deaths out of millions *is* “virtually 100%”. At that point, you’re more likely to die of the flu.

              1. BG*

                Okay, found a paper on this. They say 93% effective against death (99 deaths in fully vaccinated people during the study period, which was about 6 weeks) and 96% effective against hospitalization (421 among fully vaccinated people during the study period.)

                I guess “virtually 100%” is a subjective assessment, but it’s certainly much more dangerous for a vaccinated person than the common cold. (The risks compared to flu are more arguable, but honestly, flu is a pretty deadly disease, it’s just one that we’ve all gotten used to.)

                1. allathian*

                  The flu is lethal, it kills between 200,000 and 600,000 people every year worldwide, except 2020. A far cry from Covid at 2.38M confirmed deaths. Given the lack of access to testing in many developing parts of the world, it can be several times that.

                2. Ismonie*

                  The problem is also the sample size and the duration. The study is underpowered to calculate death because their weren’t enough participating. I think in at least one of the trials, no unvaccinated person died either. The follow-on period is also too short, we don’t know what the death rate will be say, a year post-vaccination.

        2. In the provinces*

          This is wrong. What is the case is that the chance someone vaccinated will contract the disease is 72 – 95% less than that of someone who is not vaccinated. If someone not vaccinated has about a 1 in 10 chance of contracting COVID (all COVID cases in the US make up about 10% of the country’s population) someone vaccinated has a chance between 1 in 280 and one in 500 of contracting the disease.

      7. Cascadia*

        Just heard a news report yesterday saying that 102 people in Washington state are fully vaccinated have gotten covid-19 AFTER they’ve been vaccinated, and 5 of them have had to be hospitalized. 102 out of the millions that have been vaccinated is pretty good odds, but it’s not 100% and it’s important for people to know that.

        1. Julianna*

          Do you happen to remember where you saw this? I’ve been trying to find more reports of breakthrough events (the official name for ‘got virus after being vaccinated’)

          1. Epiphyta*

            I don’t want to post a link and have the post held up, but if you go to the Seattle Times website and search for the article title “.01 percent of fully vaccinated people in Washington state test positive for COVID-19”, you’ll find it. Eight people hospitalized, with two deaths being investigated.

      8. Liz*

        It’s not true that you can’t get sick after being vaccinated — just that if/when you do get exposed/sick, it’s much less likely it will be a serious illness (as you said in your last sentence — that’s the important thing to keep in mind — this vaccine almost eliminates the danger of “serious” illness, but it doesn’t eliminate the risk of *any* illness). This doesn’t at all negate my enthusiasm getting vaccinated (yay, vaccines!!), but it’s a misconception that might be dangerous if people get disillusioned by getting sick after vaccination.

      9. Malarkey01*

        And this is exactly one of the things that Alison mentions- the mistrust in institutions and shared information. We’ve been told after 3 months of pretty slow small rollout that it’s effective and our risk is low, but we were also told not to bother with masks and to sanitize our groceries at one point so forgive us that a lot of us aren’t comfortable running with the vaccines mean back to normal no worries here idea. We’re cautious and slowly emerging while continuing to seek data and rebuild trust.

        1. pancakes*

          I broadly agree with you about rebuilding trust, but the reason people were discouraged from buying masks early in the pandemic is that medical-grade PPE was in short supply and badly needed by healthcare workers, not because experts were uncertain of their value.

          1. Malarkey01*

            Except we were TOLD by the officials that they weren’t useful. We were lied to and not told the real reason. If you lied to us about masks, it’s reasonable to think you are lying to us about other things (I am a huge vaccine proponent and rushed for mine, but am still cautious about reopening)

              1. Scarlet2*

                It was definitely said by the French and Belgian authorities in the very beginning of the pandemic, not sure about other countries…

    2. Daisy-dog*

      I do have sympathy for the under-the-nose mask-wearers. The lesson of 2020 *should* have been that we should all slow down – there is no need to maintain our previous standard while we are going through this. But unfortunately, the message was just Do Everything At the Same Rate – Just With A Mask! We should be trying to walk slower, talk slower, do less overall. That just hasn’t been the case for so many people – some by choice and some because of their employers.

      1. Daisy-dog*

        Forgot to tie my comment back to Sami’s comment. Basically, some people wear their mask wrong simply because they don’t know how to do everything they need to do otherwise.

        1. Sami*

          How in the world are people STILL wearing their mask wrong after a YEAR? Not an excuse IMO.

          1. Red Boxes and Arrows*

            Agreed, Sami. At this point, if someone’s mask is under their nose, I assume they’re doing it on purpose. (“Your sign says masks are required to enter this building. I’m wearing a mask, you scared sheeple.”)

  15. Estrella the Starfish*

    People are anxious about returning to the office for many reasons. Obviously safety is the top one but there’s also social anxiety about working in a bustling office after a year of working in solitary silence, having a stressful commute again and so on. I’m part of a project at my work to embed new ways of working in our office environment so I hear a lot of people’s concerns on this issue. Despite the fact that my organisation handled the pandemic exceptionally well imo, people are worried about returning to the office, even those who did not get on too well with WFH. People need time as Alison said and, if possible, a phased return to the office. Going from fully WFH to 5 days a week in the office would be a real shock to the system

    1. Guacamole Bob*

      Yes on the shock to the system!

      My kids were remote learning for almost exactly a year, and are now back 4 days a week with no before or after care. The first day that my wife did the morning shift and I didn’t really see the kids until dinner was unnerving, even though I was ecstatic that they were going back to in-person school! But I’d been having lunch with them every day for a year, hearing them playing in the background, having them interrupt my work calls…

      Just the change in routine of being around coworkers in person, commuting, etc. is a big deal. For those with caregiving responsibilities at home, whether it’s kids or elderly relatives or a pandemic puppy, changes to routine can be even harder. I’d have to figure out before and after care for my kids and expose them to more risk if I were called back to the office right now. Plus we’re dealing with their mental health, social anxieties, etc. around the transition back to being out of the house in school/child care/camp all day.

      And there are logistics – I don’t have a functional work wardrobe that fits at the moment, I haven’t gotten a haircut in a year, I’ll have to haul various computer equipment back to my office, renew my office access badge, find my transit card, figure out how the transit schedule has changed… it’s all totally doable, of course, but blech. We’re all running on fumes at this point and it all fills me with a vague sense of dread.

      Our family will be fine to make the transition back to the office when the time comes (both our companies are being very reasonable), but it’s a lot to deal with, even aside from the actual covid concerns.

    2. A Simple Narwhal*

      Yes this 100%! There of course is the safety issue, but if I’m honest, I’ve gotten really used to WFH full time and I’m just not looking forward to giving that up. I like not having to pack my breakfast and lunch the night before, I like not having a commute, I like being able to work out before work or over lunch, I like being able to do chores in between assignments, I like getting to hang out with my dog all day, I like wearing a sports bra and yoga pants and being comfy.

      My company did a great job handling the pandemic, and even though they’re in no rush and probably won’t even make us come back full time, going back in the office even just one day a week would be a change, and one I’m not looking forward to, even if it could be guaranteed 100% safe.

      1. Nessun*

        Yes to all of this!! I like all the things you listed (I actively fear the day I have to pull out dress pants again!) and my company has done an equally great job through the pandemic. I remain optimistic that they’re going to reopen and say “well, since you did so well WFH, you can keep that up, as long as we know what you’re doing” – I’d jump on that opportunity. Fingers crossed it’s offered.

  16. animaniactoo*

    I strongly suggest easing people back into it. Like – open for 2 days a week the first week, and then a few weeks down the line, add a 3rd day, but allow people to come in only 2 of the 3 days. And a month after that open for the full week but allow people to continue to do only 2-3 days in the office. And a month or so after that, shift back to full time open, fully staffed, everybody in the office.

    Give them to have the visceral experience of being back in person and seeing for themselves what the effect of that is. Used to doing it, the feelings of uncertainty and trepidation processed and through the other side of it.

    Don’t try to do it all at once or you’re going to be feeling the lingering effects for long afterwards.

    1. pope suburban*

      If this is possible, I recommend it. My facility has been closed to the public for basically a year. We did WFH for a while, then a mostly-WFH hybrid for the whole workforce, and then back into the still-closed-to-the-public office since the new year. We are just now opening up for limited programming, which I’ve had some surprising anxieties about even though I just got my second shot. Being able to ease back into things, and having things like mask guidelines, plexi barriers, and sanitizers everywhere has helped.

      Coming back online a little bit at a time has allowed people to readjust. And it has given people with health concerns the flexibility to continue working from home, while letting those of us who feel able take care of the physical stuff that has to get done. I can’t imagine doing a year (or months) of WFH then returning to what is basically my pre-pandemic normal, just with masks on. If there is any way to make this a gentle transition, I think that would be the right call for everyone.

    2. Leo*

      agree with this. also – is there a reason some people can’t continue working remotely sometimes. do any of your colleagues still have childcare challenges as not all schools are fully open yet.

    3. PublicFacingServiceStaff*

      I am wondering if the OP is speaking about my organization.

      Middle-ish of the country, purple/blue-leaning county, and a public library serving close to a million people with a first dose rate of over 30% and a completely vaccinated population of 11%.

      This will likely get buried, but for some of us, there is no light. I feel that optimism, and not abiding by hard science is a misstep. The positive talk and the rush to re-open are patronizing for some of us.

      Cases are not declining, but they are plateauing. Given that we and other institutions of knowledge purport to be fact-based, it drives me nuts that we continually are talking about the positive end to the pandemic.

      End of rant.

      1. Self Employed*

        I agree.

        I live in a Left Coast county that did very well at flattening the curve in the initial wave, but we maxed out hospital capacity in the holiday surge. As soon as we got cases down to the level of the summer second wave, people started cheering and opening up. We still have pockets of high transmission and are fighting the state to get vaccines for those communities. (The state recently reallocated vaccine supplies to the lowest-income counties to make sure farmworkers are vaccinated–which is good–but because our county has a high per-capita income, the low-income neighborhoods can’t get enough vaccines.)

        And I have customers who have started prodding me to go back to the shared studio to do $50 commissions that I put on hold during the surge. Thank goodness someone borked the equipment so I can honestly say “nope, not now, sorry.” That’s why we have PUA for self-employed people–so they can afford to turn down work.

      2. JM60*

        Plus, the r0 rate in the US is 1.1 (i.e., every infected person gives it to 1.1 people on average), and that rate has been going up. So things will get at least a little worse (on average) before they get better.

        Things are better in some parts of the US than others, and it sounds like the OP may be in a better part of the country (or in a different country). However, my state (California) is better than most places, and the r0 has been increasing. About a week and a half ago, it was 0.86. Now, it’s 0.92. With more people prematurely going “The pandemic is over for us here!”, it’s likely to go above 1.

      3. ANiceDayForaLightSweater*

        Also library staff but on the West Coast. Our system did a great job (mostly) and then decided to drop the ball right before the finish line. Literally a month and a half away from vaccines being open to everyone and they decided to open us to the public against hundreds of employee objections and rising, not declining, cases.

        But hey, the governor’s opening everything up, we must be doing great. I would hope we would make better informed decisions.

    4. Cakezilla*

      I came here to say this. Not just because of the trauma we’ve all experienced, but because going from being isolated to being at work with many people 5 days a week is going to be overwhelming for a lot of people no matter what. Even if the pandemic somehow completely ended tomorrow, I would still need time to transition just because I’ve spent so much of this past year isolated and forgotten so many of my “how to be around lots of people for an extended period of time” skills.

      1. Filosofickle*

        I’ve personally been through this multiple times and it’s a rough landing. Not pandemic obviously, but I’ve been mostly WFH (while living alone and not being very social) for the past 20 years, but have had stretches where I’ve had to return to the world for graduate school and onsite contracts. The first few weeks+ each time were BRUTAL. The commute, having to be “on”, the noise, the, the people, the intensity of it all just knocked me out. It was exhausting and it took awhile to rebuild my stamina. And that’s without a pandemic and trauma! I love the suggestions to allow a couple days a week at first.

    5. Cat Tree*

      Good advice. We’ve spent a year getting used to “the new normal”, and it was an abrupt, difficult (but necessary) adjustment. We don’t need to be so abrupt getting used to the old normal. We should have this phased approach whenever possible.

    6. Stumped*

      That’s what I’ve decided to do. Candidly, I have a few employees who are saying they are afraid, but have no issues going to parties, gathering with each other outside of work, and going on trips. I think for a lot of people the fear is in not getting to work from home anymore. We won’t go back to five days a week but we need two days as a start to rebuild some of the in person dynamics that were lost.

      1. animaniactoo*

        I hear what you’re saying – but would like to remind that you don’t know which gatherings they’ve said no to because they were concerned about the setup, and that the ones they’ve said yes to probably include stuff that they either have some amount of control over or trust the people who they are gathering with to follow through on the rules of the gathering, etc.

        Right now, my husband has decided we’re NOT getting together with his parents for a week away somewhere the way we normally do because he doesn’t trust that they’ve been being safe based on their comments/behavior throughout. Even though both of us will be fully vaccinated by the end of April. There’s still risk and he doesn’t trust them to properly assess the risks and carry through with behavior that mitigates those risks.

        However, my sister suggested a similar sort of get together with my family and he did not shoot it down. That is based on knowing what all of us have been doing and how seriously we have taken precautions, etc. Based in part on our attitudes about what is science based – and science that he trusts and believes in – vs his mom’s higher level of willingness to believe that the science is bad, etc. and so on.

        So… if you just know about the plan to get together with my family in August, you have a far different picture of what we’re willing to risk, than if you also know about the decision to NOT get together with his family this year.

        1. Le Sigh*

          Yeah. I mean, I’m absolutely hoping to shift to more WFH going forward. I don’t feel like going back to the office five days a week.

          But I also agree with you about deciding what is safe. Being able to do the math is important. I plan to visit my parents once we’re all vaccinated because I feel comfortable with the choices we’ve all made and we’ll be vaccinated. I feel okay doing some outdoor stuff with 1-2 friends (all vaccinated) because again, I know enough to make that call. These are smaller scale, controlled situations. I will not be eating in restaurants or going to concerts any time soon. And I have mixed feelings about going into the office — I have to ride public transit and as much as I love my coworkers, I can’t control what 150 other people are doing on a day-to-day basis to be safe. And I’d be locked indoors for hours with those 150 people in an open office floor plan. The vaccine isn’t 100% and variants are running around. There’s still a lot we don’t know. So yes, I am still afraid and making situationally-based decisions. It’s not all or nothing.

  17. Tomato Frog*

    Thanks, Alison.

    It does sound like OP’s organization is handling things well. It’s good to see air filtration systems included in the list — too many employers seem to ignore that component.

    1. Self Employed*

      I agree. I was at a transit-supporters’ meeting recently and they basically said “The buses can’t accommodate good airflow for reasons, but we should lobby the transit authority to make a big public show about sanitizing the buses at the end of each run so people will feel confident riding transit and stop insisting on social distancing.” That’s counter to what I’ve read from public health/epidemiology folks who say that transit authorities are wasting money and resources on “sanitation theatre” now that we know COVID is airborne and people don’t get it from sitting on bus seats. The drivers are fed up with passengers who refuse to mask and their only recourse being “stop the bus and call Security, wait an hour or so.” They know that’s going to make all their passengers late, the next bus is likely to be full, and in the meantime they’re on the bus with a maskhole.

      1. Asenath*

        In my city, you don’t get on the bus without a mask. No holding the bus for security to come.

        1. HigherEdAdminista*

          That is very good obviously, but many people get on transit wearing the mask and then pull it down or remove it once they are out of sight of staff, so it is still a big problem.

          1. Asenath*

            Not something I’ve noticed often. In fact, I think I saw it once, so did the driver, who told the passenger to put it back on. Which the passenger did, probably not wanting to be put off at the next stop. I think the drivers must have mirrors that allow them to keep an eye on passengers. Obviously, this approach wouldn’t work in a system with bigger vehicles, like trains, that don’t have staff at regular intervals.

            1. EchoGirl*

              Yeah, but what happens if the driver tries to put them off and the person refuses to get off? I think that’s a large part of the issue. They can call security, but that goes back to the earlier point that calling security and having to stop and wait for them to arrive could mean having to put up with that person for even longer (waiting 45 minutes when the person would have gotten off in 10) and massively inconveniencing innocent riders in the process.

              1. pancakes*

                As of July 2020, 170 NYC transit workers were assaulted or harassed for asking passengers to wear a mask, including a bus driver who was knocked out cold. Possibly there’s a more recent figure, but that seems like a pretty clear indication of what can happen.

                1. EchoGirl*

                  Point, but I’m also talking about what they’re authorized to do in that situation. In many places, transit drivers can’t force someone off if they defy a verbal instruction (and what you describe is probably part of the reason why), so the only option is to call security, which goes back to what several of us were saying about how that likely means having to be around that person for longer, etc.

      2. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

        So, they’re actually saying they want the transit authority to lie to other bus riders? If the MBTA was asking my advice, it would be to take a few minutes between bus trips and open the doors to get a bit of ventilation. And to give bus drivers a supply of masks, to offer to maskless riders.

  18. TeacherToo*

    There’s also the fact that enforcing masks and distancing and other guidelines while working with the general public is stressful! I’m upset by the amount of time I spend every day just asking people to pull their masks up. The employees aren’t returning to “normal,” they’re just returning to a different variety of stress.

    It is amazingly helpful to have someone validate just how difficult the past year has been. Thank you, Alison

  19. No Longer Gig-less Data Analyst*

    “So many institutions have lost people’s trust over the last year, and that doesn’t come back overnight. Even if your organization has done everything right, at this point people have grown used to not being protected by the people and institutions that were supposed to protect them — and instead have had to protect themselves, often at great cost.”

    This is so insightful and incredibly true. I was struggling to explain to my mother why, even when we’re both fully vaccinated I’m still feeling like I’m going to be anxious about interstate travel and eating in restaurants. I wasn’t the most trusting person before the pandemic, but the number of people in my personal and professional life who have now been identified as unsafe/untrustworthy over the past year has rocked me. My favorite SIL has turned out to be an absolute nightmare and despite knowing her for over 25 years I never knew what was lurking under the surface.

    I can get vaccinated, I can read articles with good science and follow the CDC guidelines whateever they happen to be at the time. But there’s nothing but time and hopefully a string of more positive experiences that is going to make me less suspicious of pretty much everyone around me.

    1. Researcher*

      We all have a heightened awareness of the people around us in a way that we did not previously. Or, perhaps took for granted previously.

      We are not just concerned with what those around us are doing while in our presence, but also when they’re not in our presence.

    2. LilyP*

      Yeah! It’s like, I had a fairly reasonable, rational expectation last April that sustained lockdowns would flatten the curve and it would be “over” by summer …..didn’t happen. Then I had a fairly reasonable, rational expectation over the summer that widespread distancing and masking and sanitizing would bring the case count down and stuff could still be done safely…..didn’t happen. So now I can’t shake a gut sense of distrust towards a reasonable, rational expectation that once enough people get vaccinated we’ll reach herd immunity and it’ll finally (finally!) be “over”.

        1. allathian*

          I’ve read some epidemiologists say that it’s going to take another 3 or 4 years.

          This isn’t even taking into account the profound effects on many people’s mental health. Many children who were born just before or during the pandemic have never seen an unmasked adult who isn’t their parent.

    3. Third or Nothing!*

      Yep, exactly. I’ve been telling people that 2020 basically broke me. I learned things about institutions and people that I cannot unlearn. It’s not just the pandemic, it’s all the other stuff that went down as well. It’s been a year of deconstruction for me and I can never go back to the way things used to be.

  20. kwagner*

    Something else to consider is the demographics of your staff. Even if your county/city/state is “doing well”, consider that that is on the whole and certain groups of people may still be missing out on that prosperity. In my city, we have a lot of people vaccinated percentage wise, but nearly all those people are white and middle-to-upper class. Also our extremely segregated neighborhoods are seeing quite a bit of vaccination disparity. Also, children still can’t get vaccinated, so any parents on your staff still have that to contend with.

    1. Le Sigh*

      Yup. I’m in a city with the same problem. And I’ve got family in states that are still struggling to get a dose. I’ve got coworkers still struggling with no childcare or elder care, or who were financially runover by this past year. I’ve gotten my first shot, but I’m still gun shy and marvel at people eating indoors at restaurants.

      Not to mention, we’re not out of the woods yet! Cases falling in many areas, etc., yes that’s great. But there’s still a potential for surges, especially if there are variants in the fall. Maybe we’ll be able to get booster shots and manage okay, but to suggest it’s all behind us is not always the case! And it might ring hollow to staff to say otherwise.

    2. Self Employed*

      Hard same. My county can’t even get enough vaccine for the poor neighborhoods because the state has decided to look at the average county income–not the census tract income. We have vaccine centers in those neighborhoods and are gearing up for door-to-door vaccination when we can get some J&J single-dose. But we don’t have the shots for the people living one family per bedroom and working essential jobs. Last I checked, we had a 15% positivity rate in that side of town.

    3. SweetestCin*


      Or even looking at it at a non-demographic level: our entire staff could be vaccinated, BUT what of spouses, children, and anyone else who happens to reside in any of our employees’ places of residence? My own spouse hasn’t been able to obtain an appointment yet, and my children are too young.

  21. Lynn*

    In addition to Alison’s terrific reply, I want to add two things from a purely pragmatic standpoint:
    – Employee’s may be vaccinated but their families may not be. They incur a risk that they may unwittingly pass on to their loved ones by working with customers.
    – Speaking of customers: This pandemic has shown some of the worst of customers who don’t properly mask and / or outright refuse to mask. Saying you have protections in place and enforcing those protections are two different things.

    1. Mom bear*

      Yes!!! My job is one that can be done from anywhere but my managers are pressuring us to return to the office. My teenage son is immunocompromised and will likely be one of the last ones to be vaccinated. Even with the new data showing that vaccines likely reduce asymptomatic transmission it isn’t a guarantee. And it is becoming a deal breaker for me that my employer doesn’t realize that even a 20% chance of transmission is paralyzing to me.

      1. pbnj*

        I feel for you Mom bear. 20% is a lot when you’re talking about potentially serious consequences.

        1. NotQuiteAnonForThis*

          Same. 20% is one in five, and those aren’t awesome odds. (Been there with a very ill child before…and odds like this on a poor outcome with a treatment, for example, would have been a huge meeting to further discuss other options.)

      2. My Husband's Wife*

        Ditto. I’ve been fully vaccinated, but my DH is a cancer patient. And while my vaccine reduces my chances of being hospitalized and/or dying from Covid to almost nil, there is still a real chance of developing a mild asymptomatic case, which would probably kill my love and partner.

    2. 3DogNight*

      YAS to the Customers comment. I’ll spell it out for those who haven’t gone there yet. Customers are literally killing employees who tell them to mask up. As a public facing role, you can die for saying “Put on a mask”. I wouldn’t go back, yet, either.

  22. Anonymous Turtle*

    Thank you, Alison. I’m a government employee and get my 2nd vaccine next week. My employer is talking about bringing people back in June and that STILL makes me scared.

    The thing is, my employer has made it clear that while they encourage everyone to get vaccinated, they cannot require it. My office was on a floor with over 100 people. Even though my employer has done everything right, I still do not trust that all of my colleagues will get vaccinated. My partner is immunocompromised and cannot receive the vaccine. I don’t like even the slightest odds of bringing home COVID even if I am vaccinated. Additionally, there is no clear evidence yet that the current vaccines are resistant to the COVID strains that have developed/are developing.

    OP, you’re right that we have a lot to be excited about, but please don’t dismiss all that we have left to be scared about, too.

    1. RabbitRabbit*

      There has been some decent evidence about most alternative strains; I think this morning results about Pfizer’s effectiveness vs the South African variant came out (91%).

