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Last week, the swings were back up in the playground of the park near our house. I pass by them several times a day when we take our dog Ted for a walk. It was a mild afternoon and kids were out in the sun. They climbed on the play stations and slid down the slides, but most of the activity was at the swing set. Who can swing highest? Fastest? Who is brave enough to jump? One child turned circles, twisting the chain into a double helix laughing and spinning in circles as the chain unwound. On another swing, a big sister “helped” push her little sister (“No! I can do it!”). Meanwhile, parents watched nearby.

It was about this time last year that the swings were taken down and the playground gear was wrapped in yellow caution tape. The splash park never opened. There were no kids’ soccer leagues or pick-up baseball games. By late summer, children came back to the play stations. (I wonder which child was the first to ride the slide through the caution tape?) But there were no swings. Until now. 

After a year of social distancing, mask wearing and other precautions to help slow the spread of COVID-19, people are beginning to venture out. A warm week in mid-April made us hopeful. Outdoor seating reappeared in the neighborhood restaurants. As I write this, approximately half of all adults in the US have taken at least one round of the coronavirus vaccine, and the CDC relaxed its recommendations on wearing masks outdoors. Articles about “bucket list” travel destinations have begun to appear in magazines and on websites. 

But the pandemic is not over. The rates of infection and hospitalization in Ohio have plateaued, but they have not gone away. And public health professionals caution us not to let our guard down too soon. 

If you are feeling conflicted about “getting back to normal,” you are not alone. A recent article in Voice of America referenced a survey by the American Psychological Association which found “about half of adults are uncomfortable about returning to in-person interactions after the pandemic. Their concerns range from getting COVID-19 to communicating with friends, family and co-workers again.” I hear this in conversations with people I know: pandemic fatigue and the desire to get out and about comingled with concern over what happens if we go too soon. The surge in cases last fall following the holidays left an impression. Surges in Brazil and more recently in India, bear witness to the risk of lowering our guard too quickly.

So how do you decide what is the right thing to do?

Ask the experts: The CDC continues to update its guidance on COVID-19, and state health and local health officials here in Ohio continue to monitor coronavirus cases as they weigh lifting health orders.  The Ohio Department of Health regularly updates information on its website, which includes safety protocols for businesses and organizations, as well as information about social distancing and where to get vaccinated. Guidance on dealing with COVID-19 continues to evolve, as we learn more about disease, how it spreads and how to treat and prevent it. 

Think of others: Part of getting back “out there” is being around people. Other people. Practice empathy, patience, kindness and grace. We will return to “normal” at different rates. But things will continue to get better. There are better days ahead. 

Just ask the kids on the swings.