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Getting Back to Sort-Of Normal

Alan Rooks
By Alan Rooks Editor in Chief, Manufacturing Engineering

With mass vaccinations driving down COVID-19 infection rates dramatically in the U.S., more people are resuming their regular social and working lives, and that’s great news. It’s relatively safe for vaccinated people to gather and many are doing just that. So, are we back to normal? Not quite.

The good news is the U.S. is leading the way in “COVID resilience,” according to a report on The news outlet’s “Covid Resilience Ranking” notes that “The biggest vaccination drive in history is enabling parts of the globe to abolish mask mandates, relax restrictions and dismantle border curbs, making the magnitude of reopening key to quality of life. … [T]he ability to essentially turn back the clock and return to pre-pandemic times is taking on an even greater significance.”

After adding new metrics to the ranking that “capture the ease of moving in and out of a place and how much air travel has recovered”—along with 10 other measures that include mortality rates to infection counts, freedom of movement, and economic growth—Bloomberg states that “The U.S. is now No. 1, with its fast and expansive vaccine rollout, dominated by the highly effective Messenger RNA shots, stemming what was once the world’s worst outbreak.”

That’s an incredible achievement, made possible by the rapid and sustained vaccine rollout in the U.S. It has made it safe to resume social and business gatherings. SME has a busy schedule of in-person trade shows starting with FABTECH, RAPID +TCT and WMTS in September, CMTS, HOUSTEX, EASTEC and SOUTHTEC in October, and WESTEC and AeroDef Manufacturing in November.

It will be great to resume the in-person collaboration that is still essential to doing business. But challenges to recovery from the pandemic remain. Global supply chains are struggling with multiple disruptions. Shipping rates are historically high. Computer chip shortages are curbing output in key industries such as automotive. Some manufacturers are having a hard time keeping up with growing demand.

And people need time to recover as well. A June 28 report by Soo Yun in the Washington Post, “America’s workers are exhausted and burned out,” explains why people can’t just flip a switch and go back to normal:

“Expecting people to just ‘return to work’ does not acknowledge the challenges and difficulties employees endured. Employers can’t expect employees to just pretend like we didn’t just live through a social catastrophe—especially as that catastrophe continues to unfold around the world,” Stanford University sociologist Marianne Cooper was quoted as saying. “Employers need to understand the employees returning to the office are not the same people who left last March.”

As we get back to sort-of normal, we’ll need to be patient with, and respectful to, each other. The human side of this recovery is just as important as the business side.

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