    2. ThatGirl*

      So first off, I totally understand where you’re coming from – I don’t want to sound dismissive of your fears and anxieties.

      But I also want to say that there is evidence that the current vaccines work against the newer strains. There has now been a good amount of real-world testing and they’re working, and working well. There’s also evidence that vaccinated people are not carrying the virus undetected.

      Again – I get it! We’ve all been so traumatized and anxious that it’s hard to let go of it, and nothing feels certain yet. But there is definitely reason for optimism.

      1. Ismonie*

        It’s mutating a lot. I’m not so optimistic that I would tell the spouse of a cancer patient to go back to business as usual, or tell anyone to be optimistic. We aren’t out of the existing woods yet, and we don’t know what the road ahead will be like.

        1. who knows*

          Exactly. There are lots of new strains, not just a couple of them. And even if a vaccine is highly effective against several strains, it might have a much lower efficacy against some of the others.

  23. AnonRightNow*

    Not public-facing here but my (administrative, regulatory) department in a hospital has been WFH very well for just over a year now. Everyone got the chance to be vaccinated a while back through work. A couple weeks ago the department managers put out a “feeler” survey for how we feel about the thought of returning to work in the office. Our office is (when in use) overcrowded, and the ventilation is legitimately awful. But I think the worst part is that we have a few anti-vax people in the office (not for legit medical reasons but out of conspiracy theories and wanting everyone else to be the herd immunity that they can get protected by). I think having to return to hear that would enrage me too much, so my answers on the survey were not positive about a return any time soon.

  24. Nonprofit Lifer*

    Also, let’s not forget that we’re not out of the woods yet. We’ve got senior health officials saying they’re “scared” this week with the increase in infections. We may well see another spike, particularly as places open up too early.

    I’m personally super excited that my workplace will be reopening, but we’re planning on doing so in June, not April. I’m optimistic that the numbers will be a lot safer even two months away, but if they’re not I’m confident our leadership will do the right thing.

    If you’re talking about reopening within the next 30 days or so, your employees could have good reason to be nervous.

    1. Tuckerman*

      Yes, the big message we’re hearing is that we may be in a much better place in a couple months, or we could end up like France and Germany going back on strict lock downs. We know the vaccines are extremely effective, but we don’t know for how long. So much uncertainty.

    2. Willis*

      This. It’s great that some places are seeing lower case numbers but just look at the last year. Not being a hot spot now doesn’t mean you won’t be 30 days from now, especially as it gets warmer and travel increases. Vaccinations for staff are great but I’d be looking more sustained, reduced case counts before thinking of getting back to normal working with the public. Reduced like to a point where the risk is low, not just reduced compared to the ridiculously elevated risk that existed over the winter holidays.

    3. Anomalous*

      This virus is insidious. Levels are still high and are increasing, just about everywhere in the US. Europe is getting hit even worse. Give the virus a chance, and it will take it.

      The vaccines make me very hopeful. But the painful history in the US is that everything closes down three weeks too late and opens three weeks too early.

      Now is the time for patience. Open prematurely (and opening now IS premature) and there will be more unnecessary suffering and death. Be patient.

      1. Aggretsuko*

        SO true. We really shouldn’t have much “open” at all. I’m deeply concerned that everything is reopening here like nothing happened.

  25. Snarkus Aurelius*

    I’m fully vaccinated. My husband is about to be. My small child will not be for the foreseeable future.

    So, no, the vaccine for me doesn’t make me feel that much better. I’m not putting his life at risk for my job that can be done remotely anyway.

    I wouldn’t want to come back to the office right now either.

    1. Chai*

      Yes, same. I have a 1 year old so it’s going to be a while. I know that the risks of me getting it, retransmitting it, and baby getting sick from it are all very small, but that is not a risk I am willing to take when my job can easily be done 100% remote. (Also I have a long public transit commute that involves two modes of transportation and two transfers so that’s a LOT of exposure to people who may not be vaccinated, taking any precautions, or able to stay home even if they have symptoms.) Nope nope nope.

    2. Twisted Lion*

      +1000 to this. Just because staff members are vaccinated it doesnt mean that spouses are. And children cant get vaccinated. So you are asking people to risk their families on a job we have been doing remote for a year. No. Thanks.

    3. Blackcat*

      “My small child will not be for the foreseeable future.”
      With Moderna running their trial in small kids (6mo+) for the last month and Pfizer starting soon, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for shots for little kids by December!

      1. Don*

        FYI, we enrolled our kids to be considered for the trials and the email they sent out commented that they’re working their way down in age groups. So for example Pfizer’s latest data results were for ages 12-15. The youngest set will likely be the last to be certified.

    4. Spearmint*

      I say this gently, but you should know that young children have very very little risk of getting a severe case of COVID.

      1. Ally McBeal*

        Gently, I’m sure that every parent who is concerned about Covid already knows that. “Very very little risk” is NOT the same as “no risk,” and I truly do not know how parents grapple with the decision to bring their kids back to in-person school or daycare.

        1. Spearmint*

          Sure, but there’s always risk. Children also have a low but real risk of dying of the flu or in a car accident, but does that mean we keep them locked at home forever? No.

          1. allathian*

            No. But it’s not only a question of overall risk, but of manageable risk. If you have a kid who can’t get vaccinated yet because of their age, and your job can be done 100 % remotely, why take even the slightest risk if you don’t have to?

            That said, I think we’re going to see a generation of severely socially awkward kids. Being at home all the time and never being allowed to socialize in person with other kids except your siblings (if you have any) can’t be healthy for the development of necessary social skills. We don’t know the long-term effects of this yet and won’t for some time.

        2. Jen!*

          For me, this was truly a no brainer. There is ample evidence showing that healthy kids are at extremely low risk of serious illness AND ample reports showing the devastating social and mental health consequences of being isolated and out of school.

      2. Aggretsuko*

        Some kids have come down with it and/or died. They’re not immune and just because their odds are lower doesn’t mean they don’t exist and are safe to do whatever.

      3. Ismonie*

        We don’t know yet what the risk is for the newer variants. They are driving outbreaks among the young in Michigan; don’t know yet what percentage of them will need to be hospitalized.

        And you still need to quarantine with them if they get it. That means weeks of no one leaving the house. That’s not financially feasible for everybody.

  26. Christina*

    This response is one of the many reasons I’m so grateful for your site Alison, and how you put what so many of us feel into words.

    I haven’t been to my office since last March, more than a full year while our programs team has been onsite this entire time (we’re healthcare-adjacent). I’ve felt very lucky (and there’s a lot of guilt) that I’ve been able to work from home, and I know it’s been coming at some point that non-client-facing staff will be asked to come back in since we were eligible to get our vaccines back in January. I have been dreading it every single day.

    My grandboss mentioned us going back a few weeks ago and I could almost immediately feel my panic response. I realized I haven’t been around anyone for more than two hours at a time in a year (except for three short occasions), I’m dreading having to wear a mask for multiple hours at work, I’m nervous to be back in spaces with lots of other people (even though I know our spaces are immaculately clean, we’ve still had a few positive cases). I don’t feel like me being there will do any good vs keeping my germs at home and away from people who are immunocompromised. It’s all so fraught and anxiety-inducing.

    1. Christina*

      Also, to add on – Alison’s point about not feeling trust even if your employer has done everything right is 100% true. My employer has done just about everything right, but I still feel like I’ve had to be the one to push back on things I’m not comfortable with, and I’m not full sure how it’s made me look in management’s eyes. Last spring, I was the one who had to say I’m going to keep my mask on and not eat during this outdoor team lunch; last winter I had to be the one to say, no, I don’t feel comfortable going into a coworkers home (who wasn’t wearing a mask) to shoot a video; I had to be the one to send an email when I noticed one of our staff was in a group meeting in our conference room not wearing a mask. I’m worried because I live by myself I’ll be asked before other coworkers who have kids and live-in family to go back in the office, but I also want to feel like I’m not putting my unvaccinated friends (the only people I see in person) at risk. I don’t like feeling like I’m the covid police – I hate it.

      1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

        yeah, my employer has done everything right, but there have still been positive cases among some of the staff who do need to be in the office (I have to go in once a week because some things cannot be done outside the office – very few things, but still – our managers have us on a schedule for that one day a week that staggers us to ensure we have as few people as possible at one time and that we aren’t in nearby work spaces). Even taking all reasonable and practicable precautions, things go wrong. I do trust my employer actually, but I do not trust that we are close enough to the end of the dangers to merit a return to office on a regular basis!

    2. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      we have been staggering our presence in the office so that everyone in my department comes in at least one day a week, but we can remain distanced (there are some things that we do actually need to be able to do in the office). Most anyone who can work from home is doing so as much as possible, and that is the vast majority of my agency the vast majority of the time. And in the office, everyone has been wearing masks correctly, social distancing, taking every precaution recommended (we work in public health, so no COVID deniers here!). Despite all of this, we have had multiple cases of individuals who had just been in the office testing positive for COVID. I was lucky that I had no contact with any of them, but my job is so very non-collaborative in nature that I do not need to interact with anyone except my boss usually. My whole department was able to get the vaccine early on due to the nature of our work. But even though I am vaccinated and I know my agency is very diligent about taking appropriate safety measures, I am still anxious about us reopening. Fortunately, there is no talk of it right now, but I dread the day!

  27. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

    Allison, I said this above in response to a comment, but I want to say it again here. Having it all spelled out like that hit me like a lead weight. I honestly have felt like I have been a bit ridiculous for not handling the pandemic as well as I should have, but when I read what you wrote, I realize that I am actually pretty awesome for handling it as well as I have, and so are all the rest of us! I realize how traumatic the pandemic has been, and also how it has been combined with so many other traumas. Thank you, Allison! You made me feel much stronger when I had been feeling pretty weak!

  28. Mostly Sarcasm*

    OP, you mention that your workplace has safety protocols in place, but what about the public transit systems in your area? I am gung ho to go back to the office, but I don’t feel safe taking public transit to work right now. Every time I’ve taken transit in the past year, there are people not wearing masks.

    1. Twisted Lion*

      Ive been working in the office part time and just started taking mass transit again and you are right. I see MANY people not wearing masks. I move cars if I have to but still… ugh

      1. HigherEdAdminista*

        This is my fear. I take public transit and can only take the bus, so if there is some unmasked or improperly masked person all I can do is get off the bus, wait 10-15 minutes (or more if there is an issue) , and hope that the next bus doesn’t have the same issue. And I have seen drivers go by improperly wearing masks or taking them off altogether, so it’s not like they are a guaranteed ally in keeping the bus masked.

        It’s impossible. I know once I am commuting again, I will be in the presence of unmasked people, potentially multiple, and it could happen twice daily.

  29. Ellen Ripley*

    Also, just on a practical level, it’ll take people a while to get used to being back, and all the habits and everyday systems you establish without even thinking about it. I work part time in retail, and when our store reopened in May-June ish last year, it was bizarre to be out in the world when the only place I’d been for two months was the grocery store weekly. I had to remind myself to make sure I had my wallet with me, and a jacket for later, and a bottle of water in my car, and make sure I had enough gas, etc. Folks who have been working at home for a year, they’re even more out of the habits than I was.

  30. Oh!Jennifer*

    This may just be me but even in the best of circumstances I don’t consider returning to an office “a ray of sunshine”. Working from home has been infinitely more pleasant for me and many others, for all sorts of reasons – not least of which is not having to be face to face with members of the public and colleagues. Expecting your employees to be happy about it is a bit much, to be honest. Are they professional? Courteous? Follow all the guidelines?

    Then you may have to face the idea that the only person actively looking forward to the return is you.

    1. MistOrMister*

      Yes, that struck me a little oddly too. I have relished working from home and absolutely dread the thought of returning to the office. They keep telling us we’re going to go to a hybrid schedule but that they have no idea what it will entail. Honestly, I do not want to go back ever again and nothing anyone could offer would make me feel like there was a ray of sunshine upon me if I was told we were re-opening, even if it was only me having to go in once a week! And I don’t even have a customer facing job. But I have many coworkers and the stress of now having to deal with Bob walking around maskless and Josefina coughing all over everything will be horrible. Even once I’m vaccinated (which will be no time soon because I can’t get a fricking apppointment as I’m not eligible yet) I am going to be uncomfortable in the office.

    2. Aggretsuko*

      Yeah, I don’t think a single person in my office said they want to work full time in the office again. I expect this to be ignored.

    3. EchoGirl*

      Yep, this. There are some people who are looking forward to being in the office (either for social reasons or because their WFH setup is atrocious), and that’s fine too (as long as it doesn’t become an excuse for rushing back before it’s safe), but many others would be happier continuing to WFH.

    4. AGD*

      About 50% of my office is miserable and struggling with WFH, 25% about the same, or just different set of advantages/disadvantages with a similar average level of happiness, and 25% have been happy and content and productive with performance going way up.

    5. techwriter*

      The “sunshine” and “things are looking up!” wording (and exclamation point) really stood out in this letter for me.

      Even if Covid statistics are better in this person’s county than elsewhere, they certainly aren’t anywhere close to where they need to be in most cities, states, provinces, countries, etc. And, many locations are on the brink of a fourth wave. Finally, my state has just reported “breakout cases”–Covid cases in people who were fully vaxxed. Those breakout cases are apparently not common, but things like that can and will contribute to workers’ anxiety about returning onsite after remote work.

      I just can’t imagine using words like “sunshine” when talking to my staff about coming back to work. I would really, really encourage the LW to re-evaluate her tone so that it matches the trauma and somberness of our current reality. This kind of false cheeriness helps no one right now and can really erode any trust your staff has for you and the organization.

  31. justanobody*

    This is a great response.
    I hope that many employers who have had staff working from home full time for the last year will give their employees some time to ease back in to coming into the office and not suddenly expect them to come back to 40 hours a week in the office all at once.

  32. Barbara Gordon*

    I work in a public library that has been open for in-person service for a while now. While opening back up was nerve wracking, my director did some things that helped.
    1. Seriously enforced masking and distancing rules
    2. Worked at the greeting station herself so she’d be the one dealing with any issues as people came in
    3. Regularly asked us what was and wasn’t working and was willing to change or roll back our services accordingly

    We spent a lot of time thinking about the worst case scenarios before we reopened but once we did it was 99% people who were just so happy to be back inside.

    1. Jane*

      Yeah, the OP’s situation sounded a lot like a library to me (probably cause I used to work in one!).

      I would add that in many, many places, frontline library staff are justifiably concerned that they’re going to be the ones enforcing unpopular safety rules and getting breathed on by the public, while administrators hide in their offices. At our library this distrust of management existed *decades* before the pandemic, because management consistently refused to back up employees when they were assaulted, sexually harassed, etc by patrons.

      OP, it may not be anything you’ve done or not done personally, but if your staff has a history of bad relations with management the pandemic has probably made it worse.

    2. Rachel Morgan*

      As a library director myself, I didn’t open to the public until my staff felt comfortable. In fact, they were the ones pushing to open! We have a lot of strict guidelines in my library still, but the staff and front-line workers are happy to be open. I regularly check on them (not just talking with them, but pointedly asking about how things are going, what can be changed, what’s going good etc) because if the staff aren’t comfortable, then something really needs to change.

  33. Ace in the Hole*

    I will admit, I find it difficult to muster patience for people in this situation. I realize this is an uncharitable way to view people and speaks more to my own pandemic burnout than to the actual anxieties people are feeling. However, I wonder if perhaps LW has some similar feelings to this that might influence the way they respond to people.

    So many of us have (by necessity) continued working on-site throughout the pandemic because our work is essential and impossible to do remotely. So many of us have (by necessity) continued doing essential errands in-person, because delivery is not a realistic or affordable option for everyone. In addition, as part of the team responsible for developing and enforcing my organization’s covid safety protocols, I have spent a lot of time researching it and evaluating hazards based on data and making risk assessments, so I can see how people are responding disproportionately/irrationally to covid-related risks compared to other more mundane hazards. I can’t help but feel like people wringing their hands about returning to the office with safety protocols AND vaccinations are being a bit… precious. And I have a very hard time holding my tongue when people voice their (not factually supported) anxieties about reopening around me, because it feels like they’re expecting sympathy for having had the privileges of being safe when I was not, being able to ignore things I had to be immersed in, and being expected to do a small amount of additional work to maintain safety measure that I have already worked very hard on to set up.

    I recognize that these feelings aren’t fair or helpful. The pandemic has been traumatic for everyone in different ways, and the reasonable part of me is aware that reopening anxiety is a common, normal experience. But my own feelings about it can get in the way of being open-minded and accommodating to others.

    One thing that has helped when we re-opened certain divisions was to have a soft/gradual transition. What if you had a few weeks of everyone working on-site for 2 or three days per week, and working from home the rest of the time? If you’re in a field where you serve the public, it might help to move everyone back to the office a few weeks before you open the office to customers. That way staff can get used to the change in setting and interacting with each other again before they have to deal with the added burden of dealing with strangers.

    Above all, as Allison says, you need to give it time. Don’t try to reason people out of it – believe me, it’s a doomed prospect. Their feelings won’t be changed by evidence or logic because this is a deep emotional response to trauma and change. Instead try to be a compassionate listener, speak to their emotional concerns, and only bring up facts if you absolutely need to correct serious/dangerous misinformation. I also suspect a lot of times people displace other anxieties with Covid… it’s hard to admit you’re anxious about having to talk to coworkers face-to-face after so long, but it’s easy and socially acceptable to say you’re worried about a deadly virus. Especially if someone IS anxious about Covid to some degree (and who isn’t?), it can end up obscuring other underlying concerns.

    That said, there are valid business concerns as well. If people are refusing to come in, spreading rumors, overwhelming colleagues with negative talk, getting in arguments over someone they perceive as not being “safe enough” (which may or may not be in line with evidence-based practices), etc. you will need to manage it like any other problem behavior. You can’t – and shouldn’t – force people to be happy about this change, but you should make sure they are not actively making the environment more stressful for other employees.

    1. Cat Lover*

      I sympathize with your feelings. I am an essential healthcare worker and never got to work from home. We were open full time, including during lockdown. Sometimes I just want to shake people and tell them that some of us have had to see 30-60 patients a day for the whole year and just had to deal with it.

      But that’s not helpful or fair, I agree. Humans and feelings are complicated.

      1. Ace in the Hole*

        You have 100% of my sympathy and respect. I’m in garbage, so we weren’t hit by it with anywhere near the i intensity that healthcare workers were… but we never had the option to stop. You can’t shut down an entire county’s garbage system for even one day before things start going very wrong.

        My mom works 100% remote, lives in a nice house with a big garden, has her own car. She’s basically as safe as anyone can get. She even got the vaccine a month before I was eligible because she works for a school (not as a teacher). I’ve had to tell her not to talk to me about Covid stuff… not because she’s a covid-denier, but because I can’t handle hearing her fret about her personal risk level without saying something unkind.

        It’s really sad that in a lot of ways this has become just one more wedge between people. I wish I had it in me to be more patient and compassionate.

        1. Cat Lover*

          Totally respect you!

          I live with my parents, one of whom stopped working during COVID, and the other works from home.

          One day in maybe April-ish of last year I was ranting about something at work, and my dad is like “well, at least you get to leave the house and see people!”

          Like… yeah, I understand his frustration! But it’s not like I was out clubbing or anything. I snapped back “at least you don’t have people breathing on you.” LOL!

          1. Ellen Ripley*

            I also live with my parents, who are elderly and retired. I did all the errands and shopping for the first few months of the pandemic, to reduce their risk, and then also went back to work in retail, so exposing myself there too. They got stir-crazy and felt isolated and probably wished they were going out like I was, and I felt overwhelmed and risking my own health (and possibly their own) and wished I could just stay home. My brother is in construction so he was working the whole time even when everything else was closed, and my sister-in-law had to try to do her job at home while trying to keep both a 10 year old and a 5 year old entertained. None of it was fun, but each of us had our own challenges and advantages and disadvantages, and I feel like society as a whole is that way right now too – we all went through the pandemic, but each of us experienced/are experiencing it differently.

    2. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

      I totally hear where you’re coming from. I read an interesting piece in the NYT a few weeks ago about the misinformation on both sides of the political spectrum about the virus – conservatives/Trumpers were far more likely to underestimate the virulence or transmissibility of the virus (if they believe it exists at all), while liberals were more likely to overestimate the risk of death, serious illness, and ongoing symptoms. I personally fall into the latter category. The author also made a very salient point that the goal of lockdowns and vaccines is not to eradicate COVID entirely, but to a) reduce the likelihood of severe illness and actually bring it closer to “a flu”, and b) keep hospital capacity up to be able to provide care to those who do fall seriously ill. I have to keep telling myself that the numbers that matter are the hospitalization and death rates, which do seem to be falling. As more people are vaccinated we will continue to see cases present in the population and that’s ok, we just need them to be mild and not able to spread well.

      1. Cendol*

        Great point–I’m going to seek that article out now.

        I’m one of the people who got to work from home in comfort this year, but I want to gently remind my fellow WFHers that a lot of people did not have this luxury and that lockdowns were a desperate and heavy-handed attempt to solve a complex and evolving problem, not a brilliant solution that we should uphold for future pandemics.

        Many people interpreted “flatten the curve” as “get to zero,” when that is truly unfeasible, particularly for a place as big and ungovernable (I say that with a great deal of love and respect) as the United States. Epidemiologists like Stef Baral (Johns Hopkins) and medical doctors like Vinay Prasad (UC San Francisco) have written eloquently and compassionately about the unforeseen consequences of our 2020 public health response/messaging on the most vulnerable in our society and I really recommend checking out some of their work.

        As uncomfortable and traumatized as we may be, I hope this spring we can gather ourselves and our courage. The vaccines are effective, our case numbers are dropping, and the pace of our rollout in the States is really spectacular when you compare to other places in the world.

        That said, I know it has been a truly fraught time, and I appreciate Alison’s words and each of the comments here. We’ve all been through a lot.

        1. green beans*

          And I think long periods of work from home – and the giant sacrifices people have had to make – have really overemphasized the individual risk of COVID for a lot of people. Having to give up a lot in order to prevent something makes that something big and scary, and sometimes perception of the risk can, in response, because really outsized.

          COVID is hard, because individually, for most people, the risk is relatively very low. But collectively, the risk is really high (and we have to protect vulnerable for whom the individual risk is very high!). This is, IMO, wracking havoc on people’s sense of individual risk, more than usual. It’s going to take some time for the vaccine to help make people feel safe and for their risk levels to recalibrate.

          1. Ace in the Hole*

            Yes, exactly this… and even at the best of times we humans struggle with assessing certain types of risks.

            I’ve been studying risk perception/communication since just before the pandemic started. One theme that is consistent across the literature is that people have a really hard time with high-consequence, low-probability, unfamiliar/new risks that they feel they have little control over. I.e. the exact category Covid falls in. There tends to be a split in how people perceive these types of risks: some focus entirely on the “low probability” aspect and dismiss the risk entirely, others focus entirely on the “high consequence” and become overwhelmed by fear. Both extremes are harmful! The first obviously leads to people refusing to take mitigating actions… but the second is more insidious, since in addition to prolonged psychological distress it can also lead people to end up putting themselves in MORE danger as they try to avoid a comparatively mild risk. Think of someone swerving off a cliff to avoid hitting a deer – yes, they were in danger, but trying to avoid it that way only made things worse.

            We see these reactions mirrored across the political spectrum in the US. I think that’s a big part of why our pandemic response has been chaotic and ineffective – the tiny minority of knowledgeable, moderate experts providing nuanced evidence-based solutions consistently get overshadowed and outvoted by people with more extreme responses on either side. Unfortunately, crossing that gulf is very difficult to do… it’s such a deeply intrinsic emotional part of our psyches, it’s not something you can address with information or reasoning. Fear rarely cares about facts.

        2. TiffIf*

          Lockdowns are a brute force method that should only ever be a last resort if your other strategies, of test, trace and isolate fail…except we (the US) never got a handle on the whole “test, trace and isolate” to begin with and so were left with only the heavy-handed lockdowns.

    3. pretzelgirl*

      I sympathize too. I also work in health care. I never got the chance to work from home. I have been going in everyday and working. I have friends that (I don’t work with) constantly texting about how unsafe the world is, how nothing will ever be the same, stuff about vaccines. I finally shut them down and had enough of hearing it. Essential workers have been plowing through this. We know the risks and took them anyway, because we had to work to support ourselves or families. I just grew tired of hearing it.

      Its not that I am not sympathetic. I understand it. Trust me. But constant talk, stress and spreading rumors is not good for anyone’s mental health.

    4. Lentils*

      I’m struggling with feeling this way as well – I recently left a job where the higher-ups were active Covid deniers, refused to issue an officewide mask mandate, made WFH almost impossible, and retaliated against workers who reported them to L&I. I spent months being one of a handful of employees wearing a mask, trying to social distance, doing as much as I could to protect myself…and while I was sympathetic to my friends and acquaintances who were able to WFH and experiencing different struggles, and who are still experiencing those struggles, I have had bouts of aggressive resentment and anger because they’ll mention they have to go into the office one day a week now. I’ve been going in every single day! And had a couple of Covid scares and increased anxiety/panic attacks for my trouble! But I try very hard not to take it out on them, or other people who’ve been able to remain mostly at home. It’s just…hard.

      1. justabot*

        I know. It is really hard. I get where they are coming from, of course. It just comes off as insensitive when you have been going in every day, have had actual Covid scares/exposures, had to get tested, wait on results, and their hypothetical fears from the comfort of home, just push trigger buttons,

    5. Mr. Cajun2core*

      I also fully understand your feelings. I am a receptionist at a major university. While I was able to work from home from March until August, I had to return to work in August when the students returned to campus. There are still many people in my department, especially the faculty, who have not stepped foot on campus since March. There is some resentment. I would have loved to work from home this entire time. There was a very strong distinction of the people who were required to return to work in my department. It was the lowest paid people. However, I do have to say that a couple of the highest paid people did return to work part time but they had the choice.

      1. Alice*

        I get that the situation is not fair — but at the same time, until everyone is vaccinated, every prof who stays away from campus is another person to whom you are not exposed.
        I hope that your employer has employed and is keeping good risk mitigation measures so that your work environment is safe.

        1. Ace in the Hole*

          I can’t speak to Mr. Cajun2core’s personal situation, but in my experience that kind of misses the mark.

          A lot of the resentment I think comes from the people who have the highest risk also having the smallest voice. The mitigation measures can be 100% the best possible options, but if someone feels like they had no genuine input then they’ll get frustrated… particularly when there’s a class divide and the people at risk are the people who have the least compensation/benefits/prestige in general. There’s something to be said for feeling that leaders should experience firsthand the hardships that their lowest level employees are experiencing in order to fully understand and empathize with their situation.

    6. AnonEMoose*

      I sympathize with your feelings, too. I’ve been working from home…but my DH hasn’t been able to. So he’s still been going to work through this, and I know he worries about not only catching it himself, but bringing it home to me. Though we do both feel better knowing that I’m not increasing our risk of exposure by taking public transit and then being in an office building.

      And it’s hard for us, too, knowing that we gave up two holidays with family, and other things we’d have very much liked to do were canceled, while others ignored safety precautions and disparaged those of us who were wearing masks, distancing, and so on.

    7. JanetP*

      Thank you for this comment! I have been feeling exactly the same feelings you expressed in paragraph 1. It’s hard to have patience with certain friends and coworkers, especially those who complain incessantly about no longer being able to work from home. We always knew it wouldn’t last forever and the pandemic ending is a GOOD thing, not a bad thing.

      1. allathian*

        I don’t think anyone is upset that the numbers are looking better. As a EU-citizen, this is probably the first time in my life that I’ve been envious of how things are handled in some parts of the US at least, because you’re far closer to herd immunity than we are.

        That said, people who have thrived WFH are feeling resentful at being forced to return to the office, especially if they’ve been more productive than ever. So I do hope that at least partial WFH will be an option for more people even when the pandemic is finally over.

    8. Washi*

      As a healthcare worker I totally agree with this, but I also think that those of us working in person throughout the pandemic have a different perspective than someone who has been able to mainly stay at home this whole time. For me personally as a hospice worker, I already had to go through the stages of anxiety and fear being unvaccinated and working in close proximity with very sick people, including covid+ patients. And in some ways, it makes me now less terrified because my hospice has not had a single documented case of patient to worker transmission. Granted, I was wearing KN95s, but I was also sometimes literally touching patients and bending close enough so they could whisper in my ear. I actually have more trust in the efficacy of masks and vaccines as a result.

      I totally agree on not trying to actively reason anyone out of it. People have such different reactions to the pandemic, I know people along the whole spectrum of engaging in risky behavior or refusing to interact with anyone at all, and it’s not necessarily who I would have predicted do what. Be polite, be respectful, share the relevant information, and that will win trust more than trying to convince people they have to be optimistic.

      1. Ace in the Hole*

        You make a good point about having a different timeline for the same feelings.

        Essential workers have been forced to deal with the fear, trauma, stress, and grief of the pandemic on an accelerated timeline… but just because we’re at a point of needing to be able to move on, doesn’t mean anyone else is. Someone feeling the full impact for the first time today will need just as much time to process it as we did, and they don’t have a year’s head start.

      2. Cat Lover*

        This is really interesting! I’m a healthcare worker as well, and I totally agree that I think we (as essential workers) went through some of these stages of fear and anxiety a long time ago.

    9. Lana Kane*

      I sympathize. Thank you for being brave enough to post this POV. I agree with you. I work ini healthcare but have been WFH, same for my husband. We have many colleagues who have been working with no respite or ability to WFH. As I stay in comfort at home, I depend on others who can’t stay home for that comfort: grocery workers, delivery workers, warehouse workers, sanitation workers, etc. All of these people have been dealing with trauma *and* working outside their homes. Knowing this, any anxieties I might have about returning to the office now that I’m vaccinated are ones I keep to myself. My main worry is just that I have a child under 16 at home.

      Yes, we’ve had a traumatic year, all of us, regardless of where we work. So I’d agree that the biggest thing LW can do is ensure their workplace is as protected as possible (which it sounds it is), and ease into it. I think even with vaccines, we’ve become accustomed to the fear so it’s hard to shake. Slowly but steadily introducing office work again, maybe on a hybrid model, could help. Taking small steps could be like getting into a pool – at first the water seems cold, but eventually it warms up and you’re comfortable. We need to give our brains a chance to adapt.

    10. Ismonie*

      I’m sympathetic to your position, but if people like me who could stay home had not, things would’ve been a lot worse for people like you who could not. Given case counts, that is still very true. And a lot of people are burned out by the new normal we had (even working from home) because many of us took on our usual full time work plus additional caregiving responsibilities for months on end. At times, childcare and elder care resources simply weren’t available. And I know I’m one of the lucky ones.

      Cases are still increasing in the US, at least with many people still working from home. So it’s not inaccurate for us to worry about case counts if we have to go back now, it’s completely sound.

      1. Ace in the Hole*

        Case counts are highly location-dependent. The LW says they live in an area with high vaccination rates and low case counts that are continuing to get lower. This is true in many regions, so we should take LW at her word on it.

        I absolutely understand that lockdowns were and continue to be a critical safety measure. I don’t resent people for staying home to limit community spread – quite the opposite. I understand and sympathize with the different hardships that’s placed on people in terms of social isolation, family stress, caregiving, etc. But lockdowns and isolation were always intended to be a temporary stopgap until we could find other ways to mitigate the pandemic precisely because they’re so stressful and damaging.

        What I resent is that after a year of hearing people complain about the (legitimate) hardships of lockdowns, I have to listen to people complain about the (wildly overblown) dangers of returning to work. Particularly since the complainers are often benefiting from relaxed restrictions in other ways. I just can’t sympathize with someone being upset that they have to return to work because it’s so dangerous when they also order delivery pizza.

        1. pancakes*

          Do you really have to listen to many such complaints? People who complain incessantly about any topic and/or reveal themselves to be badly blinkered are tedious to talk to, but they’re seldom stealthy about it.

          1. Ace in the hole*

            Yes. I may have a skewed perspective… I work in safety, so people who know me tend to approach me with all of their safety-related worries. However, I also think you’re underestimating just how common this is.

            Covid is THE dominant event of the past year. A large percentage of people use pandemic-related news as their go to small talk. I’ve heard this kind of anxious fretting from family, friends, acquaintances in social groups (that currently meet online), colleagues in other departments, and occasionally members of the public as I’m serving them in person at my job. That’s not even touching social media.

            It’s not necessarily incessant complaining from any one person. It’s intermittent complaining from a multitude of people. Just look at this blog – any time covid comes up, a solid portion of the commenters react with exactly the type of comments I’m describing. People don’t stop doing that when they’re talking to someone they know, especially someone they know takes the pandemic seriously.

            1. pancakes*

              Of course, but social groups vary. Your social group wherever you are my social group where I am (in NYC, and not working in safety in any capacity) probably differ in a number of ways. My point was that the people you (and a few others) describe seem like they wouldn’t be good company in any sort of crisis or challenging situation. Maybe not even on a nice, sunny day. People who are muddled or unfocused thinkers, people who are uninformed, etc., tend not to have well-formed opinions on current events. They often don’t have to be engaged with, though. Challenge them, ignore them, or move along.

              1. Ace in the hole*

                That’s a pretty condescending way to respond. You’re assuming I don’t normally “challenge them, ignore them, or move along.”

                I do. But it is nonetheless a presence in my environment, one that is not restricted to any single group or individual and thus is almost impossible to avoid without self-imposed social isolation. And no matter how I choose to deal with it, I still have to devote some energy to dealing with it. There is an emotional cost to ignoring something hurtful and insensitive. There is an emotional and social cost for “moving along.” There is an emotional, social, and time cost for challenging it.

                Frankly, by arguing with me on the validity of my own frustrations you’re demonstrating exactly what causes those frustrations. Did you disagree with my advice to the LW, which was to be as patient and compassionate as possible and implement changes gradually even if their own burnout is making them want to push people to adjust faster? Because it seems like you’re not arguing my actual advice is wrong so much as arguing that my emotions are wrong.

        2. Ismonie*

          Umm, not that I did much of this on lockdown, but delivery pizza is way safer than my workplace.

          1. Ace in the hole*

            Pizza delivery is way safer for YOU. But employees in the pizza shop are in at least as much danger as employees in an office.

            When you order pizza delivery, someone else is forced to take a risk so you can enjoy an unnecessary luxury. I say forced because if they had, for example, been relying on unemployment they will lose their benefits if they refuse to return to work when their employer re-opens. I have a very dim view of people who are willing to do that but unwilling to take the same or lesser risks for themselves.

            1. pancakes*

              If everyone refused to have food delivered in favor of taking their own risks with their own bodies, the result is a far greater number of people taking a far greater number of risks. Of course it isn’t at all fair that delivery workers and line cooks who are underpaid, under-insured, etc., should do all the risk-taking instead, but it doesn’t follow that the best solution is for every individual to run every risk. Better to minimize the risks to these workers rather than ask more people to share the same risks. There are a number of ways to do so: give them healthcare, for starters, and change labor laws, building codes and restaurant inspection codes to require well-ventilated kitchens, provide ample sick leave, etc. We aren’t obliged to pretend we all live in a Hollywood western where everyone is out for themselves and has to rustle up their own dinner or go without.

              1. acmx*

                No, people could have just not ordered food delivery. Also, not ordering little luxuries/fun things from Amazon.

                1. pancakes*

                  All people, all the time, should cook their own or go without? That seems both draconian and unrealistic.

              2. Ace in the hole*

                Who’s cooking the pizza? There’s a whole crowded kitchen full of workers making it happen, it doesn’t just magically appear in the delivery driver’s hands.

                I’m not saying “go scavenge for food in the wilderness to avoid all human activity,” but ordering a pizza puts far more people at higher risk than ordering groceries and cooking your own pizza.

                I’m not even saying it’s wrong to order restaurant delivery! What I’m saying is that it’s hypocritical and insensitive to make use of such luxuries at someone else’s risk while complaining about returning to the office because of the risk it poses to yourself.

                1. pancakes*

                  I didn’t suggest that pizza magically appears in anyone’s hands without labor. To the contrary, I was trying to focus attention on labor, rather than on your feelings (and other people’s feelings) about hypocrisy, which seem rather inchoate. Pizza is big business in my city, and has been for many decades – there’s even a Wikipedia entry for something called the Pizza Principle, an economic theory that revolves around the average cost of a slice. The idea that it would be better for everyone to make their own is not realistic.

            2. Ismonie*

              Ah, I didn’t understand what you meant by that initially. My overly literal mind thought how was pizza dangerous?

              I was and am very concerned about the ways risk was outsourced to people who are poorer and often BIPOC. We pretty much did all our own cooking for that reason.

              I feel like I’ve read almost nothing about how the pandemic affected the people it hit the hardest, with the small exception of The NY Times running obituaries, which isn’t nearly enough.

        3. allathian*

          Just how dangerous is ordering delivery pizza? It’s not as safe for the delivery person as being at home, granted, but if they take appropriate precautions including touchless payment, they aren’t likely to be exposed to an individual customer for very long. All the deliveries we’ve ordered involved paying when we made the order, the delivery person calling when they were at our house, putting the pizzas on our porch, and leaving before we got to the door. Ours is not a tipping culture so that’s one less risk.

          Given how lax some employers are about safety precautions, and given how eager some of the most lax ones are about getting butts back in seats ASAP, anxiety about returning to the office is a normal reaction and shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.

          1. Ace in the hole*

            Who made the pizza? It didn’t appear out of thin air in the driver’s hands. The delivery driver is probably one of the safest workers in the business, but please take a few minutes to think about the workers in the kitchen.

            If your employer is lax about safety precautions, why do you think theirs isn’t? Why is it acceptable to financially endorse the risk their being put in if it’s not a risk you’d be willing to take? Anxiety is a normal reaction, but I think people need to take a hard look at their actions and beliefs… is the anxiety in proportion to current reality? If so, are the actions you’re taking in line with a belief that there’s genuine danger to workers across the board?

            1. justabot*

              Thank you so much for your posts. It puts into words better than I can my frustrations and feelings how hard it has been working in person throughout this entire pandemic, without the “status” of some essential frontline positions, and without qualifying for a vaccine until a few weeks ago. And then the emotional labour (perfect description) of listening to people, fear or not, voice anxieties of “Someone passed me in the hallway for three seconds and we were both double masked, omg Im so freaked out, do you think I am okay?? Should I get tested?” And I get it, their fears are valid and no one wants COVID, but it’s so insensitive to me who was forced back to work (or yes, lose unemployment) when the public is around me and my coworkers, eating and drinking without masks, holding weddings and large events for their unmasked guests, and so exposed and at risk, and having to take the best precautions we can and mentally still function without the ability to stay in and deal at my own comfort level. I am not even knocking anyone for having their own fears and issues and staying safe and protected. It’s the self-absorbed way of putting their own personal anxieties of their much safer situation on me when my risk level is so much higher and wages are so much lower. You articulated some of this much better than me and I thank you.

              1. Ace in the Hole*

                I’m sorry you’ve been dealing with so much too. You’re absolutely right… it’s not that I think their fears are invalid, it’s that the way they’re communicating their fears demonstrates such a lack of awareness for the reality that others have been living in for the past year. It especially hurts because it’s a reminder of how that societal blindness to the circumstances of frontline workers did us real, measurable, genuine harm. We were expected to hold up our communities and when we turned to the community for support they looked the other way. In my experience, the “guidance” we got from officials assigned to help us was so out-of-touch it was literally impossible to implement. We got literally no material support. No expedited testing, no vaccine priority, no help coordinating relief workers, no childcare provided to our employees, nothing. Because people were just plain unaware of what it was like, and were unwilling to listen to us about what exactly we needed even when we told them.

                So to run into reminders of that societal blind spot… it tears open those wounds. Even if the person I’m talking to wasn’t responsible, it still hurts.

      2. a tired lil' bean*

        Yes, our entire community was safer because the people who could stay home did so. And yes, this pandemic was challenging for everyone, including people who took on additional caregiving responsibilities. And yes, it can be scary to return to work and employers should make reasonable decisions that prioritize employee safety.

        That said, if we want to move beyond this pandemic, our communities need to eventually reopen. Services like libraries and schools cannot stay closed forever. People are slowly returning to “normal” life: seeing friends, dining outdoors, and taking small trips. Reopening workplaces has to be part of the equation.

        The LW lives in an area where case rates are declining. Vaccination rates are high, and staff are on-track to be fully vaccinated soon. Their workplace provides services that can’t be provided remotely. It sounds like this employer has done a reasonable risk assessment, and isn’t making an outlandish choice.

        1. Ismonie*

          Vaccination rates still aren’t close to herd immunity, and it’s not clear that the community has enough childcare and elder care resources to fill the needs of OP’s workers. Many daycares have permanently closed.

    11. Spearmint*

      Thank you for posting this. I’ve been lucky enough to have been able to work from home, and I’ve taken the pandemic pretty seriously in my personal life, but I too have started to feel irritated at the tendency of some liberal people to overstate the risks of COVID-19 for non-elderly people, understate the effectiveness of vaccines, express anxiety about even very low risk activities outside the home, etc.

      I don’t blame people for feeling traumatized or having residual anxiety, but I do think once most people are vaccinated people will have to recognize that those feelings are, at that point, a mental health issue rather than an accurate reflection of reality. We will return to normal (or something like it) this year, and indeed we must. It’s not reasonable or possible to live in a constant state of fear and social isolation once most are vaccinated.

      1. consultinerd*

        To borrow a phrase, “the opposite of stupidity is not intelligence.” Too many people seem to have internalized that, because American conservatives have irrationally downplayed covid and opposed lockdowns/masking/etc, therefore any message that reinforces “covid is really dangerous and scary and we must take many precautions to control it” is good and trustworthy, and any message that says “covid is less risky or prevalent, we can safely relax some precautions” is suspect and irresponsible. It’s easy to see when polarization is making “the other side” do or say dumb things, but much harder to realize when it’s happening to you.

        1. EchoGirl*

          Agreed. I get that it can get a little fuzzy trying to figure out where exactly the line should be drawn between “too early” and “reasonable”, but we will cross that line at some point, likely in the relatively near future.

      2. Tired of Covid-and People*

        You could have left out “liberal” from your comment, it is irrelevant.

      3. Ismonie*

        I don’t think the feelings are a mental health issue now, if you mean people are overly anxious. I think it is a response to uncertainty, and to repeatedly seeing case counts climb after periods of calm. And the fact that this is mutating at a rate higher than what the experts anticipated. Also, if you mean “mental health issue” to pathologize the thoughts or behavior, I’m going to push back on that.

    12. Cheesesteak in Paradise*

      I hear you. I went through the pandemic as a pregnant anesthesiologist (then sat out the summer on my maternity leave) then went back to work (and baby to a daycare in a hospital) to intubate COVID patients. I’m not complaining – it has to be done and anesthesiologists are the best ones to intubate anyone. I just got tired of everyone telling me I “signed up for this.” As though my normal career of helping folks be comfortable during their knee replacements and appendectomies meant I should expect to be drafted into a war zone (hospitals were like war zones, seriously) at any time. If I had joined Doctors Without Borders, then maybe it could be said I signed up for what I experienced.

      Again, I am glad I was able to help people and I do view my career as a calling, but it is frustrating to hear people complain about tiny risks they face now (going to work with precautions and vaccines).

      I’m all for people staying home if their jobs truly allow it (mine doesn’t, obviously) but so many people *want* so desperately to stay home that they ignore that their jobs really don’t allow it, at least not at per-pandemic standards. Remote really isn’t the same for libraries, schools, courts, social work, etc. and at some point we can’t keep punishing the general public who needs services to mitigate tiny risks.

    13. exhausted frontline worker*

      Thank you so much for voicing this. As another essential worker, I agree completely. I’m fully vaccinated now, but I never had the option of working from home before I was vaccinated, and it’s hard to not lose patience when hearing friends and family complaining about how they’ll have to go back to in-person work even if it’s safe for them to do so. This year has been scary and stressful for everyone, but there’s definitely a different level of trauma being on the front lines, and the predominant focus on the WFH experience in public discourse adds to the alienation. I too recognize my feelings are neither helpful nor fair towards people who have been working from home, but they’re real and it helps to name them.

      1. exhausted frontline worker*

        That said, people who WFH shouldn’t have to come back to the office until vaccines are widely available and local case rates are low. As much resentment/disconnect I sometimes feel wrt WFH, it’s to no one’s benefit to have non-essential workers back at work until it’s safe.

        1. Ace in the hole*

          Yes, my reaction to the letter would be very different if they weren’t in an area with widespread vaccinations and low case rates. But taking LW at their word, this seems to be an appropriately timed step towards pandemic recovery for their location and work.

          You make a really good point about alienation of frontline workers. We’re in a weird spot where a very small segment (certain healthcare workers) are put on a pedestal while the rest of us are completely ignored in public discourse. Not that the pedestal is beneficial to workers… I get the sense that people are offering praise and martyr’s glory as a substitute for practical support.

        2. allathian*

          I get you. And I also think that it’s to no one’s benefit to force employees who thrive and are productive and able to do 100 percent of their jobs while WFH to return to the office ever again. Some sort of hybrid models will hopefully become more common and acceptable, if not the norm.

    14. a tired lil' bean*

      Thank you for writing this. I also continued working in-person during the pandemic and, like you, I have been responsible for coordinating COVID-19 safety protocols and making risk assessments. It has been a hard and exhausting year.

      I agree with Alison that the last year has been traumatic, and I agree that we should be kind and patient towards each another as our communities re-open. It can be unnerving to work in-person right now. But the experience of people who were able to WFH for the last year has been consistently centered above the experience of frontline employees. (Not to mention that frontline employees are more likely to be working class, low-income, people of color, immigrants, etc., etc., etc.) The response to this letter further centers that narrative. We are giving space and grace to people who have been able to protect their own safety for the last year — while not extending that same space to the frontline staff who have arguably (as an aggregate) encountered COVID-19 in far more traumatizing ways.

      It will take me a long time to recover from the emotional aftershocks of this year. I imagine that some of my colleagues who have been working from home since March feel the same way. But I don’t know if a response like this, which centers and feeds into the most extreme fears and anxieties, is productive.

      1. Ace in the hole*

        Thank you… I had trouble articulating why I was so uncomfortable with the response to this letter and many of the comments, but you described it very well.

      2. Wino Who Says Ni*

        Very well put. As a fellow expendable (ahem essential), the feeling of being isolated from the supposed-majority experience of COVID-19 (i.e. WFH, delivery everything, no contact) while also being thrown into the high-contact, churning human s*it show that is retail can be very discombobulating. When I hear about people being afraid of going in to work while my fellow colleagues and I get yelled at by people who don’t want to wear their mask while also experiencing record-breaking traffic years, I often wonder if we are inhabiting the same planet.

    15. Allonge*

      Thanks you for this. I was lucky enough to work from home, but had to move in summer 2020 – at that point it was obviously not possible to stay at home 100%. I took and am taking precautions, and so, yes, my timeline of dealing wiht the risks is different, but I am astonished by the number of people who are now treating going to work – regardless of vaccination status – as an impossibly dangerous venture. I am reading about people who have not been in a building other than their own house for a year!

      So: I will do my best to be accommodating and understanding, but I would expect everyone to start putting themselves into the mindset of going back to work once vaccinated (and it’s effective). Try and think about this as something that will happen, and will be a good thing. All the trauma Alison is mentioning is real, but everyone being able to go back to work is the end of that.

      Now if you like WFH, try to negotiate a WFH arrangement for the future! But not because it’s deadly out there. Because, thankfully, very soon it will not be.

    16. BeadsNotBees*

      Just another essential working chiming in to thank you for this perspective. I oversee a local group of childcare centers in a state where we were deemed essential (guess what- healthcare professionals can’t work those frontlines if they don’t have a safe option for their children). Those of us in this field particularly struggled with a lot of the talk (and push-back) around schools reopening, especially since childcare workers and the risk they were taking were largely ignored during these conversations. I am honestly pretty dang proud of my teachers and support staff – most of the children in our care are young, unmasked, incapable of social distancing, and pretty much just little germ machines. I could go into a hours-long monologue about some of the issues with this industry, but our field already gets little recognition as it is, and this last year just kind of solidified that.

      1. Ace in the hole*

        That’s rough, you have my sympathy. I can relate to a lot of what you describe… I’m not in childcare, I’m a garbage worker, but it’s the same sort of situation where we seem to be invisible to society unless we stop working. And I think childcare is similar in that people don’t really understand how difficult a job it is even under normal circumstances! Don’t get me wrong, I like my job and have a good employer, but garbage was the fifth most deadly job in the US pre-covid and none of those dangers went away when the pandemic hit. And we’ve just been totally overlooked the whole time.

        The pushback about schools re-opening is particularly frustrating in light of two things: first, that many essential frontline jobs don’t pay enough for employees to use private childcare services (no shade on you, you guys deserve to make a living too!), and secondly because of how vaccine rollouts were handled. At least in my state, anyone who worked for a school was eligible for vaccines starting last month…. regardless of their role or what level the school is. So a 100% remote clerical assistant for the local university could get vaccinated a month earlier than garbage workers who work 50 hours a week in a public facing role. That’s consistent with how we’ve been treated by the state and local government throughout the pandemic, and it just adds to the feeling that the most vulnerable and necessary workers are left to fend for themselves.

        I think I’d be able to react more compassionately to WFH employees anxieties if they didn’t come at the expense of others. Sometimes tangible, as the impact of resisting school re-openings. But a lot of it is much more difficult to quantify – the way it dominates social discourse and crowds out more serious problems, the emotional labor and added stress it places on frontline workers who have to listen to a barrage of anxiety in the news and personal interactions while dealing with their own stresses, the way it becomes a displacement for other anxieties…. all of those are harmful in subtle, chronic ways.

        1. Ismonie*

          That’s maddening re work from home being eligible before essential frontline workers. Argh.

        2. justabot*

          The rollouts have been such a mess. I had doctor friends – who work 100% entirely from home reviewing claims for insurance companies able to get a vaccine right away, even though they aren’t leaving the house or seeing patients. While friends in hospitality, food and beverage, and public facing jobs have not been eligible, despite being in close quarters with other coworkers, around the unmasked public, who are eating and drinking, many of them tourists, who have just been flying, and bringing in whatever new strains from their geographic, surging rate areas. But no vaccines for them. And if you were in a state, that the governor oh so kindly declared open for business, 100% capacity indoors, and your job called you back, you lost any unemployment benefits if you didn’t return. It’s been a mess.

          My tolerance for people complaining is low. But also that is my own triggers and emotional fallout from all this, not really directed at anyone else, except for when it feels sort of insensitive and tone deaf to say to me knowing what my job has been like. But I’m well aware, if I was still in my corporate job, I know I would have been working from home, not have this perspective, and sound exactly like my friends who are in that situation.

  34. Frally*

    The OP says people are worried about the virus. I don’t understand why you brought the election, riots, and racial issues into your answer.

    1. RWM*

      Because those things have *also* eroded people’s trust in leadership (at every level), which makes it harder to feel confident things will truly be safe/OK when they go back into the real world. After a year of failure after failure on the part of elected officials and of business leaders, people do not have the same level of trust in the people saying “it’s OK to do this—believe us, we’ll keep you safe.”

    2. Tobias Funke*

      This is just begging for a really unkind “um sweaty” but I am gonna let somebody else do it. Suffice it to say, trauma is cumulative.

      Also, you might want to go downthread and befriend the person who can’t tell the difference between county and country.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        — trauma is cumulative—

        From personal experience of the last year: it’s an exponential growth too.

    3. StressedButOkay*

      It’s been a heck of a year. It’s been trauma and stress after trauma and stress. The pandemic is not a standalone issue – it would have been bad enough on it’s own but it wasn’t. I’m really glad Alison did not leave out the fact that the last year as a whole was on fire.

    4. ThatGirl*

      Because stress and trauma are cumulative and we’re human beings who have been affected by ALL of these things?

    5. green beans*

      Because they impact the general stress levels that people are feeling? My workplace has handled the pandemic near perfectly – no community transmission at all (with incredibly thorough symptom monitoring and contact tracing, mandated testing in cases of symptoms, and free self-request testing, so I’m pretty confident in those numbers.) We had people working through the shutdown and starting bring others back on-site in June, and now we’re not fully back, but we’re closer than we use to be.

      And I can still tell you – I monitor our anonymous messaging system – anxiety about the pandemic and the virus, and workplace anxiety in general goes up when the election, riots, and racial issues happen. These aren’t isolated things; they all work together to impact people.

    6. Blue Basil*

      You…. do realise that things don’t happen in isolation, right? Like, that’s not an ENTIRELY new concept to you, right?

      The lack of awareness in your comment is staggering.

    7. raktajino*

      It sounds like you didn’t finish reading Alison’s response. She explains why those are relevant.

      Reiterating the most important paragraph:

      >So many institutions have lost people’s trust over the last year, and that doesn’t come back overnight. Even if your organization has done everything right, at this point people have grown used to not being protected by the people and institutions that were supposed to protect them — and instead have had to protect themselves, often at great cost. So yes, when your employees hear you want to reopen, some of them will be anxious. There have been too many businesses reopening before it was safe, and too many government bodies giving that their blessing. To people still reeling from that, this may feel like the latest in that pattern.

    8. Cat Tree*

      …how could you possibly think all those things are unrelated? I don’t even know where to start. The complete bungling of initial pandemic response by the federal government at the time which resulted in many avoidable deaths, the racial disparities in Covid exposure and access to healthcare, and the virus resulting in a huge increase in mail-in voting which was then used as a flimsy excuse for said attempted coup. Every single one of these issues is inextricably linked to the pandemic. It’s bordering on absurdist performance art to pretend they’re unrelated.

    9. Daisy-dog*

      I would not go to my boss and say, “I’m struggling with my mental health and do not feel confident about being out in the world 40+ hours a week.” Because that is very personal and would be an awkward conversation (props to those who have done this!), but also because sometimes that I can’t quite put my finger on why I feel so worried. Instead of that, I would tie it to a work-related issue: workplace safety. So even if these employees know that their distress is cumulative, they aren’t going to explain it to OP like she’s their therapist.

    10. Cheluzal*

      Not only that, but an obvious political slant, which was one of the things I liked about the site (usually avoid politics).
      Every day I’m a little more frustrated here, especially reading the comments.

      I’ve been working at office since September 1 and once you get out and realize that life is going to continue, you’ll be better. This isn’t going away and will have to manage it.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        This site has always had a point of view, and the viewpoints I expressed in this post are pretty consistent with what’s been here since the site’s launch in 2007. I’m proud of that; it’s a feature, not a bug.

        If you are looking for a viewpoint-free site, I’m afraid you will need to find a different one.

        1. Tuesday*

          It’s an important feature for me. Throughout this chaotic year, I found myself coming to this site more and more and reading through a lot of the archive posts. I realized what I was looking for was reassurance that there are people out there who don’t shy away from difficult topics and who think through things carefully and take a well-reasoned, thoughtful, and compassionate approach to the world. I needed to know that there are still people like you out there Alison!

          1. BookishMiss*

            I absolutely agree with you. This site has become a touchstone over the past year, more than ever before. Thank you, Alison.

        2. Grieving and*

          This site has been a safe place for me during the last administration in that there was a “politics -free” mandate and I appreciated that.
          I also appreciated that it is a a safe place to discuss racism, sexism, work/life issues etc.
          The point-of-view feature is one I treasure. Thank you.

      2. A.N.*

        That someone thinks opposing police brutality and coups is “political” says everything about this year we need to know.

    11. EchoGirl*

      Apart from what Allison mentioned about governments, a higher level of cumulative stress and anxiety translates to being less able to manage things that cause some level of stress and anxiety. The best analogy I can think of is, like, trying to run a bunch of programs on an electronic device with limited RAM. Eventually everything will slow down as the phone tries to manage all of it, even if each individual program would run fine on its own.

  35. Anya the Demon*

    I am a little bit confused. The letter writer said they live in a country that took the pandemic seriously and did everything right. So, it sounds like the letter writer is not in America. I do think that changes the tone of things, although a lot of the basics remain the same. I think Allyson answered the letter as if the letter writer was from America.

    1. Sondheim Geek*

      I thought that too, but upon re-reading, the OP said they live in a county (not country) that took the pandemic seriously which would indicate that this is the US (unless that was a typo and they did mean country).

    2. Person from the Resume*

      That says county, but your confusion is understandable because so many people are responding to this thread as if things are still terrible when the LW said the opposite in her letter. We’re supposed to take the LW at their word.

      1. ThatGirl*

        Things still *feel* terrible – I think that was Alison’s point. Whether they objectively are or not is hard to say and can be very personal. But it’s not abnormal or unexpected for someone to feel like they are, especially given everything that’s happened in the past 12 months. Acknowledging that isn’t not taking the LW at their word – LW is only speaking for themselves, really.

      2. Temperance*

        Things still *are* terrible. The vaccine isn’t 100% in preventing the spread of the disease, and a small majority of Americans have been able to access a shot.

        Huge difference between “take the LW at their word” and explaining why others aren’t feeling opeful.

          1. Person from the Resume*

            Please don’t twist my words. I’m not saying forget those who have died or who’s lives have been forever altered.

            I feel hopeful. Many people I know feel hopeful. These are people who have basically followed all CDC guidelines and haven’t eaten in a restaurant in a year despite restaurants being open for limited indoor dining for months now. We go above and beyond the local restrictions (which honestly are better than places like Texas and Mississippi, and Florida).

            I’m starting to feel like the LW with nearly everyone else in the comments being like the LW’s employees. It certainly looks like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel in my location which doesn’t even sound as good as things are in the LW’s location.

            We can look at the facts and can feel hopeful without forgetting the past.

            1. pancakes*

              Who exactly is “we” here, though? People with friends and family who didn’t survive the virus aren’t necessarily going to share your feelings about looking forward to going to restaurants again. Using the word “we” doesn’t in itself build consensus where there is none.

            2. sequined histories*

              The 7-day average for new infections in my (US) state is 4,100, up 42% from 2 months ago, despite the fact that 25% of adults are fully vaccinated. We are a major transportation hub, so if we’re entering a 4th wave, it seems likely to spread from here. I believe the LW that things are far better in her area, but if I lived there I would definitely be worried that they might go bad again since the virus is not under control in the US as a whole by any stretch of the imagination.

      3. Colette*

        One of the issues is that things can go from “everything is going well” to disaster very quickly – so unless no one external comes into the area, good numbers today do not mean good numbers tomorrow.

        1. Filosofickle*

          Like today in the Times, there’s an article about Michigan having a new surge. Just when you think it’s safe to go back in the water…

      4. TWW*

        The fact that things are going well is all the more reason to continue social distancing until the CDC declares the pandemic over.

        How dumb would it be if another wave occurred now because people let their guard down prematurely?

        (And it would be premature because even though most people are eligible for the vaccine, it will probably be months before heard immunity comes into effect.)

        1. Colette*

          That’s exactly it. When case counts are small and hospitals don’t have COVID patients, asking people to go back to work will be a much different scenario than it is right now.

  36. Cat Lover*

    Love this response.

    I’m an “essential healthcare worker” so I never got to work from home- I worked full time in the office through lockdown. I feel like healthcare workers (hospital and office) had such a different experience from everyone else, as did non-healthcare essential workers. The intense cleaning, the constantly (and I mean CONSTANTLY) changing state, local, and CDC guidelines, the uncertainty of our jobs being secure (we did have layoffs), etc.

    I had the luxury of having a secure job (although hours were cut for a few months) and got the vaccine in January. However, I really wish I got to work from home for at least part of the time. It was exhausting having to navigate all this and have a customer service face on with patients for 30-40 hours a week. I know that WFH was hard (and is still hard) on a lot of people, so I feel bad saying that. But, man, it felt almost more depressing having to get up and go to work when everyone else got to stay home, and have no other outlets since everything else was closed.

    I was lucky that I was in a state (Virginia) that had a good COVID response, IMO. I think we were the first state to announce a lockdown into June. I NEVER saw anyone in a store without a mask (I live in northern VA, which is fairly liberal). My local ice rink where I coach on the side reopened in June, so at least part of the season was salvaged. Some states still don’t have rec centers/ice rinks/etc open.

    Idk, COVID has had a major impact on us as a collective society. Everyone’s experience is unique yet the same.

    1. Another health care worker*

      Similar experience here. I love Alison’s response above, but we each have our own versions of trauma. My 2 major moments of disconnect have been: before- reading about everyone “stuck at home” while I had to keep going to work every single day; and now- reading about everyone’s excitement to getting vaccinated when I got my shots back in December but then forgot about it because it made no difference whatsoever in my life. “Unique yet the same” is right.

      1. Cat Lover*

        Same! I got vaccinated in early January and all my friends are like “wow, such a relief, so lucky!”

        Like, not really, still working in a doctors office, my life hasn’t changed at all. I think my patients were more excited for me and my coworkers than we were, lol.

  37. Person from the Resume*

    Kudos to the LW and their organization. New high quality air filtration systems and plxigass ? That’s a great thing to do! All employees fully vaccinated before returning to work? That’s great timing. Plus 40% of the county started vaccination series? I don’t know where you are, but that’s got to be one of the highest rates I’ve heard of. And where I am we’re doing pretty good ourselves.

    Based on the facts you supplied, I wouldn’t be reluctant to return to work shortly. Alison’s answer is very kind, but it sounds like you and your organization are doing everything right. Plus it also sounds like your organization can’t go permanent work from home; you need people in the office and you need to see clients.

    It could be that some people would prefer to work from home longer. It could be trauma. It could be fear. But I think you are well in the right to ask people to return to work after everyone is two weeks past their full vaccination series.

    The one thing to address, I think enforcement of mask and social distancing among employees and any public that enter the offices. Have a plan in place and people willing and able to tell people to put on a mask or to wear it right.

    I’m with you. I’m optimistic too. Everyone I’m aware of around here has gotten at least one vaccination shot. Everyone is eligible; there are mass vaccination sites taking 1000s of people a day. Our case numbers are dropping not rising. The future looks bright. We’re going to get to whatever the new normal is soon.

    1. Ismonie*

      What about their household members, who may not be vaccinated, or their need for additional child or elder care? Them being vaccinated personally is not the end-all, be-all.

  38. blink14*

    I’m fully vaccinated and don’t plan to return to work in person until probably the fall. There still is just too much risk for me, personally, to feel comfortable returning to a large city, in a large building, in a shared space. Do I feel more comfortable going to get groceries and thinking about doing outdoor dining here and there? Yes. Does that mean I’m ready to be back to work in person? No, it doesn’t. I am one of two people in a department of 6 that has been vaccinated. No way do I want to be sitting in a shared office space indoors with people who could pass it to me and still no clear idea of how vaccinated people may or may not pass it to other people.

    Beyond all the safety and health reasons, many people are still living in flux – childcare situations, elder care, health conditions that make them more at risk and therefore maybe more nervous, financial stress, not wanting to take public or shared transportation, etc.

    There was a recent conversation in my department about how to recognize hard work during the pandemic. My suggestion has been that the entire organization receive at minimum 1 day off that doesn’t come out of anyone’s PTO. That was met with hesitation about people who may not “deserve it”. My explanation was the following, and this may help with your thinking as well: This is not a task that was assigned, a task that people volunteered for, a special project or the average “tough” year for a company. This is a massive public health emergency that no one has control over, no one asked for, and if people are doing their best by just showing up and doing the minimum in the past year, you have to respect that. And you have to respect that there is no shut off valve here – it’s not like there’s a set date on the calendar where everyone will suddenly be willing and able to go back to life prior to Covid. It’s going to take time and there will be permanent adjustments in the workplace along the way.

  39. Lizzy May*

    Even when things are as safe as possible, there’s a sense that we’ve been torn apart.

    Maybe I was naive, but I always assumed in a crisis, we’d come together as a society and have each other’s back. It’s been over a year of being proven wrong about that over and over again. Knowing that the people I serve at work and the ones I run into in my life may or may not be willing to throw me overboard for their own personal benefit and comfort makes it hard to be around people.

    I feel differently about how I view the world and how much I want to interact with it. And I need to work on that, but I think the impact of this will linger. I think about how people who lived through the depression are/were weird with money and supplies afterwards. I’ve been thinking about it as a trauma for a while but felt silly saying that so it’s very validating to have Alison say the same thing.

    1. Allison*

      Yes, this 100%. My nurse friend told me that she lost her faith in humanity over the past year and I don’t blame her. Seeing the selfishness, willful ignorance, and abundance of lies has absolutely changed my trust in people. Thank you for saying this.

    2. HigherEdAdminista*

      This is so true. You summed up my feelings exactly. I do not have the same level of desire to return to the world I might have without all this. Most of my friends took this very seriously, but all but one took some large risk I would not have been comfortable with; some took multiple. And I’m not talking about necessities. I’m talking about vacations and eating out and movies. It is the same with my colleagues.

      People were on so many different pages, it is hard to think about having a shared page with them in some ways.

    3. Paris Geller*

      This really resonates with me. I think this has been one of the hardest things for me personally. I don’t think I’m naively optimistic, but I would definitely put myself more on the optimistic side of the spectrum in general. . . until this last year. Honestly, it has completely changed my worldview, and whenever I’ve told other people that they seem to think it’s an exaggeration. It’s not. I always believed that the majority of people would fundamentally try to do the right thing. Seeing the last year and how many people willfully and sometimes spitefully defied any covid restrictions or even mere guidelines has made me a much harsher person. My social circle is much smaller now because I have cut people off. The emotional toll has quite honestly been hell.

    4. Blackcat*

      “I think about how people who lived through the depression are/were weird with money and supplies afterwards.”
      I seriously worry I’ll never trust fellow humans in the same way again and that makes me really sad.

    5. Self Employed*

      I appreciate your point about being proven wrong about the country’s ability to come together in a crisis. I am simply horrified by political leaders making “resistance to sensible public health measures” a point of honor that demonstrates True Freedom.

      My mother grew up during the Great Depression and her frugality helped us survive on very little resources, but I know people whose parents were the same even though they didn’t need to be.

      I’m also surprised by how many people I meet who expect me to be “business as normal” after what we’ve gone through.

    6. Roci*

      Agreed. I do not trust people or institutions in the same way and I don’t think I ever will again. Even as we “go back to normal” (and since much of the world is not vaccinated, it is not even close to over yet) I will not forget how our societies treated vulnerable people and essential workers as expendable, minorities as scapegoats, facts and public health as suggestions or lies.

    7. Jackalope*

      I’ve had that experience particularly with members of my faith. I had already been torn to bits by the fact that many Christians were such staunch supporters of things and people that were clearly wrong, but…. Seeing people of faith that I care about and admire openly flaunting their anti-mask stance because their freedom not to wear a mask was so much more important to them than the lives of people around me, that has nearly destroyed me. I know that people of all religious orientations (including atheists) have been jerks about mask wearing, but I belong to a faith that allegedly puts loving your neighbor at a premium, and literally tells us to follow our example (Jesus) by laying down our lives for those around us. This is absolutely antithetical to everything I was taught was at the core of what I believe. I certainly have had some Christians that I’m close to not act that way, and that is comforting, but so many have.

    8. allathian*

      I’m a chatty introvert, but I don’t know if I’ll ever be comfortable in a situation where I’m surrounded by a crowd of strangers ever again. Unless they reprioritize vaccinations, or start counting BMI 30+ as a risk group rather than the current 40+, I’m unlikely to get my first vaccine until June or July at the earliest. They’ve also extended the period between vaccinations to 12 weeks, because our health authority considers it’s more important to give a larger number of people 80 percent immunity than it is to ensure that a smaller group gets 90+ percent immunity.

  40. I'm A Little Teapot*

    There’s also a huge variety in how people are doing, driven by everything from economic status to the color of their skin to their personality. Some people really are great. Some are completely nonfunctional. Most are somewhere in between. We can and should be aware and respectful, even as we try to figure out how to do what is needed.

  41. Anon for this one*

    Thanks for posting this letter and reply. It helped me change my mindset. I’ll be honest that as a scientist I tend to come at things pretty pragmatically. I look at the science that we know and balance the risk and make a decision. I’ve been struggling with my response to some opening plans lately, not because I’ve been anxious about it, but because I’ve been actually pretty okay with some of it (when the plans are well laid out, have necessary safety precautions, and are in line with current local vaccination/case rates, etc). But a lot of the people I’ve been looking at these plans with have expressed a lot of fear and anxiety. Internally, I’ve gotten a little frustrated about it sometimes. I’ve made sure not to express that to others and try to respect that we need to make sure everyone is comfortable before moving forward. But I’ve still not really understood where they’re coming from. This response helped me to realize the trauma response that many people are approaching it from and how the loss of trust impacts how people are viewing the reopening. Thank you for that.

    1. green beans*

      a lot of my (scientist) friends are in the same way – anxiety-driven responses dominating, and a lot of “well, I’m an expert, so I am thinking of issues they possibly couldn’t have addressed…” (you are an expect in something, but not in public health or epidemiology…)

      I had/have a lot of access to COVID-19 science, and I had to put them on information diets because they couldn’t – literally couldn’t- handle discussions about COVID-19 research without going into an really unpleasant anxiety spiral that devolved into arguments I didn’t have the time or bandwidth to handle. And then they got upset because they knew there was stuff I wasn’t telling them.

    2. Temperance*

      Honestly, for some of us, this pandemic has shown many of us how selfish and frankly stupid others can be. I was already a germaphobe pre-COVID, and I was one of the people who was watching the situation in China, just waiting for it to spread.

      I won’t believe that we have a handle on things until I can go somewhere without a mask, like they do in Australia. A low risk percentage means nothing to me right now because even a relatively low risk is a risk.

      1. green beans*

        Everything is a risk, though. COVID is unlikely to be eradicated and even New Zealand can’t remain isolated forever. At some point, everyone will have to be okay with some low risk – that’s why we have the CDC and epidemiologists, experts on risks and what makes a reasonable risks. Going without masks won’t mean total safety from COVID, any more than car safety features mean total safety from car accidents.

          1. TL -*

            For sure. But I don’t think it’s great to set arbitrary “I’ll feel safe when…” limits – feelings and actual risk often don’t line up. Listening to the experts on risks and guidelines is better – ie, looking to the CDC guidelines for your risk group.

  42. cdw*

    We all have to come to terms with the fact that we live in a world with non-zero COVID risk. That’s not going to change for years–I would guess not for the rest of our lives. So, instead of taking the position that you won’t accept ANY risk, think about how much risk you will accept in exchange for a given benefit.

    Once you’re fully vaccinated, you can go back to normal life. Not “normal life with no risk,” but normal life with a *very low* level of risk. People who don’t want to come back to the office until they’re fully vaccinated AND all their coworkers are vaccinated, AND all customers are vaccinated, AND everyone is wearing masks, AND all children have been vaccinated too are demanding zero risk, which is unrealistic. (Or they didn’t really want to work in the office anyway and are happy to have this excuse.) But employers know that there are real benefits to working in the office, just as they are real benefits to socializing in person, eating in restaurants, travel, concerts, dating, and all the wonderful things that vaccinated people can now freely do. And employers aren’t going to be able to create a zero-risk environment for employees. Because no one has zero risk. Not with COVID. Not ever.

    So if you want to stay isolated for years and years in a vain attempt to achieve zero risk, that’s your choice. But you may find yourself unemployed and lonely as a result of that choice. While the rest of us will happily get back to normal, low-risk life.

    1. RabbitRabbit*

      “Once you’re fully vaccinated, you can go back to normal life.” – That’s not what the CDC recommends.

      1. serenity*

        It’s also unwise to apply this to high-risk individuals, as the science has not confirmed it at all.

        1. Alex*

          Or people with high-risk family / friends. I’m safer now, sure. But what about the people I love?

    2. Student Affairs Sally*

      This article explains how it’s not yet safe for fully-vaccinated people to dine indoors yet, which you typically might do for an hour or 90 minutes:

      People are usually at work for 8+ hours. So, no, people who are fully vaccinated can not go back to “normal life” yet, because there is still a lot we don’t know and still new variants popping up. The vaccines probably protect against most of the variants to some degree, but not the same degree as against the initial virus. And many fully vaccinated people may have family members or loved ones who are not able to get vaccinated (either yet, or ever). You’re right that there will never be 0 risk from COVID, but it’s still reasonable to try and moderate or avoid the remaining risks as much as possible.

    3. Jenny F. Scientist*

      I think a lot of people really think Covid will “go away” instead of “become seasonal and endemic” and they are setting their goalposts at “I will never get it” rather than “I will be vaccinated first.” And I mean average-risk people here, not those with a particular reason to truly isolate for years. Personally, I also find it unrealistic. There will always be a new variant; there’s one today that we haven’t sequenced yet, I guarantee it. (I have also had to work in person this entire time; statistically, as middle aged person with average risk, I’m probably more likely to die in a car crash, especially after being vaccinated: the odds of a fatal car crash are about one in 10,000.) But statistics and logic do have very little to do with this past terrible year, and how people feel about it.

      1. Blackcat*

        Yes, I think we will eventually get to a place where COVID is truly “like the flu.” We will have an annual (ish) vaccine, it’ll be somewhat seasonal, and people will still die of it but in far fewer numbers.

        But until my entire family–including my little kid–is vaccinated, the risks are still substantial. Given the Brazilian strain that causes re-infections, I’m still pretty scared. COVID damaged my heart. While it healed eventually, a second round of COVID could do permanent damage. I might *always* be scared of COVID.

        1. NotQuiteAnonForThis*


          I contracted Covid from work from a coworker who basically, didn’t take anything seriously. Because he didn’t feel it necessary to take any precautions, half our office was quarantined for six weeks. In my own family, my children were left to virtual schooling with very little supervision (I had to isolate while my spouse had to attempt to run his business from the kitchen as he was quarantining himself away from his shop so that he didn’t have to shut down for two-six weeks). My parents and my in-laws were exposed to me. I had zero heart or pulmonary issues prior to having Covid; now I have both, though my doctor is hopeful that they’ll heal completely.

          You’re only as safe as the least safe knucklehead near you. I share airspace with this character for 40 hours a week. As a result, I got sick, my spouse’s business was put at risk of failure (small businesses have had a year….and having to quarantine everyone through illness would deep six most places), our parents were put at risk, and our household was in utter turmoil for four weeks.

          The kicker? There is still zero reason for me to do my job from my office; my productivity was actually better while at home and I landed enough contract dollars to prove it last year. But we were brought back because “we’re essential” (eyeroll. Political and capitalistic declaration.)

      2. Mental Lentil*

        Well, yeah, we were told that it would just “magically disappear” by someone who is definitely not a scientist, and I think a lot of people are thinking that way. But that’s not what the science tells us. This is going to be with us for a long, long time. After all, the “Spanish” flu of so long ago is still with us.

        1. EchoGirl*

          I thought that one actually did disappear. (Or did it turn out to be a subcategory of something that was more endemic?)

      3. MistOrMister*

        While I am not particularly worried about getting covid right now while I’m working from home, I will continue to worry about it once they force me back to the office. Because sure maybe statistically I won’t be likely to get it. But if I DO get it, now I have to worry about all the side effects. Not just the issues while having covid. But all the long covid problems are terrifying. Studies are showing people who had mild cases are coming down with long covid months after supposedly recovering. And that is not counting the people who never really seem to recover. Then people coming down the heart and organ damage afterwards and being diagnosed suddenly with diabetes post covid and whatnot…..I am not at all ashamed of the fact that I have a huge fear of getting covid. Yeah, the flu could kill me, but it probably won’t and once I’ve recovered, I can move on. With covid you have to wait months (who knows, maybe years!) to be able to feel you’ve safely recovered. Who wants that hanging over their head??

        1. Flashgordon*

          Yes, i also worry about the so called “long covid” syndromes. They look like chronic fatigue syndrome which can knock healthy people out for years. I have a feeling applying for disability ssdi for Long Covid would be an uphill battle. Im not really worried about dying from it personally, i AM worried about being incapacitated by it for years to come!

          1. allathian*

            Yeah, me too. I’m female, almost 50, and have a BMI of more than 30. These are all risk factors for long Covid. Men are more likely to die while women are more likely to get long Covid, and so far, nobody knows exactly why this is so. Quite frankly, I’m more scared of getting long Covid than dying.

            One of the more unpleasant symptoms is an altered sense of smell. Losing it completely would be annoying enough, but some people report that everything, even their spouses, start smelling so bad to them that they want to throw up. It’s anecdotal, I know, but some people have reported that can only “enjoy” normally unpleasant smells, such as the smell of a crappy diaper.

    4. Cat Tree*

      There’s a huge difference between “non-zero but still low risk” and the current situation even with vaccination. Frankly, your uninformed opinion matters a lot less to me than CDC guidance, which very clearly contradicts you.

    5. nom de plume*

      Your statements here are not only erroneous (“Once you’re fully vaccinated, you can go back to normal life.”), they’re also simplistic. You’re reducing it to a black and white issue – people either hide away for “years and years” (your words), or they “happily” go back to work because they understand that All Of Life Carries Some Risk.

      This is not the situation. These are not the only two extreme options. There are degrees of risk, which you fail to acknowledge, and acting like vaccination = Covid is gone (or pretending that that’s what people are looking for) is… wrong, and unhelpful (not to mention preachy).

      There’s nothing the matter with people wanting the current rate of vaccination to increase before fully exhaling – that’s not “zero risk,” it’s maybe herd immunity, maybe 50% vaccination (still, note, ≠ zero risk). Some people are fine now about working in person, others not. Oversimplifying the situation based on medical misrepresentations doesn’t advance debate nor understanding.

  43. Rebecca1*

    The exact timeline is a bit ambiguous in the letter, but bear in mind that a person is not considered “fully vaccinated” until two weeks after the second shot for two-dose vaccines. Are they under pressure to return right after the second dose, rather than waiting the two-week period?

    1. And they all rolled over*

      LW said the office would be opening “soon” but I didn’t see where they define the term.

  44. AnonEMoose*

    I think there’s also some exhaustion in play. We’ve just spent a year having to think about things that used to be pretty automatic. You can’t just plan a movie night with a friend, or hop in the car and go to the grocery store, or hop on the bus and do whatever. You have to think about “is this safe? Is anyone having symptoms? Do I have a mask? Do I need to double mask?” And it’s exhausting, and would be even without all of the other stuff.

    1. Self Employed*

      The shared workshop where I manufacture goods has excellent safety protocols, but when I went in, my entire workflow was disrupted. Sanitize all counters, control panels, etc.–ok, now my workspace is covered in disinfectant, where do I put my materials? Will the person on the other side of the big table overspray onto my stuff? Better not assemble anything onsite, then. I’m thirsty, gotta wait till the end of the CNC job, power down the machine, get my stuff, check to see if anyone else is around, lock the studio behind me if nobody’s there, go downstairs, sanitize gloves, take off mask, sanitize again, eat snack, put mask back on, sanitize hands, go upstairs, use bathroom, wash hands, unlock studio, sanitize hands, put on gloves, sanitize gloves… and in the Before Times I would’ve just paused the machine, cleaned my hands, gotten a drink from the kitchenette and a snack from my locker, and eaten at the workstation without losing half an hour of my machine reservation time.

      And of course I’m not getting on a bus for a 45-minute trip over the hill to the studio, so it’s a 70 mile trip in a car that gets 20 mpg and mileage deduction of about $40 so I’m not going there unless the gig is worth it.

  45. New Jack Karyn*

    Thank you for a kind and gracious answer. Humans aren’t rational creatures at the best of times, and the past year and change has not been the best of times. Rationally, with everyone vaccinated and protocols in place, it’s pretty safe to open. But fears aren’t always rational.

  46. H2*

    I’m in academia, and we have been in person all but last spring. I won’t lie, I have had periods of being resentful and scared about that.

    But, what I can tell you is that the first couple of weeks were hard and then we all settled in and are overall happier and are without a single doubt providing a better experience for our students (our clients, if you will). We weren’t necessarily happy about being there in person but once everyone got used to it, it was fine. For us this happened pre-vaccine, so now that we are vaccinated I think it’s fair to say that we all feel really comfortable. I agree with what Alison said, but I would also say that in dealing with our young adult students at least, we are much better able to heal through making connections with actual people in actual meaningful ways. Being around people in normal ways helps to remind us to love people. (And it is possible that we make more meaningful connections with our students than people normally do at work, I suppose. But I think it’s safe to say that we didn’t realize how much we needed some human connection until we had it again).

    1. green beans*

      Yup. The first few weeks are going to be scary and frustrating and then people will adjust. Just let them be upset – listen to any real concerns, of course, but also just let people express their anxiety without punishment or pushback.

      1. EchoGirl*

        Yeah, I think this is key. Even if the situation is otherwise equal, feeling like management is sensitive to their concerns creates a different environment than if management is giving off an air of “we think it’s safe so you should stop being anxious”.

  47. Remote Worker FTW*

    Respectully, if my company asked me to come back now, I’d be disappointed and disgusted. While I’m personally hoping to WFH forever, even those companies that are public facing, are now full of people who are working from home and like it.

    OP – will the posters have to wear masks all day? That alone can cause frustration and anxiety. Perhaps some will have longer commutes and extra expenses from going in. Please don’t rush this process and maybe consider letting some or most work from home for a longer time, maybe forever.

    1. A*

      Agreed. Since OP’s employer deals with the public I’m assuming at least a portion of the positions have to be on-site – but do they all? The biggest boost to morale we had at my employer was when they announced a few weeks ago that anyone that is able to do their job remotely and is in good standing will be given the option to apply to WFH permanently, or a hybrid (or go back to working on site permanently). We are in global positions so we work with internal and external contacts all over the world, and are almost entirely reliant on video/phone calls regardless of the pandemic…. so why not?

      For those required to be on site due to the nature of their position, they are being offered one extra day of PTO per quarter. All parties are happy!

  48. llamaswithouthats*

    I love this answer. Even when I get vaccinated, I’m not sure if I will be able to bounce back to the way I was before the pandemic. I went through shifts through this past year. For the first half, I would say, I wanted nothing more than things to go back to the way they were before. Now, I realize that I don’t actually want things to go back to the way they were before, and even if I did, the world we are going back to won’t be the same. It’s weird.

  49. middle name danger*

    Thank you, Alison.

    I usually work in live events. I’ve got a job in the meantime so I’m better off than many peers, but I had to take a mental health day today even though I’m working half as many hours as I was used to pre-pandemic. I’m trying really hard to remind myself of everything in this response, that I’m not tired for “no reason,” I’m traumatized and spending energy running through a million what-ifs and that’s exhausting.

    I’m desperate to get back to my normal life and my career, but I’m dreading it at the same time. I don’t know if I can feel safe in a room packed wall to wall with 1,000 people.

    1. Someone else in events*

      I feel the same way. I don’t know if I’ll ever feel comfortable in any place packed wall to wall with people.

      The weekend before everything shut down last year, I worked at an event where it was just like that and people were dancing all up in each other’s space, the place was filled. I could not wait to get out of there. Wearing masks were not a thing back then. I didn’t just bolt because only because the virus was still very new and I was in a suburb where COVID was non-existent at the time.

  50. Anon-mama*

    Library worker who finally got her first dose. We’ve been open fully 9 months. Some days (for me) are fine. Others are why I’m in therapy for pre-existing anxiety. Please understand that these feelings of insecurity have spent a year building on each other and won’t easily dissipate. I still have to worry about my PTO if I have to quarantine with my unvaccinated kids–I don’t know when that threat will go away. We have to worry about our loved ones who cannot get vaccinated for medical reasons. If you open, do so gradually. It really helped us to have appointment only service, then reduced hours with a supervisor monitoring the space, and then having management back our firm policies on masking and distancing. Time (and hopefully no cases) will give them confidence.

  51. WellRed*

    My coworkers were talking this week about returning to office once in awhile and then at one point everyone was saying “oh we could all plan to work on the same day.” I pointed out that was the opposite of what we should do. I think most of us will be permanent WFH.

  52. Springtime*

    OP, I thought from the description of your workplace that you might be my boss, but vaccinations aren’t nearly as high in our county yet. As an employee, what has eased anxiety most is that the public has had an entire year to get used to the precautions and there is a lot less push-back. Steady, evidence-based management (what it sounds like you are doing) has also helped a lot. And though it’s not what you’re aiming for, things have gotten a lot better at my workplace since some of the employees who were most anxious finally quit. I actually didn’t realize that one person, whom I liked in other ways, was adding so much to my own stress until they weren’t there. And, honestly, while you might think that it was the people suffering the most compound trauma (as Alison outlined) who dropped out of the workplace, it was the opposite: relatively privileged people who felt comfortable emoting all over the place and couldn’t understand why they weren’t getting more results from it. Obviously, you’re not going to hint that you want anyone to leave because that would just increase everyone’s bad feelings, but being alert to whether anyone is crossing from poor morale to toxic coworker and managing the situation could gradually help everyone regain confidence.

  53. GreenDoor*

    I really appreciate this response. There is a similar mindset in my government workplace. The reponse from the upper leadership and from the public is “these people just don’t want to work!” But that’s not it. Alison summed it up beautifully. People DO want to return to work and to see clients face-to-face and be alongside their co-workers again. But it’s really hard to feel like you can trust leadership. It’s hard to feel like you can trust your colleagues.
    I live in Wisconsin and our leaders are STILL fighting each other in the courts and STILL continue to deliver inconsistent messages to the citizenry. Guidance is becoming more and more haphazard, with different directives county-by-county. I, too, don’t necessarily trust my employer. Just know, OP, it sounds like you’re doing every thing right. Give it time!

  54. Detective Amy Santiago*

    I’ve been an avid reader and fan for the past five years and responses like this are exactly way.

    Thank you, Alison.

  55. Southern Academic*

    Wow. I’ve been finding the end of the pandemic harder than the beginning –– I feel more stressed out, on edge, both professionally and personally. And I think you just explained why, Allison. Thank you.

    1. Monty*

      I’m also in academia, albeit as a current grad student. One of the things that’s coming up for me right now is all the ways my institution and the regulators abandoned higher ed to fend for ourselves. So much responsibility got downloaded onto individual departments and professors and even TAs that should have been taken care of way higher up the org chart.
      I think graduate students got hit especially hard because we’re suffering both as students and as teachers. I’ve been working several jobs to try and make some money because I’m going to have to do an extra semester due to the pandemic, my funding ran out, and my institution refused to extend anyone’s funding. With the end of the semester in sight, it’s just hitting me that I have been working 60 hour weeks for 6 months and that all I have to show for it are chirpy emails on self-care and meditation from the administration.

      1. Southern Academic*

        Solidarity, Monty. It’s been a hard year, and I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you.

      2. J.B.*

        I am so sorry. I was in my last semester if grad school last spring and it was amazing how hard it was to focus from home even though my husband and I split kid shifts.

  56. Discretion being the better part of valor, Anon.*

    My company is part of essential infrastructure and remained open. We fell victim to what I refer to as “getting bored of the pandemic.” While the verbal commitment to safety never changed, there was an obvious slow regression from “only the bare minimum that must be done on-site should be, keep people home, be flexible” back towards “well, I guess you can do a little WFH, but really people should be working at work.” Galling for me, as I battled to allow my team to keep working primarily from home (which they’d been doing, without dropping a single deadline).

    I’m writing from home today, because one of our absolute must-do projects that we ABSOLUTELY COULDN’T DELAY THE CUSTOMERS WILL GET MAD, required us all to be in the same room for days on end. And then someone tested positive. So the deadline will be missed- maybe by a little, if most of us test negative, and maybe by a lot, if we have multiple positives. At least one of the people that’s been working her tail off is now hoping her symptoms stay mild. One left nearly in tears with worry. And all of a sudden, the company’s messaging has snapped back to “Do everything possible to keep people safe, don’t risk whole teams for a single deadline.” And I’m quietly fuming, because it took a major product being interrupted to get people’s attention.

    So OP, I’m not saying your employer is doing this exact thing. Maybe you legitimately can make things super safe! Maybe you actually know there’s high vaccine uptake, and not just “on paper” massive eligibility while appointments remain impossible to find! But please think very carefully, and listen to your staff. You might have people pointing out that your theoretical safety system is full of holes, and if you ignore them and insist everything is fine you might end up in the boat we’re in now.

  57. JaneLoe*

    Alison – I really appreciate this discussion of what happened in the country as serious trauma. I am completing my Masters in Social Work from a “trauma-informed” program, so that may be a primary reason why I appreciate your post, but I think you spoke to the overall gravity of the situation very well. Employers absolutely need to keep that gravity in mind as we make our way out of lockdown and, when it comes down to trauma, in my eyes it really comes down to one thing: applying a massive amount of understanding to others. Understanding that there has been massive struggle – some public but much of it private and all of it has been severe. Thank you again for this discussion and I will likely reference your writing/this post in both my personal and professional life.

  58. Blazer205*

    Excellent, excellent, excellent response Alison! I truly wish this question and your answer could be plastered far and wide and on every mainstream media channel available. We have been through a major trauma and sometimes it’s easy to overlook just how horrid the past year (4 years honestly) have been. We’ve lost loved ones to both Covid and politics and many are still reeling from the fallout. Again, such a perfect response that really puts all we have been through in perspective. I sincerely hope that the employers that need to see this, do so and give us all the grace we need to recover.

  59. Ismonie*

    We still don’t know whether or not we can bring it home to unvaccinated family and housemates (children, for example, who won’t be eligible for months), we don’t know how effective it will be against new variants, and we’re all so tired that for those of us working at home and just exhausted the idea of doing everything we’re doing plus a commute is just TOO MUCH.

    1. Aggretsuko*

      Yeah, the variants is the thing that scares me now. So far it looks pretty good for Pfizer for me, but who knows for sure.

    2. W*

      Came here to say this! Especially anyone living with high risk household members, not to mention arranging proper childcare can’t be done instantly!

  60. HigherEdAdminista*

    This is great advice from Alison. I have been working from home, and I am scared about going back to the office and having to interact with people who I know aren’t as cautious as I am; I am especially worried about anti-vaccine people being able to blend in with the crowd in restrictions relax. I am scared of being on public transportation again, knowing that there will be people who will slip off or pull down their masks as soon as they think they can; there will even be some people who refuse to wear them. I am scared that variants are going to take over that the vaccines are ineffective against. I am also scared that I will somehow transmit this to the only child in my small bubble, for whom there is no vaccine. There are plenty of reasons to actively still be concerned, even if things aren’t as dark as they were a few months ago.

    We have all been through so much this past year, as Alison rightly stated. And it has been hard. So hard. And in some ways it was a relief to not have the expectation of going out to run errands, commuting every day, socializing all the time, and being in crowds. This can be draining to many people, even without the pandemic and the injustices we are dealing with, but with them it made things hard. We have learned things about the people around us, some even close to us, that have made us trust them less or not at all. Though it sounds like your local government was sound, we saw examples across the country of how little our local governments or our national government cared about what was happening to us. Even now, states are all rushing to reopen while the CDC is on the news talking about impending doom. It feels like we are being traded for increased profits, and increased tax revenue. After what we have dealt with, I can’t imagine ramping back into normal life like flicking a switch even if there are positive things to note.

    Additionally, I think a lot of people don’t want to say this because it sounds selfish, but I think the past year created circumstances for some people that were helpful for them. While I would give up everything to get back our lost loved ones and eliminate this illness , I also know that during this pandemic I have been able to prioritize sleep in a way that commuting and wanting to sometimes have fun made it hard to do in the past. I have been able to work efficiently, because I am not constantly interrupted by the nature of my office. I have even been able to start doing more regular exercise. I am disheartened at the thought of losing that, and that is a legitimate loss. Many people over this past year have seen that they did not have to be living the kind of life they were living to still do well and fulfill their responsibilities at work, but for the sake of work culture or people’s beliefs about productivity, it feels like a lot of people are eager to cast that aside.

    It might be that your colleagues are mourning the fact that they will once again be commuting regularly, causing them to lose out on some things that will really benefit them. It sounds like you work with the public, but haven’t had to deal with them up close during this pandemic. I know many people who work with the public often become burnt out by dealing with unpleasant or hostile people; they may be dreading a return to this. They may also be scared about dealing with a public who is resentful of the precautions or refuses to obey them. A friend worked in libraries (which is what your industry sounded like to me) and they had to deal with patrons constantly removing masks, getting angry about requests to distance, trying to go around barriers, and so on. They actually left the industry in part because of this.

    So yes, there are a lot of complicated emotions about the idea of returning to the workplace. I think it is good that you share accurate data, especially when you hear inaccuracies, but I think the more supportive thing for your employees is for you to acknowledge that this challenging and frightening. And respect people who feel that it might be too soon or undesirable for other reasons. Nothing is more frustrating when you are scared or upset about something than having someone trying to talk you out of your feelings; it makes you feel like you can’t be honest. And this solution will help you to feel better as well. If you stop trying to fix their feelings and just say to yourself that they are entitled to feel how they feel but that you feel differently, you likely won’t feel as frustrated with them.

    1. Remote Worker FTW*

      I love, love, love, love your paragraph starting with Additionally… I could have written it! This is my situation word for word. I have 0 desire to go back to an office situation ever, and I cannot believe anyone in our office (which is not even remotely public facine) wants to. Thank you for voicing every single thing I want to say.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        I love, love, love, love your paragraph starting with Additionally…


      2. Eliza*

        Yeah, personally I’ve seen a lot of justified resentment over the handling of WFH from people with disabilities and disability advocates in particular; people with medical issues that made face-to-face work difficult have plenty of experience being told that it just wasn’t possible to accommodate us, and now that there’s a pandemic, it turns out remote work was possible after all… but once the pandemic is “over”, a lot of people are going to be herded back into the office regardless of whether it makes sense for them.

        1. HigherEdAdminista*

          This is also absolutely true and infuriating. We have so much space to be flexible as a culture, and instead we are often forced into these rigid models because of the incorrect perceptions of others.

      3. HigherEdAdminista*

        Thank you! That is so kind of you to say. I know because of the nature of my industry, there is no way I could be 100% WFH, but honestly, I could get by just fine with 1-2 days a week in the office, and I too am baffled by the people who are lamenting not being able to be there every day. I get for the faculty teaching online is not ideal, and those who do not have the space or do not focus well should have the option to go in every day if they want to once it is safe, but the constantly ringing phones and people shouting across the room in conversation… no thank you. If there was any silver lining at all for me of this whole experience, it was that it gave work a more proper place in my life, and I am definitely concerned about how I will hang on to that.

  61. Harvey JobGetter*

    I wonder how many people take public transit to work. When we reopen, I’m comfortable about the safety of my office but I don’t look forward to having to take a subway to get there. A lot of our very senior people probably don’t really understand or consider that issue.

  62. OP*

    Just to clarify a few things. I’m in the US, probably should have said that our area was doing well compared to other parts of the US not the world as a whole. Our organization has not been WFH at all because of the type of work we do but have been closed to public visitors for the past five months. We also have excellent compliance with mask wearing and social distancing as a staff, they have been really and truly conscientious about safety. Once we reopen, all visitors will also be required to wear masks to enter the building, and this will (for real) be enforced by myself and the other managers.

    I’ve been mentally traumatized by the pandemic year too and want to do the best job I can but I would not say that I have compassion fatigue. I have family members who work in hospitals so I know what that looks like up close. As a manager, I hate see my team feeling stressed which is why I wrote in to see if there was any collective wisdom I could glean about making the transition to opening the doors to the public easier on them. Some of you had really great things to share from your experiences, so thank you.

    1. Generic Name*

      Could you tie opening to the public to some milestone like number of infections per day must be below X, or overall vaccination rate for the population of State must be Y, or cases must be declining for x weeks, or something like that? Does your county or state have a “COVID dial” or some visual measure of the status of the pandemic? I think having set criteria might help your employees feel safer. And also make it clear that once you re-open, staying open will be dependent on the milestones/criteria staying at that level or improving so that if infection rates/deaths/whatnot increase, you’ll close back down. I think a lot of people fear that once someplace opens up, the doors will stay open forever and you can’t go back, even if things get worse.

      Just so you know, I don’t think you’re a monster for feeling hopeful. People are getting vaccinated, and more are getting vaccinated every day. We will beat this thing. Does this mean I’m throwing away my masks and inviting the neighborhood over for a wild indoor party? No. But I am looking forward to seeing my fully-vaccinated parents in the summer, and I hope to be fully vaccinated by then too.

      1. Alice*

        The set criteria is great for building trust — if you are actually going to follow it, or explain why you are changing it.
        A leader in my org said, back when we were first reopening for customers to come inside, that the red line at which the org would reconsider its level of opening was 10 new cases per day per hundred thousand people in our metro area. Then we stayed open as cases went way above that, and no one ever explained what new information justified the change of plans. Presumably there was a good reason, beyond “it’s past time to reopen,” but it was never communicated.
        Good luck OP.

    2. Adie*

      Glad you are being thoughtful and responsive to staff as you plan! I know you also didn’t take a managerial position expecting to deal with a pandemic. I’ve been on the employee side with a boss who’s been thoughtful but definitely pushing a little more than I’m comfortable with and it’s hard to feel somewhat powerless, especially after a year of so much fear. Also, while childcare is often brought up, I’ve been in the position of helping elderly parents and while technically it should be fine because they’re vaccinated, I’m also nervous having additional exposure points but am afraid of sounding paranoid and also not really thrilled about sharing my personal life so much, and feeling like I need to share family’s particular health issues at work

    3. Dolly*

      Are you my library (seriously, you could be my library :D). I’ll happily wear a mask to browse, stay away from people. I won’t even bring my toddler to play in the kids area, even though that’s what I really want to do, because she was just crawling when we shut down.

      XOXO, I miss the library.

    4. Library fan*

      Dunno if you’re a library, but it sounds like you could be.
      Our library has done a great job, and the things they have done are:
      Open for half the day
      Enforce mask rules
      Offer contactless pickup for those who want it / can’t wear masks
      Set up plexiglass barriers around the librarians
      Rotate librarians so nobody is sitting out at a public facing desk for too long
      Limit total number of people allowed in the building
      Limit number of people in specific rooms
      Set up materials in a way that makes it easy for people to grab what they need and get out
      Hand sanitizer everywhere

      Honestly I have been SO glad to have the library back open – it feels like a tiny flicker of normalcy in a very abnormal world. It’s also one of places I’ve felt safest in, because of how they’ve set things up. It’s also been wonderful to see my favorite librarians, say a quick hello, thank them for being there. Perhaps you can find some additional steps to get to “being open and providing core services” without trying to be 100% business-as-usual.

  63. JSPA*

    Practical advice:

    A small subset of your workers will be semi-anxious to get out of the house. Another subset may be neutral to negative, yet know it will take them a while to get used to the new normal at work.

    However, some of them now have side gigs they have to extricate themselves from. Some are watching kids who are being schooled remotely. On the other hand, a lot of people are super eager to see elderly family, such that blocking out all ability to travel, as soon as they are vaccinated, makes this tough.

    So set out a plan that brings people back in shifts, and in a way that allows for flexibility, and for them to transition their outside duties.

    For example:

    “Doing the return well, and safely, will be smoother if we start out at lower density. Therefore, we plan to bring back 1/3 of the workforce (“team 1”) for a week on [date]. That team will then be eligible for two weeks at home, while we bring in the second third of the workforce (“team 2″) for a week on [date]. They will then be eligible for two weeks at home while we bring in the final third of our workforce (team 3) for a week on [date]. We will then bring back teams 1 & 2 for a week on [date]. Team 3 will join them on [date], at which point we will be up to regular operating capacity. Please reply to this message indicating a first, second and third choice of teams.”

  64. queen b*

    When it’s put like that…. how are we even working at all? Kudos to everyone, including OP, for doing their best in a terrible situation.

  65. Denise*

    My cousin has been hospitalized for 5+ months due to covid-19, has had much of his colon removed due to huge numbers of blood clots causing parts of it to die, still has an open belly, and if he survives will be disabled for the rest of his life. He probably won’t survive. He’s 28 years old.

    OP, the pandemic is ongoing and the US is still recording more than 1000 deaths per day. I see very little reason to expect that fewer people will die this year than died last year. I don’t care that you’re tired of dealing with it. Your minimization of this horror disgusts and angers me.

    1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      I am so sorry about your cousin! That is terrible. I agree that we are not out of the woods by a long shot. And I can see why someone saying that they feel optimistic at this point can be very triggering while you continue to watch your cousin’s suffering.

      That said, I do not think that OP meant to be minimizing, and they never said they were tired of dealing with it. They just asked how they could help to alleviate the fears of their employees beyond the steps currently in place. The answer is – be patient, do not rush this, know that there are still risks, and ideally, wait longer to reopen. But, it is also unclear whether OP really has any say or influence over the decision to reopen to the public. They say that they feel optimistic, but that does not mean they were the ones who made the decision or that they have the authority to overturn that decision (or even really influence it). If they have no choice in the matter, then it is good they are asking for advice to alleviate concerns of employees, because they might not have the authority to stop the place from reopening. Then, the best thing OP can do it try to accommodate the concerns of their employees as generously as they are able.

    2. JSPA*

      Unless your cousin caught Covid and got this sick after being fully vaccinated, your very understandable horror and despair at his situation should be pointed at the people who put him in the line of fire, not at the Letter Writer.

      Smallpox (and animal pandemic Rinderpest) aside, we have not eradicated any disease from the face of the earth. Some variant(s) of Covid-19 will continue to circulate. There is no such thing until waiting for the day that “it” (or “they”) are completely gone.

      Waiting until 100% of your staff is 2 weeks past their second dose of vaccine, and concurrently putting in place the strongest suggested barriers and purifiers and protocols is hardly making light of Covid.

      Letter Writer isn’t saying, “we figured the younger people are fine, so we’ve had them facing the public for months.”

      Yes, we ought to be worried that current and new strains may not be quite as effectively prevented and damped down by specific vaccines. But so far–as one would expect, given that they were designed based on genetic comparisons between multiple different coronaviruses, as well as early data on variable sites in Covid-19– the majority of the vaccines are somewhere between “highly” and “phenomenally” effective against the various Covid-19 variants. They all prevent severe illness. They all massively, massively reduce asymptomatic as well as symptomatic cases (instead of merely turning symptomatic cases into asymptomatic cases, which would have increased the problem of stealth spread). And they all massively reduce covid’s transmissibility.

      It is terribly, terribly sad that, as fast as people worked to design, test, produce and distribute vaccine, people in their teens, 20’s, 30’s and 40’s are not yet vaccinated. A few are terribly ill. (Those who have a predisposition for serious problems tend not to be aware of those things, at a young age, and so their theoretical right to be vaccinated for risk factors does them no good at all.)

      A very much larger number will only know in a decade (or three) how much baseline function they have lost. It’s almost certainly the biggest undiscussed public health emergency of the next 60 years.

      It enrages me that we’re not talking about it. But none of this is relevant to OP’s fully vaccinated workers, who do a public0-facing job, facing the public–some of whom are almost certainly not being adequately served remotely.

      1. pancakes*

        Its not irrelevant to the topic of how people are feeling about things opening up again, though. And there is no “line of fire.” Comments can hurt people’s feelings, of course, but not lethally.

      2. Ismonie*

        Do you know that there has to be 100% in person staffing for this government funded organization right now? Because that is what op is suggesting doing. Seems unnecessary. And, a lot of people have other Covid-related time sucks now, like caregiving.

        1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

          Actually, OP commented that they have never been remote. The nature of the work does not allow them to work from home. The staff have been coming in to the office the whole time, but the office was closed down to the public. When OP mentioned reopening, they meant that it would reopen to members of the public. It does not change the concerns, but it is good context because work from home is not an option for this office apparently.

  66. TPS reporter*

    I’m not in a public facing position but if I was and had to go back in I would struggle for multiple reasons despite being vaccinated: being inside for a year just throws you off your social game; you’ve seen so much violence, death and vitriol on the new;, maybe you’re doing well physically/are gainfully employed but family members and friends could still be suffering in other areas; you are worried about a vulnerable family member at home and there is no concrete data yet on vaccinated people transmitting to others; you haven’t slept great in a year and that just wears you down and finally the Karen/Kevin videos that are everywhere. The public itself can be quite scary!

  67. TWW*

    Even if you get your first dose on the day you become eligible, it would be over a month before you can consider yourself fully immunized (and even then, there’s a small chance you are not).

    In reality, almost no one can get their first shot on the day they become eligible.

    If most of your staff became eligible recently, opening your facility to the public “soon” is probably too early.

  68. Generic Name*

    I’m going to brag on my company, because I think they’re doing everything right. It really helped that we have a robust work-from-home culture, including a policy on working from home. I began working remotely exclusively the second schools closed down, which was about a week before the office went entirely remote. Management has been really understanding with the need for flexibility and time off. We have paid benefits (100% employer covered insurance premiums for employees) and sick time, and people who needed time off to care for kids were allowed to. Some people decided to cut their hours, and some people utilized COVID sick time to pay for the time not worked while in quarantine or caring for a child.

    We are slowly reopening. But it’s entirely optional. If someone decides they’d rather work from home permanently, they’ll be able to do so. I personally have started coming in to the office now that my son is in school. We are enforcing protocols, and I am currently the only one on my floor, so I’m sitting in my office with the door closed and no mask.

    I think the key to making your employees feel comfortable is to enforce the safety requirements (my office has signs all over the place that says if you do not wear a mask you will be asked to leave) and to not mandate that people return by a certain date. I think there’s a sort of collective agoraphobia almost that’s going on. People have had to isolate themselves for a whole year, so it’s a bit nerve-wracking to be around people again. It’s hard to change routines, so give people time to adjust.

    1. allathian*

      I’m glad your company has been so good to its employees! I’m just wondering, what’s the benefit for you to sit in isolation in your office building rather than being at home?

      I’m more productive WFH because before the pandemic I liked our coffee and lunch breaks, and the casual socializing with my coworkers. My job requires almost no synchronous collaboration, and little enough asynchronous collaboration, so for just doing the job day to day, there’s no benefit in going to the office. Development days are a different matter, but we’ve had two virtual days that were both useful and fun, if exhausting.

  69. Disney+ Is More Important Than My Health*

    Our library’s director tried to tell us all that we needed to stay open so we didn’t lose “market share” to Disney+ or Netflix last March. I’m probably going to die mad about it. And it was absolutely devastating to my trust in management.

    A year later, whenever we expand services, I still doubt whether or not our director has the staff’s best interests at heart.

    1. HigherEdAdminista*

      I can’t say I blame you! That is horrid.

      I know it is an unkind thing, but sometimes I wish this virus only impacted people who think and act like that.

    2. Ellen Ripley*

      I do think that libraries are one of those civic services that does have to worry about losing ‘mind share’ to entities like Netflix over time, so I think it’s a valid concern on an institutional level, although your director could have phrased it a bit better. Whether that’s a good enough reason to stay open in person during the first few months of a worldwide pandemic is a less supportable stance…

  70. Wants2BRemote4Eva*

    Recent research from John Hopkins indicates that people who are immunocompromised may only have a 17% efficacy rate from the current vaccines. As someone who falls into that group, that’s terrifying. It means that I could get vaccinated and if some yahoo in my office doesn’t could EASILY give it to me. I will also then be more likely to have a more serious case (see aforementioned immunocompromised state). You never know people’s personal situation. Their anxiety may be extremely valid.

    1. Instructional Designer*

      What??? OMG. I am immunocompromised. I haven’t read this. Now I am terrified too.

      1. JSPA*

        Vaccines work via the adaptive immune response. Their only protective function is to prime your immune response (in a couple of ways).

        If your immune response is compromised in any of several specific ways–and this includes being down-regulated by corticosteroids, at the time of receiving the vaccine–it’s predictable that protection isn’t as strong, as complete, or as long lasting.

        That said, this is the ultimate “talk to your doctor.” There’s more than one sort of immune deficit that falls under the heading of, “immunocompromised.”

        More generally, the fact that some people are not well protected by their own vaccine is exactly the reason to push for greater uptake, so that you can benefit from herd immunity. That means the “one yahoo” will also benefit, and you will benefit from that “one yahoo” having benefitted.

        Herd immunity is powerful! Talk to your younger friends; they need to be on board as well, by the time eligibility reaches them. Get them to talk to their friends.

        You can take it a step further, and support the rights of young people to make their own medical decisions, as far as being allowed to get vaccines and other health care without parental approval. (A lot of kids are better informed and more internet savvy than their Anti-Vax parents.)

        1. allathian*

          Yeah, in my area I’m glad that kids as young as 10 are allowed to make decisions about their medical care, if the medical professional judges them mature enough to do so. This is how some young kids have been able to get the HPV vaccine (it’s part of our national vaccination program and you get it for free) even when their parents have been opposed to it on moral grounds.

      2. Maggie*

        The study is only about organ transplant patients and is based off the first dose only. It ABSOLUTELY does not say that immunocompromised people only get 17% protection from the vaccine.

        1. Maggie*

          Sorry but the study has not even been released and its on a very specific population, organ transplants and its not even about both doses! Not trying to be aggressive.

      3. pancakes*

        This appears to be a misrepresentation of a small study, of 436 transplant recipients who received a single dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.

        1. JSPA*

          It’s relevant along the lines of a worst-case scenario, basically.

          with people who are on a strong immunosuppressive regimen, and only received a single dose, something around 17% is both impressively higher than zero…and problematically lower than the approx. 75-80% figure now being quoted (for short term protection) for a single dose of Pfizer or Moderna, in the general population.

          So, yay that it works at all, under those circumstances; but no, it’s not magic, it’s an immune response.

    2. Julie*

      There are similarly bad numbers for active blood cancer patients at vaccination. I think it’s important that we start to clarify that the 90-95% or whatever is for the average healthy individual and to account for that when assessing risk individuals may fear. I was supposed to be part of a study to analyze how blood cancer survivors fared but then I ended up hospitalized on an unrelated issue so I couldn’t participate. The thing is, we just don’t know how much we don’t know about populations who were excluded from the initial trials.

      1. JSPA*

        The most recent 90% numbers come from the general population–and in fact, given who was vaccinated earliest, that includes a lot of people who are high risk in one way or another.

        It does not, of course (and it cannot realistically) correct for whether people who know themselves to be high-risk continued to sequester (such that most of the data comes from the part of the cohort that was more exposed).

        One can certainly argue that should be a question about behavior(s), in assessing effectiveness.

        Case matching is not really doable, when there’s no placebo arm.

        Among other things, people who are eligible but either choose not to be vaccinated or have not yet successfully been vaccinated may not match up well (either in terms of biological or behavioral risk) with those who are eligible, choose to be vaccinated, and successfully complete their vaccinations.

        Again, this is why herd immunity is key. If you know someone who’s holding back because they’re young-ish and they don’t want to be pushy? Well, if they are anything other than sequestered, it’s a benefit for them to get vaccinated. And the more out-and-about they’re forced to be, the more helpful it is.

  71. Instructional Designer*

    My job sent out a plan for returning to the office just the other day and in it the VP literally said “Don’t freak out. We’re just planning ahead.” We’re an office that isn’t open to the public. We’re only going back half time and staggering the days we are in so we have fewer people in the office. No one is required to go in without having a vaccine. And yet, they still said don’t freak out.

    1. Instructional Designer*

      I don’t think I made my point clear so I just wanted to add that yeah, lots and lots of people are anxious about this.

  72. Sara without an H*

    OP, do you have the option of reopening gradually? Maybe keep up the remote and curbside services, then open for some limited hours a couple of days a week? This would give you a chance to test your safety procedures and give your staff a chance to readjust slowly.

    Do all staff need to be there every day? When my library reopened in August, I set up a rotating schedule so that all staff weren’t there every day. I sold it to my administrators by saying that a rotating schedule would reduce the likelihood of all staff being exposed at the same time and having to go into quarantine — which would mean we’d just have to shut down again.

    If you have the authority and flexibility, you might find that reopening gradually and giving staff an option to rotate between on site and remote work will help reduce some of their anxiety.

    Oh, and to all the comments upstream about NOT trying to cheerlead or enforce positivity? Ditto.

  73. Alice in Blunderland*

    My god, this is so powerful. I’m someone who has been working through the entire pandemic (helloooo restaurant industry!), in a public facing position. I want to say to people who have been working from home who are nervous about returning to the office that your fears and anxieties are NOT unfounded, it’s weird and tough and taxing in ways that it never was before. I hope your managers are as compassionate and empathetic as Allison is here. Good luck, keep breathing, you’re not alone.

    1. Kate Daniels*

      Thank you for this comment, and I’m sorry you had to work in this scary and risky environment over the past year. I see way too many people saying, “I’ve had to work on site/in person for the past year, so other people need to just suck it up, too.” It’s really kind of you to have this outlook even though you’ve had to work through the entire pandemic!

    2. Bookworm*

      Thank you for continuing to work even if you didn’t have a choice in the matter. I salute you.

  74. L Dub*

    I live in the Twin Cities, and there’s a lot of stress and anxiety about the Chauvin trial and what’s going to happen when he’s acquitted. (Please note: that man is guilty AF of murdering George Floyd. Most of us have no faith in the justice process and we fully expect he won’t be convicted.)

    If you have POC on your staff, it’s possible that’s also weighing on them also. I know I’m already worried, and I’m not the only one.

    1. always snacking*

      L Dub thank you for sharing! Fully agree. I’m non-Black POC and in Mpls and it weighs on me. The trial is re-traumatizing. I am not working right now. While I miss the income, I am so glad I don’t have to deal with my majority-white workplace and coworker’s racist ass comments and microaggressions. I hope you are able to take care of yourself – not that “self care” solves systemic racism. And I hope you can spend time with your family / community.

  75. Roscoe da Cat*

    That was a perfect answer!

    For people who are high risk, this has been terrifying! I don’t expect no-risk, but I expect the risk to be as manageable as the flu and Covid isn’t there yet. I would say go slowly to establish trust.

  76. NewYork*

    I do not see any concern for the clients of this organization. Right now, in my county, social security applications are not all getting processed, only simple ones. My county opened up an office to help with rent payments for people trying to avoid evictions. Federal retirement payments are delayed in getting processed. All these things are awful. To say, this is just management’s problem is likely missing the point. Some work cannot be done at home. Other remote workers are spending too much time with child care. In the meantime, some people who desperately need help are being ignored.

    1. Dahlia*

      “Other remote workers are spending too much time with child care.”

      As opposed to… child neglect?

      1. JSPA*

        “…too much time to be able to come in,” is how I read it.

        Not, “too much by my yardstick of acceptable time spent.”

    2. Cheesesteak in Paradise*

      I think this is a good point. So many people are so desperate to stay home (“my job can be fully remote!”) when a lot of jobs really can’t be, not to the standard of pre-pandemic. Social services, health care, courts, school, lots of other jobs need to function to take care of society. Being able to do 80% of your job at home won’t be enough forever. My job is different because it’s in surgery but it’s a similar situation – we shut down all surgery expert emergencies at first to not overwhelm the hospital, then we allowed urgent surgeries (cancer, vascular surgery, etc) and kept thr electives shut down (joint replacements, cataracts, hernias, etc). Now we are back to full capacity. It was important to reduce the burden on the system but at some point, people are suffering with bad knees or can’t read because of their cataracts. Same with many other fields – we have to progress from minimum to full services in lots of other services.

  77. Meetkat*

    Wow I’m sorry but be happy you have a job and a pay check. My sector got hit hard and I have been out of work since October and are behind on everything. My credit is shot I am behind on rent and will probably be homeless with no support whatsoever. Heck I am about to loose my cell phone coverage. I went from a professional making 70 thou to not even getting an interview for minimum wage. Sorry I am not feeling sorry for you guys still employed I would give a lot to have a job any job but know at my age I am looking to hopefully living in my car

    1. You are not alone*

      I am so, so sorry. It is not fair. I hope things get better soon, and if not, that at least maybe people here will be kind to you.

    2. D3*

      That stinks for you. It really does.
      But telling someone to “be happy” because they don’t have it as bad as you? That’s rude. Your situation does not entitle you to be rude and dismissive to others.
      If someone were to tell you to “just be happy and you’ll get hired!” I imagine you wouldn’t like that, either.

    3. Amber Rose*

      Suffering is not a competition. Other people are allowed to be unhappy even if they have something you want.

    4. JSPA*

      I get the sense there are a lot of people desperate to get vaccinated before they end up in a shelter.

      That said, there is rent support in the latest bill (federal support but administered by state or local governments), and the CDC has extended the federal eviction ban (as well as states and munis passing bans with fewer loopholes, in anticipation of the coming rent support). As long as you have that cell phone, maybe prioritize looking into both of those things. Google, “Emergency Rental Assistance Program.”

    5. Hotdog not dog*

      Hang in there. I was in a similar situation, and it absolutely sucks. It’s so hard to keep trying when nothing seems to be coming together. I hope you find the right opportunity soon.

  78. Chris K.*

    So many comments I couldn’t read them all, so I apologize if this point has been made: Your staff are not vaccinated until two weeks after their second dose.

  79. Message in a Bottle*

    Thank you so, so much for this message. You get it.

    I teared up. I took a half-sick day today because I was fatigued from the vaccine on Tuesday. Instead of inquiring about me, I was asked if I have a fever and if I filled out the Covid survey today. No and yes, of course. Then directions to the policies on sick days and that I must come in tomorrow to make up the half-day if I feel better. (It’s a longer story, but yeah.) I actually did cry a little at the office because I was so earnestly trying to get my work done during my lunch just to make sure that everything was taken care of and I could rest. And I had been so proud that I managed to get everything done. So that message really hurt. If it were ordinary times, of course, you come in if you feel better. But this thing is running through my body right now and I’m so tired. I may take a sick day tomorrow but I feel guilty because I’m not physically sick, just exhausted.

    It means so much that someone realizes what we’ve all been through. And then if words and actions actually reflect that realization. Plexiglass and spring ain’t gonna do it. I had a good relationship with my manager before but I feel like our relationship will never recover from this transition back and I need to start over elsewhere. She may just be a mouthpiece for the company but I don’t trust her or feel she or they really care about my health.

  80. Heather*

    Another piece is that we still don’t have confirmation vaccinated people won’t bring covid home to their partners, family and children.

    Not to mention it may not overlap with being able to or being able to safely find childcare or caregiving services for people who are in that boat.

  81. Oxford Comma*

    Cases were low in our area too. Now the variants are here. We’ve got people who started traveling again and who are getting very casual about masks and distancing and our cases have jumped and are still rising and we are now a hot zone again. I’m fully vaccinated but to the best of my knowledge, the vaccine I have isn’t proof against those variants until boosters are developed.

    I would be nervous about coming back too.

  82. anon4this*

    I work in an entity very similar to the OP’s and I can testify to how much a lack of faith in humanity eats away at your desire to go back to working with the public. When you’ve seen over and over again that people in your community won’t wear masks, why would you want to open up and start working with them? Why introduce those risk factors to your families, along with the added stress of having to prompt people every day to wear masks correctly?

  83. M*

    Even with a vaccine, new variants can cause our scientific advancements to be useless. And some people, especially those with weakened immune systems, won’t react as strongly to the vaccine. Even healthcare officials are expecting. It doesn’t matter how optimistic you are, if you are following an expert advice right now, it is absolutely NOT irrational for us to still maintain as many protections as possible. It’s actually medically sound. Public health emergencies are at least equally, if not more, reliant on behavioral modifications, not scientific advancements. It seems like you are taking pieces of data from legitimate sources and taking them out of their larger context. It’s also a good time to remind you that very legitimate sources, like the CDC and WHO, have been wrong about their recommendations and have had to walk them back. It has happened several times since the pandemic started in both organizations. Let your employees stay home until it’s very clear we’ve crushed this.

    1. MVE*

      If you’re starting from the position that the vaccines can’t be relied on and neither can the CDC or the WHO, what measures and methods would satisfy you that “we’ve crushed this”?

    2. J.B.*

      Variants will happen and I will mask forever. However Pfizer is still over 90 percent effective against the South African variant and I wonder if part of the reason is there are only so many ways the proteins mRNA vaccines cause you to produce can fold. The risk of coronavirus will never be zero and we need to balance it against other risks.

  84. Katie the Fed*

    Goodness this is such a profound and strong summary of the trauma of the last year, Allison. Thank you for this.

    I’ve at times tried to write my kids letters that they can read in the future that would capture what this last year has been like, and I just couldn’t quite get it. You did it perfectly.

  85. Katie the Fed*

    Adding to the stress too – and I’m not saying the OP has been doing this – has been the gaslighting nonsense that a lot of employers have relied on during the last year. We have a festering wound of lack of trust in leadership at my employer because they instituted draconian policies in the name of protecting the workforce, and then told us all we just need more resilience training to deal with the stress.

    1. Grumpypants*

      Ack! The “resilience training!” My employer did this, too. As if the fact that we’re struggling under poor working conditions is our own fault for not doing self-care well enough.

  86. JM60*

    FYI, the current r0 in the US is 1.1. That means cases are currently increasing on average. Sure, things will be better thanks to the vaccines, but we likely have another wave before then because we’re tripping at the finish line.

    I guess my point is, don’t celebrate “the end is here” too early. The real-word data from Israel shows that high enough rates of vaccination can effectively end the pandemic, but we’re not there yet.

    1. EchoGirl*

      Agreed. Countries with substantially higher vaccination rates show that it is more than just theoretically possible for vaccination to end the pandemic (not eradicate the disease, but get rates low enough that it’s no longer an ongoing public health emergency), but the USA is not at that point yet — based on Israel’s numbers, we’d likely need to get up to around 50% vaccinated at minimum to get to a point where we can really start to relax, and we’re not even to 20% yet. I believe OP when they say they’re in an area that has good numbers, but you can’t put all your eggs in that basket.

  87. PlainJane*

    You got a new air filtration system? Oh, man. I want to work for your company!

    Okay, that probably wasn’t the point. I really want a better air filtration system, though.

    The answer here is right. We’re all insecure and morale is not going to be what it was. Tensions are still high among various factions, and retreating into over-cautiousness is normal. Give them some time to get used to being back, be transparent about everything that’s going on, let them check the numbers frequently to remind themselves that things are getting better, and understand that this is a recovery period, emotionally speaking. Don’t ask for too much heavy-lifting at first.

  88. Flower necklace*

    I’m a teacher at a public school in the US. When we went to hybrid, there was a lot of anxiety. Our admin did a great job of handling it, though, and it’s calmed down. Some things they did:

    1. Lots of communication. They solicited questions, held a faculty meeting to address them, and then incorporated everything into a master document. They did a great job of listening to the teachers’ concerns, and it’s convenient to have a document to reference if I need more cleaning supplies, if I need to call the nurse about a student, etc.

    2. We got a little welcome kit on our first day back with a hand sanitizer, signs for our classroom, and a KN95. They’re also providing us with replacement KN95 masks when we need them. Even though I’m fully vaccinated, I prefer to wear a KN95 mask with a cloth mask over it while I’m at work.

    3. They’ve made themselves accessible and visible. I was concerned about mask enforcement and maintaining six-foot spacing, but that hasn’t been an issue at all. I’m sure that having admin visibly around has helped with that.

    It hasn’t been an entirely smooth transition, but I’ve been really impressed by the way the administration team at my school has handled it.

    1. allathian*

      How old are the kids you teach? I suspect older elementary age kids would be the easiest to get to comply with the requirements.

      1. Flower necklace*

        I teach teenagers, so I expected some kind of attempt to push the boundaries. But there has been nothing.

        1. J.B.*

          I think kids generally have been more cooperative about masks than some adults, and I’m really glad to hear about your experience.

  89. DuskPunkZebra*

    The biggest problem I see with LW’s perspective here is a factual one: immunity is not considered established until 2 full weeks after the second shot for 2-dose vaccines. Just because everyone has gotten their first dose absolutely does not mean they’re safe from COVID. This reopening ought to wait AT MINIMUM two weeks after everyone has gotten their second doses. And even then, I know I’m not ditching my mask or opening my bubble any further than I have to.

    Not to mention that varying immune responses mean vaccines vary in efficacy person-to-person, so the compromised may not be as protected by the vaccine as others. (I chronically have this problem with the flu shot and actually find it better to skip it because it leaves me more vulnerable than I was otherwise.)

    People have shown us how terrible and self-centered and willfully ignorant or gullible they can be. It’s even more rage-inducing when they’re people you otherwise see as kind and intelligent. I have a whole lot of family I’m going to think many times about seeing again for a long while after this. I’m even more skeptical of employers.

    1. StripesAndPolkaDots*

      “I have a whole lot of family I’m going to think many times about seeing again for a long while after this. I’m even more skeptical of employers.”

      Family, former friends, strangers at the grocery store… my faith in basic kindness and empathy in humanity is just at rock bottom.

  90. Mimmy*

    Thank you so much for writing this, Alison. I got choked up reading it…you summarized the hell that was 2020/early 2021 beautifully. Healing from that is definitely going to take time and strong leadership. Employers should definitely acknowledge employees’ anxieties. I’m actually looking forward to the day the center I work at returns to in-person services (we’re 100% remote right now) though that could still be several months away, but I’m pretty sure both staff and consumers have their concerns and I hope management recognizes that.

  91. StripesAndPolkaDots*

    Along with everything discussed above, 20 mass shootings SINCE the Atlanta shootings (source:CNN) in the USA hasn’t made me eager to leave the house. The more it happens, the more normal places it happens (people’s workplaces, schools, movie theaters, supermarkets, etc, the more anxious I and many others are, especially in bigger gun states. Just leaving the home can be scary these days.

  92. Properlike*


    Second – let’s talk about how that gaslighting has not only been perpetuated not just by government and institutions, but by our own neighbors, friends, and family. I also live in a great area that’s very pro-mask, relatively low case rates (though they are rising here, and in most places, along with variant spread), and yet have watched plenty of people I personally know either 1) carry on with their best lives because “it’s not a big deal”, OR 2) claim they’re taking it really seriously and then they slip when they tell you about that indoor party they went to with “just a few friends” OR 3) Browbeat local teachers, people they’re on a first-name basis with, to reopen the schools all-day, full-time (pre-vaccine) because THEIR kid is suffering. These are people of privilege, with the means to act differently, who showed in no uncertain terms that their convenience is more important than anyone else’s health or safety. And those are the *nice* people. Some of these people are my own family members.

    So there’s that. I have also been partially vaccinated by a quirk of luck and (bad) genetics, but my spouse and children have not. Until they are, I’m not taking on any excess risk, I’m not changing up how I interact with the world. I understand math and statistics and science well. There is a low chance that, once I’m fully vaccinated, I could get sick and/or transmit it to my family members, but it is not a non-zero chance. And it only takes one yahoo who STILL thinks it’s EITHER six feet OR masks OR outside to raise that non-zero chance into something problematic. Until my immediate household is also fully vaccinated — and yesterday’s Pfizer news about the teen vaccinations was the best news since Georgia’s Senate election in my book — I can’t relax. I’ve made it this far — why would I take even the slightest risk NOW when it could backfire, rather than wait a couple more months and KNOW that my family is protected?

    Apologies for repeating anything above.

    1. HigherEdAdminista*

      I am right there with you! Every parent I see on the news here or encounter in life screaming for full-time in-school instruction are white, and middle- to upper middle class, and it is a constantly moving goalpost for them. When schools are open, they start pushing for the removal of safety precautions because now those are negatively impacting their children. Meanwhile, in their spare time, they are going out to restaurants, house parties, and taking vacations. As you said they continue to “live their best life.” They throw on a mask in the store because its required, but it is off their nose whenever they can manage it. They don’t care. The local private school near me (where the kids with money go) has signs outside for social distancing and what not, but I have passed by at dismissal and no one is distant and no one is wearing a mask, including the kids exiting the building.

      Even once I am vaccinated, I am not planning to return to restaurants or the like for some time, because I know these are the people I will be around and there is a child who can’t yet be vaccinated in my bubble that I want to protect.

    2. J.B.*

      I’ve been sending my kids to the scholastic assistance center for as long as I could. I’m pretty comfortable with their protocols. For our risk assessment there are pretty severe consequences to staying home (self harm) but I will definitely breathe much easier once my older child can get vaccinated.

  93. Bookworm*

    I think Alison’s answer is really good. It isn’t just the pandemic–it’s the election and the fallout. Many of the players involved do not want to acknowledge what even happened, let alone take responsibility and fix the situation. So it’s understandable that a lot of people are really anxious.

    Give it time. Be patient.

    1. Self Employed*

      Even if we hadn’t been having a pandemic, the whole post-election attacks on democracy, voting rights, etc. would be alarming me badly. (Everything after the 2016 election has been alarming but of course they wouldn’t just be gracious losers last November…)

  94. MEH*

    Thank you, Alison, for such an eloquent and passionate statement about the last year we’ve all had. I, too, had a lump in my throat and a tear in my eyes as I read your response.

    I find myself waiting for the other shoe to drop. Yes, I know the vaccinations are a great thing, but, there’s a niggling thought in the back of my mind that we’ve heard ‘it’s over’ too many times before. Also, I don’t think we’ll ever go back to whatever we considered normal because as a country, we’ve been through something that changes who we are on a fundamental level. In addition, it’s already been a struggle to get people to follow the restrictions we’ve had in place and I think it’ll only get worse the closer we get to ‘normal’.

    My parents live in Taiwan and it’s been sobering to hear about the differences. For many months, they had 7 deaths due to coronavirus. 7 deaths. Granted, they have roughly 24 million people in total, but still. They’ve been one of the leading countries in fighting the coronavirus, but what they did would not fly in America for many reasons, some valid and some not.

    I’m Taiwanese American and female-shaped, nearly 50 years old. This is another reason I’m still freaked out about the pandemic (as well as having a bad autoimmune system). The last time I went to a grocery store (right before the first soft lockdown here), I had an incident with an older white man that was racially-motivated (but I did not feel personally threatened) and I am having to grapple with that as well. The shooting in Atlanta hit me really hard after a year of soaring hate crimes against Asian Americans, two-thirds of them directed at women.

    There are predictions of another wave of the coronavirus. The vaccinations bring hope, but we are not out of this and I cannot blame anyone who is wary of the statements that everything will be back to normal by the summer/autumn.

  95. DawnRWolfe*

    As someone who lived with undiagnosed PTSD until a decade ago and has had to become a lay expert in trauma since, every single point Alison has made is spot-on. Even people who seem “fine” one day may need to cry and take a day in bed the next.

    The way employers can help the healing process, and get back to business sooner with fewer hiccups, is to encourage workers to take the time they need, to lower some of the usual boundaries around emotions and work, and oh please God be sure your health insurance has generous mental health coverage. If you don’t, to paraphrase “Archer,” Do you want trauma-stricken employees who can’t focus on their work? Do you want a few more workplace shootings? Because treating highly traumatized people badly is how you get them.

    And this isn’t going to be a case where it’s possible to just fire and hire wholesale. Virtually everyone in the US, and to some extent in the world, has been living with a reasonable fear of death Every. Damn. Day. for an entire year — and that’s just those of us who are white. BIPOC, I have no clue how they have seemed to keep going without either dying wholesale from stress or going widescale postal.

  96. CeeBee*

    There was so much this year – we forget about the weather – Australia was burning, California was burning, Houston was freezing, so many blows this year, one after another. People have been alone and the usual talk therapy around a breakroom table, a local bar, a favorite restaurant, church, – those options weren’t there. I think we’re become a little stuck waiting for the other shoe to fall, as it were. It’s felt like we’ve been in freefall for a bit. Some of us may have landed; but some landed lightly, and others with a thump!

    1. Self Employed*

      Everytime Northern California has wildfires, someone I know loses everything. Insurance can’t really replace an artist’s full inventory of original artwork and many of the people I know are artists living on the edges of civilization where housing is cheap but there’s too much wildfire fuel.

  97. Stacey*

    Oh, Alison, thank you so much for this response. It takes a loooooooong time and a ton of hard work for people to feel safe after a traumatic event, and the US has had one traumatic event after another, unceasingly. Our exposure to COVID-19 is perhaps the one element in all of this actively ongoing trauma that people feel like they have a semblance of control over. My school has been in-person since August and for months I was simultaneously terrified and SO ANGRY because nothing at all felt safe regardless of stringent precautions.

    I wasn’t able to begin to relax until I saw for myself that our safety measures were effectively preventing transmission from child to adult. Our contact tracing revealed that kids simply weren’t catching it from each other somehow, nor were adults catching it from students. Our handful of positive cases in employees was due to either going out of town to family gatherings over Thanksgiving or transmission from employee to employee because they didn’t follow masking/distancing guidelines.

    OP, just… give them permission to be scared and angry. Accurate or not, removing and/or reducing safety restrictions when we are actively in a pandemic sends the message that your employees are disposable and your organization is fine with risking their lives to provide services to others.

    Let them talk about their fears, let them ask as many “what if” questions as they want. Talk through the logistics of exactly how things will be enforced, what will happen if people refuse to follow the expectations, how the organization will actively support them if they become ill. Acknowledge that their feelings are real and reasonable, even if you yourself are not experiencing the same. This was perhaps the one thing in their lives that made them feel cared-about and actively protected by someone/something other than themselves.

  98. Monkey tree*

    I live in an area that has taken Covid incredibly seriously. The overwhelming majority of the public follow public health orders. Our health officers adopted eradication approaches and so orders have been some of the strictest in the world. We haven’t escaped deaths and illness entirely, but we haven’t experienced the horrors that many other parts of the world have.

    When workplaces wanted people back they found that people didn’t feel safe. They didn’t trust their colleagues to sanitise, to stay home, to distance. They didn’t trust that they would be kept safe by their workplace with orders being given by those with private offices to those in shared spaces, from those who don’t have to interact closely with other people to those who do. It took time, and evidence that things would be done safely. It took outbreaks and seeing that we’d be supported if we isolated after possible exposure.

    In truth I find this “cases are falling” really strange. US has crazy high daily cases counts. There is no isolated part of America with low cases. Yesterday America had over 64000 new cases. It is not a low risk environment.

    Here, anyone who is a close contact of a close contact of a case is isolated for 14 days. A casual contact of a case is isolated for a few days. Both groups must return a negative test before they can leave their house (or govt controlled hotel quarantine location where necessary). If you don’t want a Covid test – I think they add 2 more weeks of isolation to that timeframe (so a full month isolated).

    OP wait until your staff are vaccinated fully. Wait until those vaccinations have had time to work. Our latest cases have included vaccinated people but their vaccine was too recent to have been effective. Then start talking about returning and what your plan is. Make sure you cover how you will handle staff who can’t or don’t want to follow all safety rules. What are your plans for members of the public? Will you require or simply request that measures are followed? Will you have security on hand to prohibit entry for those who aren’t (or can’t) follow your rules? What provisions do you have available for those who are sick to still earn an income while not coming in while coughing? What about someone who is a contact of a case – what are your provisions there?

    I know you want to plan now, and that’s fine. But right now your staff aren’t protected. People are still dying every day. Wait until they can feel protected and then start talking about returning. If you talk now, you are doing so while they feel vulnerable. It’s too early. In 6 weeks when everyone is vaccinated and starting to want to leave their bubbles you’ll have people more ready to hear your plans.

    1. SD*

      Hello from almost certainly the same place in the world.

      Two weeks ago, I started feeling safe. That was after 28 days of no locally transmitted cases and no international flights into my state. (We’ve just restarted international flights, but every worker frontline to the passengers has had at least one dose of vaccine, which is a good start). That’s how long it took me to feel safe. I still felt weird the first time I went into a supermarket without a mask last week, for the first time!

      I’ll admit, reading about the international covid situation and scientific papers daily for work has made me extremely wary of this virus. I’m definitely on the more cautious side even when it wasn’t legally required. But … we basically had to eradicate the virus locally for me to feel comfortable hanging out with my roller derby buds again at training.

      I’ve had the option to be in the workplace at least one day a week most of this year and haven’t been back yet, even though I feel like it would be safe for now. (International flights = bringing more COVID in = some risk, certainly until all frontline workers have 2 jabs + 2 weeks).

      OP, you might think your county has it pretty under control, but if any of your staff are as fearful of this as me, it’ll be a long time before they will be comfortable _regardless of what you offer_. It’s not necessarily about you.

      It’s about the severe illness and risk of long covid and ONE IN THREE survivors (in a study of more than 230,000 mostly American patients) diagnosed with a brain or psychiatric disorder within six months of ‘recovery’. I have a very low tolerance to that kind of risk!

      If you’re ‘walking the walk’ and you’re in there with them in the same situations, it will at least make me think you’ve done everything in your power to make the situation safe. But is it really necessary to open up again yet?

      1. SD*

        Actually one thing that might help – I was able to resume ‘contact with other humans’ very slowly. A 3h picnic with 4 friends one week. a 4 day trip to the inlaws the next month, and the month after that (but with the whole immediate family – ~16 adults). a one day ‘christmas party’ trip to the zoo with work colleagues I hadn’t seen for months. And now? Now I could handle seeing people at work.

        If the workplace is going to be the first place you make people go, please don’t make it be 100 people all at once. Maybe one team one week, another team the next – if you’re going to make people ‘perform’ for 8 hours, please let it be for a small audience, not the entire workforce at once.

  99. Canary*

    Another thing I think it’s important to remember is there may be people either learning to live with long Covid or living with someone who is learning to live with long Covid. That introduces a whole new area of concern for them, even if their daily symptoms are mild enough for them to work full-time in an office.

    For example, if someone went from having excellent respiratory health to having a cough and shortness of breath months after contracting a case of Covid that did NOT require hospitalization, i.e. “mild or moderate Covid,” they may be concerned about possibly contracting other respiratory illnesses on top of it. We all know how often coworkers come into the office with “just a cold,” but “just a cold” for someone with excellent respiratory health can mean bronchitis or pneumonia for someone with poorer respiratory health. Employers need to recognize employees in such a situation may be more tentative while they come to terms with going from healthy to not-healthy in less than a year. (They also need to recognize that we still don’t know what’s going on with long Covid, so their existing policies on employees with chronic illness or disabilities may need to be updated or relaxed.)

  100. Chilipepper*

    I am sorry I am late to the thread. I feel like I have direct experience and recommendations.
    Our library opened to staff only last May and to patrons in September.
    1. Have very clear policies for masks, distancing, etc. BUT just as important, have clear steps about what to do when Staff don’t follow them and when customers don’t follow them. Go so far as to give staff scripts to use with each other when someone is not following policies. Most important is what you expect they will say when one staff person sees a coworker not wearing a mask properly (or at all). For example, the only reaponse you should make is, “thanks for pointing that out, I will fix it.”
    2. With coworkers and patrons, I have found using Alison’s tone of, of course you will comply, really helpful with patrons. I say, “oh, it looks like you forgot your mask,” or “it looks like your nose has come uncovered.” Those work really well.
    3. Practice is important.
    4. Going back without patrons was really helpful to get over the weirdness and fear factor. Tell ppl you know it is weird, you will work through it together. Avoid communicating that management has taken all the right steps so don’t worry, its all taken care of. Thats like telling a person having a panic attack to calm down, completely useless and probably counterproductive. If you can, schedule days in tje office for just separate teams or a few people at a time (whatever is logicalnfor your org) so they can get re-acclimated to the space and each other and see for themselves how the policies will work.
    5. Have a clear system for asking for staff feedback. Don’t ask them if it is time to come back or anything like that, but you can ask if they see any steps you have not addressed, any practical questions about how distancing will work, etc. Help staff have ownership over how coming back will work. You might not be able to change much but asking feels so much better and like I have some control over my own safety.

    Those are my quick, if long, thoughts.

    1. Olives on the pizza*

      I like the idea of a script. Our CEO said we should tell people who are not wearing masks, “Please adjust your mask”. (And, like Chilipepper said, the tone is “Of course you will comply” with a hint of “I’m sure it was an inadvertent oversight”.)

      1. EchoGirl*

        I like the scripts too, partly for that but also because if it was an inadvertent oversight (it does happen!), you’re not immediately getting in someone’s face (metaphorically speaking) or accusing them of anything. If they fix the issue, all good, if they don’t fix it, then you know it’s not an oversight and can proceed accordingly.

  101. tangerineRose*

    I understand why they’re scared. I would be too. Once I’m vaccinated, I’m still going to be careful. The precautions and vaccinations help, but it sounds like it’s still possible to get COVID-19 after being vaccinated (but much less likely and would probably be a mild case).

  102. Anonymom*

    I suspect I will be one of the ones that primarily works from home permanently (just because of the nature of my job and other factors at play). That said, there’s a chance that my work could ask us to come back in anytime (with a bit of notice – at this point, so many people have changed roles that almost none of us have actual assigned workstations anymore).

    The thought of a sudden return to work is panic-inducing for me though. Like, heart-racing, want to vomit, need to be sedated panic. My social skills are gone (they were never great to begin with, but a year of not needing social cues means I have become super awkward, talk too much or too little, and speak to people like they are my kids because that’s basically the only people I talk to.

    after-school care has a year-long waiting list so I have no idea who will meet my kids after school (my youngest was in daycare when this started and the option we had for my eldest is no longer a possibility). Or how they will even cope with me not being there (especially if I get vaccinated before they do) – this has been far from easy for them as well and they are going to need a lot of support as they adjust (but I also need a lot of support as I adjust!).

    Then, my mental health is a dumpster fire of awesomeness (does it show? Ha.) and I no longer own a single article of clothing that fits and is also work-appropriate. Not to mention we only have one vehicle, because spouse’s business income has dropped to zero for the past year, our second car died, and it’s hard to afford a replacement car when you’re trying to stretch one income to cover living expenses that would normally require two incomes.

    I also suspect I have some serious grieving to do when this is all over. We had a lot of personal loss in the past year and no real ability to channel that grief (in particular, I’ve struggled with being unable to see people in the final months of their lives, thinking at some point this would end only to find out that instead, I never got to see those family members again).

    On the bright side, I think our dog will actually handle it reasonably well. But all to say that if I had to go from rarely interacting with adults in-person to 40 hours a week overnight, you can guarantee that I’ll hit a wall pretty quickly (or struggle to focus so much that my productivity will be extremely low).

    I hate the pandemic so much.

  103. Joleen, Joleen*

    I’m a manager and during the pandemic I’ve been going in and covering the “stuff you must be in the office to do” tasks so that my staff can work from home. I’m willing to do this during the pandemic, but I’m not willing to work the extra hours for them forever.
    My company is requiring masks and social distancing, got a new HVAC system, and put up Plexiglas.

    1. running water*

      Can you have a rotating roster of appropriate people who come in in-person to perform these tasks going forward?

      And can you ensure that office will be appropriate deep-cleaned between these in-person visits?

  104. nnn*

    My comment here is about my visceral emotional reaction, and does not reflect science. I’m sharing it because the question is about emotions. If you read it and think “That’s not scientifically accurate at all!”, you are correct.

    My visceral emotional reaction is when I’m in an environment with masks, distancing, plexiglass, etc., I’m not safe. If I were safe, we wouldn’t need all these precautions. Even if I were vaccinated, I wouldn’t feel safe in an environment where all the precautions are required, for the admittedly tautological reason that the precautions wouldn’t be required if it were safe.

    Which isn’t to say you should eliminate the precautions! Just understand that when people are in a new risky situation (i.e. open to the public during the pandemic for the first time) and surrounded by a constant visible and tangible reminder of the risk, they aren’t necessarily going to feel safe, and it’s going to take them some time to feel safe.

    Analogy: think about flying for the first time. You’re on the plane, you’ve just heard the safety announcements (Wait, there isn’t even enough oxygen up here??) the plane is taxiing and is just lifting off, and is in that really noisy part of takeoff where it really seems like there’s no good reason why this should work . . .

    Maybe you’re anxious in that moment.

    And if someone tries to comfort you with statistics about how safe planes are compared to driving etc., there would be a nasty little voice in your head saying “Then why is there a lifejacket under my seat?”

    Maybe eventually you’d get used to being in an airplane, and you’d be able to relax completely. But not right at the beginning, not during that noisy part of takeoff with the safety precautions at the forefront of your mind.

    1. allathian*

      Sounds familiar to me. It’s also one reason why I’m glad we won’t be required to go to the office for some time to come.

    2. HigherEdAdminista*

      This is so beautifully put. Where I live, cases are again higher and not really dropping off and the other day I thought about popping into a store for a small treat. People were wearing masks and they had new barriers up, but I just kept thinking about the numbers and thought “better not.”

      The precautions are good and important, but it is also a reminder of the danger.

  105. lilsheba*

    I am super glad I am working remotely from now on. In theory I should never have to set foot in an office again which is fine by me. I wouldn’t trust it either, just because people have caught it even with being careful. Not anything against OP but yeah I can’t blame them.

  106. Lb decrow*

    Dayamn girl if you aren’t side hustling as a speech writer you betta get on it. Very powerful words. Respect

  107. kariodi*

    I work as a substitute teacher. I have not received an appointment to get my vaccine, substitutes are at the bottom of the list. I just finished a two week job for a teacher who was out because he had Covid. I did a day in this week for a teacher who had reactions to her vaccine. While everyone wears masks and there is a lot of hand sanitizer, there is absolutely no social distancing. The desks are too close together, the kids are all over each other, and you can’t keep your distance from the younger students because they need help. The school is going on Spring Break next week and while my city has a quarantine policy in place after travelling, the parents are already lying about travelling. This is why people are so distrustful about going back to work.

    1. lilsheba*

      This is why schools should NOT be open yet. They keep pushing to open schools in my state and it’s a horrible idea.

    2. Loves libraries*

      I work as a sub as well. Have done Covid subs and post vaccine subs. I’m known as a stickler for enforcement of the mask rules. I eat by myself in the classroom and open windows. Even though my husband and I are partially vaccinated, I know most students are not. I still feel it’s my job to protect them from each other. It’s what they do after school that worries me.

  108. Other Duties as Assigned*

    This is probably the single finest response Alison has written (and that’s really saying something).

    This was a kind, thoughtful and very human response to this question and succinctly enumerates the many things contributing to the current trauma we’re all coping with at present. Trauma is indeed the correct term, and I think we’ll be dealing with it for a long time to come and in ways we probably haven’t fully grasped yet.

    OP, if you need evidence of why your staff is skeptical, just read back through this site for the last year-plus. We’ve seen letters chronicling horrific/tone-deaf/ill-advised behavior from leaders and co-workers: ignoring workplace safety measures, making unreasonable demands on WFH workers, forcing WFHers back to the office for no reason, etc., and in way too many cases demonstrating exactly how little some employers really care about their staffers.

    Alison is also correct that trust has been severely eroded and not only might it take a long time to repair, and I fear it may never come back fully.

    One line in her response is key here: “Even if your organization has done everything right…” That’s the sticking point here: will it do everything right? What will happen to the otherwise-valued co-worker who only wears a mask when the boss is around? Will they really block a patron (a taxpayer) who tries to come in without a mask? Will they have enough managerial backbone to change their plans if your local Covid numbers spike? Many employees have an absolute right to be wary. As Alison said, we’ve been misled on a massive scale. This year has resulted in a huge financial and psychological cost to your employees, their families, their friends and the country at large. As a manager, you need to be cognizant of this reality and accept the skepticism your staff may feel about your reopening plans.

    I posted here a year ago as this pandemic was first taking hold. I said then that we’re all watching closely how organizations are treating their employees, customers, clients, etc. during this time and when this is over, we’ll all be deciding who we want to work for or patronize. If anything good can come of this terrible time, I hope it might be this: that the organizations that were cavalier about the safety and well-being of their employees will find that their reputations have been permanently damaged. In every job interview for the next few years, the response to that last question: ‘Do you have any questions for us?’ should be: ‘Tell me in detail the steps your organization took to keep your staff safe during the pandemic.’

  109. running water*

    There is a really, really important question that all employers and/or bosses need to consider regarding dragging staff back into the office and/or reopening to the public.

    Do you actually need to do this? As in, is the only way in which the business will survive is by reopening and/or bringing your staff back in to the workplace?

    Or, do only some of your staff actually need to be in the office?

    For example, do your Teapot Manufacturers need to be in a (genuinely socially-distanced, regularly properly deep-cleaned) workplace where the teapot manufacturing equipment is, but the Teapot Designers and Teapot Sales Managers can work remotely (maybe coming in once every month or so, if need be).

    Or is it a workplace where literally everyone can do all or most of their job remotely, as it is basically all computer-based and that people they need top speak to can be spoken to via phone or video chat? (For example: software designers, communications professionals, lawyers, journalists and other writers, cyber security professionals, marketing professionals, etc).

    Don’t drag people back into the office who don’t have to be there, and don’t want to be there. It is bad for morale and work will suffer.

  110. RJ*

    I live in one state and work in another. Both states were the epicenter at the start of the pandemic and both states are currently experiencing surges in COVID-19 cases. It is expected, according to the current data. that cases will be high through at least June. It gives people a feeling of anxiety to have so much opening around them while at the same time young people are now infected and hospitalized.

    OP, I wish you the best of luck and Alison has stated please remember that it is still a time of trauma that will require more time for healing. From a personal standpoint, it has changed my overall view of the workplace I am searching for as I hope never to work full time in office again. It’s hybrid or all remote for me going forward.

  111. LizM*

    Thank you for this. It’s not work related, but I’m currently making plans to see friends I haven’t seen in over a year. We’ll all be fully vaccinated. I still feel like we’re doing something wrong.

    I have had to go into the office from time to time over the last year. Last time I was there, there were a handful of other people there at the same time. Even though we were all masked and well under the capacity that our safety plan allows, I felt so uncomfortable that I got out of there as quickly as I could.

    I feel like I’ve forgotten how to be in a space with people outside of my immediate family. I don’t know when I’ll be comfortable interacting with my extended social network in person again.

    1. Caroline Bowman*

      That’s wonderful. I hope that the meet-up goes incredibly well and that as time passes, and you get more accustomed to living ”normally” once again, and especially as the weather and general atmosphere improves, that it becomes much easier and not scary. It would be strange if you just popped back into normality without any fears or doubts. The USA has been through the utter mill, what with one thing and another (not just the pandemic!), so give yourself slack, take it slowly, but do keep going.

    2. SD*

      as I just commented above – it’s exhausting at first, as well as that feeling of committing a crime when you drive outside the radius you’ve been legally confined to for months – please allow some recovery time after the gathering. We haven’t had to perform the ‘normal human’ dance in months, the small talk, the facial expressions, etc. Hopefully your friends will understand if you need to take little breaks to go outside and just be alone for five minutes.

  112. Caroline Bowman*

    The thing is, all you can really do is be 100% certain that those protocols really are in place, that everyone is fully vaccinated and then say ”the date for re-opening is X”. Obviously respond to individual specific concerns kindly and with practical advice. If possible, if the company can underwrite some form of counselling in the run-up / early weeks / months of the reopening, that would be fantastic.

    But I have learnt with anxiety that is not completely rational, that trying to endlessly accommodate it does not reduce it. This doesn’t mean you sneer at it and don’t empathasise. It means you hear the genuine concerns, implement any solid, practical safety measures you can, make rational suggestions, including counselling for anyone who feels they want it, but after that, you… open for business. Those who want to return can do so and with time, would hopefully see that your safety measures are real, are working and held to standard. Those who don’t want to can decide to make a change and go elsewhere with warm recommendations from you. You can only do what you can do, and fixing trauma that is quite entrenched for many is outside of what one small company can tackle.

  113. Manana*

    Like…work sucks? Very few people WANT to be HR representatives or “guest affairs liaisons” or technical program managers or data integrity officers or whatever the title is of the thing they do to not starve. It’s just the thing they gotta do when Rockstar and Circus Clown didn’t pan out. Even with every terrible thing that’s happened, people have been home: the one place on the planet where they have any semblance of control. Where they can use the bathroom in private, not have to overhear obnoxious conversation or deal with passive aggressive notes in the kitchen. Where they can get laundry and house work done when the workday is slow instead of being forced to look busy and spend their weekends on domestic labor instead. And now they have to go back to all that, back to long commutes and packed public transit, back to wearing uncomfortable polyester slacks in a cubicle. And honestly, the “get back to normal” is the worst part of it. To act like nothing happened, that getting back to business is the most important thing, after everything that happened we must get back to being productive above all else. So depressing.

  114. shirleywurley*

    Look, if you don’t actually have to re-open in order to stay in business, don’t do it. Don’t bring everyone back into your office for no reason in the middle of a global pandemic. It’s ridiculous. It also makes no economic sense: people who are scared are not productive.

    There are some jobs that cannot be done remotely, either in part or in full. But many jobs can be done remotely, in all or in part. If only some of the staff are needed in your office, only bring those back in who are absolutely need to be there in person (or who want to be there). Don’t make people come in when they don’t have to.

    It doesn’t matter what promises are made by workplaces regarding COVID safety protocols: too many authorities and workplaces have breached these protocols consistently. It doesn’t matter that some people have been halfway vaccinated, and others have been completely vaccinated.

    As Alison said, people are traumatised and distrustful over this. And they are right to be. (A common theory I keep hearing is that the commercial property lobby wants people back in offices so that they can start extracting enormous amounts of rent from tenants again. And I have to say, I totally agree with that theory.)

  115. CC*

    THANK YOU ALLISON! This sums up my thoughts too. In my short life I’ve witness so many wild things begining with watching hundreds of people burn to death in the WTC attacks as a teenager. This era is tough and we as a society have witnessed traumas that happen once in a lifetime. It’s okay to not be okay!

    1. Grieving and*

      thank you cc. when this started all I could say was the closest to my experience was 911. you sharing makes me feel not so alone.

  116. Grieving and*

    And grieving. I stopped counting the people I lost this year. I stopped at 22. I am from NYC but have been in the midwest for 10 years. I am flabbergasted by the people in my life (who I knew had different politics) continue to say things like- its just a bad flu, oh no not getting vacinated. The casual racism, the science denial, the lying by my peers, co-workers, neighbors, the ambiguous loss, and isolation all are affecting how I am dealing with the day-to-day.

    As a director, please do not take it personally when on zoom, I do exhibit visible excitement of returning to the building. No, I am not myself and don’t know when I will be.
    AND please watch your words.
    I am NOT returning to work.
    I have been working time and half, as best I can, above and beyond the call of duty from home.

  117. Keymaster of Gozer*

    Late to thread (thank you migraine) but…finest thing you’ve ever written Allison.

    I used to be a virologist – with qualifications in both virology and epidemiology. This kind of pandemic (respiratory infection with high mortality) is what we always feared the most. Not Ebola, nor any variation of it. And yet, with all that knowledge, I was shocked into a literal breakdown over the events of the past year. I’ve lost friends, both to Covid and to the myths surrounding it (like cutting off a 25 year friendship because they insisted that this was all overhyped and ‘just the flu’).

    I’ve watched in horror as no only my own country (UK) tore itself apart, but others too and in far worse ways.

    I have to go into offices as part of my job (can’t fix IT kit remotely all the time) and it’s not going to stop being scary for a long time. We’ve done our best to make it as safe as possible: masks are mandatory, if you can’t wear one you don’t come in, when the tech arrives the work area has to have been cleaned and people remain at a safe distance from it…etc.

    It’s like returning to driving a car after a near fatal crash (something I also have experienced): it’s going to be a long process, a slow one, there are likely to be setbacks where people’s fear stop the process again but in time it will be better.

  118. LadyOfTheLake*

    The problem is that not everyone has been allowed to process their trauma in the same way. My workplace (public-facing) has been open since June; masks are enforced for both staff and patrons. We have had an extremely low rate of transmission (as in 0 transmitted cases) between workers. We had 1 employee test positive this Spring, and we followed protocols – she was home to quarantine, but since everyone wore masks, no one else in the workplace tested positive.

    And, from my perspective, the world is pretty open. I grocery shop, go to the pharmacy, get gas for my car, get curbside or delivery restaurant food, etc. But I don’t have food delivered, drugs delivered, etc (just pizza and they were doing that before COVID). Why? I’M TRANSFERRING THE RISK TO SOMEONE ELSE, PROBABLY LESS WELL-PAID THAN ME. *Someone* still has to grocery shop to bring me my food. *Someone* would still have shop Walgreens for me. And honestly, Amazon has enough labor issues that I don’t feel comfortable shopping from *them*.

    I work in a public-facing agency (a public library). The public needs our services. We help people from all economic classes. We provide technology to people who don’t have access from home. We’re the people that help people mediate between other, scarier, forms of government, like the unemployment office and the IRS.

    And yes, the staff were nervous coming back (which spurred them to greater heights in enforcing mask-usage by our patrons). But half the world HASN’T been able to stay home: grocery store clerks, postal workers, retail workers, delivery people, etc. I get trauma, I’m traumatized too, but . . . dang. The inequity issues in this pandemic are so, so, so very glaring.

    1. who knows*

      I don’t understand why you think it is problematic to have groceries delivered but not to have pizza delivered. I think both are fine, personally — but if you have an objection to the employee’s health risk and/or the income inequality represented by one of those types of delivery, isn’t it true for the other as well?

      I shop for my own groceries because my grocery store doesn’t offer delivery or curbside pickup. If they did, I’d use it — not just (1) to reduce my own risk, but also (2) to reduce the store employees’ risk (they’re safer interacting with 20 hired shoppers who are making purchases on behalf of 15 people/day each, rather than 300 people all doing their own shopping in a given day) and (3) to create jobs (which a lot of people REALLY need right now).

    2. Jessica124*

      Yes, definitely, inequities have been further exposed, and people have been working outside of their homes from the beginning, being called essential workers but not treated as such. Part of the idea of closing other businesses was to keep people who aren’t essential and can work from home from exposing more people. I’m fortunate and can work from home (though we were told to expect to return to pre-covid operations come fall) and by doing so I have helped keep public transit less crowded (which has had its own ramifications on public transit) so that people who need to travel can, when I go to the grocery store I haven’t been stewing in the germs of an open office everyday, exposed to 50 people, meaning I expose grocery store workers less, etc.

      The activities you are describing are not an open world. In a pre-covid world I’d get up, get on public transit, go to work, stop at several stores during the week, go to a couple of bars, and go out to eat. Right now I get up, work from home, go to the store maybe once a month, and go outdoor dining once a month. (And I still had covid in January, which I got either from brief exposure buying toilet paper or brief exposure to my neighbors who got it from work.) In some places the world is *as open* as the world I described I used to live in. If that were the case where I lived I’d be very very nervous to return to work.

      I’m very happy that people at your job are following mask mandates and being super careful and that you’ve had no spread there. Certainly there are ways that our government could help with that process with rapid at-home antigen testing like Citibank is doing for their employees, paid sick leave, paid child care, and on and on. But something is really unsettling about your comment, as if you think you are speaking for essential workers but seem to be speaking for yourself.

      Our system is very broken, and people’s anxiety about returning to work is warranted. I’m not angry that people are expressing that anxiety and trauma. I’m angry we live in a system that values money over life, is ableist, ageist, and racist as ever, and blames individuals for having a reaction to that.

  119. Dana F.*

    Thank you, Allison. I’m sending this to my employers. I work in a library and we’ve been opening our branches in stages since last summer, starting with curbside services.

    People need libraries, we need to be open. But we also need support. We need PPP. We need the administration sticking up for us with people who refuse masks and should get no service. We should be paid for the time it takes to get vaccinations. We should be getting time at work to schedule vaccinations.

    Mostly, we need to be treated kindly by both the public and our bosses.

    The pandemic is not over yet.

  120. minnie*

    I can imagine how chaotic the sentiment might be in a whole group of people. I personally can be feeling really crummy one day that I’m weeks from being eligible (even though I know it’s for the good of others), we might have to miss another family wedding if we can’t get appointments promptly, and cases are going up yet again in our county. Then a few days later I’m happily anticipating that I’ll get my shot(s) sometime this spring or summer and then go to the dentist, get a haircut, visit my family after a year and a half, meet my coworkers for the first time, and go to a baseball game! I’m upset when the CDC head describes impending doom and I’m thrilled to read that vaccinations decrease transmission. If you scale up to your whole staff, you’re going to have a lot of confused and unusually emotional people.

  121. Second Day Comment Poster*

    This. A Million times. Thank you Alison! As a manager, I’m trying to figure out what, if anything I can do to help my team through all the change that is coming. If you aren’t already Alison, can you work on a post of ideas/ways we can help our teams navigate what’s to come? Yes, we will need to patient and kind and flexible. Any other ideas for ways we can help our teams cope?

  122. metronomic*

    Thanks Allison! Your points about the collective loss of trust in our systems and institutions resonated with me and I think is something employers should be mindful of as we move forward. My organization has been less than transparent and communicative about reopening and I can see and hear the anxiety in my remote video meetings. They have been slow to communicate because we were slammed and our org has grown quickly during the past year, and I do not believe they will make anyone come back if they are not ready, and believe they will be thoughtful about the reopening in the end. That said, after reading your response I can recognize how this lack of transparency and communication about our reopening process is tinder to the fires of our collective distrust. We know vaguely there is an Office Reopening Working Group but we don’t know who the members of this group are, how often they meet, nor what the data points, benchmarks and determining factors they are using to design the return plans.

    Additionally, we will likely have a lot more fully remote and hybrid workers when we reopen by some amount of necessity, given our growth and lack of adequate office space, but we don’t know who is assessing this and how it will be determined who is eligible to work remote/hybrid.

  123. a sound engineer*

    Beautifully written. One quibble – as an Asian-American who now has to worry about my safety whenever I leave the house, and has experienced daily the way racism towards people who look like me has risen (and largely been ignored until recently) for the past year, I’m disappointed to see that you left the rising wave of hate attacks out.

  124. sally*

    I was catching up on some work today. My job has some things that run on an annual cycle, so I was looking back on some emails I sent last spring/summer to jog my memory for this year. I was kind of shocked to find that I sounded like a different person in those old emails. I sound so chipper. I guess I wasn’t….worn down yet? I’m exhausted these days. I feel like I can’t be productive over zoom for another damn minute. I’m burnt out and sick of everything and crying at the drop of a hat.

    That said, as tired and cranky as I am, I’m actually not anxious about going back to the office. I work for an essential business, and we’ve been open all along. My team specific team has been remote under the edict that “people who can work remotely should do so,” but many of my colleagues have been on-site every day since the start of this thing. There have been confirmed cases of covid in our office here and there – a mass email goes out to tell us when that happens. But they haven’t spread, and nobody has gotten seriously ill on our staff. We could be just weirdly lucky, but we’re also good about masks, and I think that is key. Our management did also ban eating indoors during your lunch, unless you are in a private office with the door shut, and I think that also helped.

    Anyway, seeing my workplace be open and be basically fine for months now has soothed a lot of the anxieties about going back that I would have had if we were closed all along. It means I have tons of empirical evidence that opening an office (and my office, specifically!) does not have to lead to unmitigated spread, even before the vaccine. A concrete way for employers to show compassion is gradual openings. There’s not going to be any magic fairy dust spread on the world to make the anxiety just stop, but the more you go to work and see that things are okay, the more you’ll feel okay doing it.

  125. Nicole*

    This might just my brain being biased towards my own field of employment, but from the description it sounds like you might work in a library OP. If so, I can totally understand (and this is excluding from a trauma perspective) why your staff are still nervous.
    If you look at any number of professional forums there are horror stories of trying to get patrons to comply with mask and social distancing guidelines and time limits; if your employees have read any of these I can understand. Plus, while 40% of your population is vaccinated, 60% still isn’t and some of them may refuse to get one forever. Vaccines are flawless and variants are spreading, so your staff may still worry about getting sick or bringing the virus home to their families.
    Neither of my current institutions is open to the public yet (one will in May and the other will likely hold off until the 2021/2022 academic year), and I’m a bit nervous for when they will even though I’ll be fully vaccinated by then. I’ll be going from only seeing my coworkers who I have some knowledge of who they see, where they go, and what they do to seeing dozens of people whose movements and risk precautions I have no knowledge of.
    With time I know my nervousness (and likely your employees too) will subside, but for now it’s a scary thing (also I hate being the mask police and am not excited to go back to that role).

  126. library-adjacent worker*

    This sounds like a library (or library-adjacent) to me, and I think one of the things giving a lot of folks in public-facing jobs isn’t so much their concern that their workplace or coworkers won’t be following guidelines (though that’s an issue in every workplace to some extent I think), but that the nature of working with patrons involves working with ALLLL the kinds of challenges that humans bring with them. Generally it’s hard to find someone who can library staff up in a dicey situation even when it’s not a pandemic (disengaged admin, staff stretched thin, insufficient or total lack of a formal security presence)– if there was nobody to step in when pre-pandemic issues involved threats or harassment or biohazards before (these are kind of normal hazards in a library!) it’s not especially likely that there will be someone to do that now, except for now everyone is extra socially broken (staff and patrons alike).

    Not to mention the fact that libraries support populations struggling with homelessness, drug use, mental illness, without the benefit of specific resources or training– that’s a lot of face to face time with folks who are vulnerable and at increased risk themselves who need help, but might not have the resources to fully embrace new rules. In some ways it’s like working in health care without the benefit of health care protocols. In any case, there’s just about zero chance that a library worker on a public service desk is realistically going to be able to distance themselves from a patron who won’t follow mask or social distancing guidelines. There are deescalation strategies we all use, but none of them include undoing exposure to an evolving, airborne virus, and I expect most communities are going to fall *very* short of the vaccine percentages they’d need to achieve herd immunity.

    For what it’s worth, I’m someone in a high risk group who has been doing face to face work on site with coworkers and college students