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The World Health Organization formally declared the coronavirus a global pandemic on March 11, 2020.

More than two years later, the pandemic has no clear end date in sight. There have been false starts toward a sense of normalcy: the drop in cases in the summer of 2020, the race to get “shots in arms” in 2021, the few weeks of “hot vax summer,” and the end of mask mandates in many states in March. But, as my colleagues have reported, even though Congress recently cut coronavirus funding, the pandemic is not over for the unvaccinated, the elderly, the immunocompromised, or Black and brown Americans, who are twice as likely to have died from COVID as their white counterparts. Long COVID, a mysterious set of debilitating symptoms without a cure, has left many feeling like science has failed them too.  

We exist now in a moment of record-setting deaths, confusing public-health guidance, and little understanding of how, or when, normal begins. To help make sense of what society has experienced, we asked our Instagram followers to share one sentence that describes their “new normal” and three words that characterize their hopes for our post-COVID world.

Read their responses in The Atlantic’s COVID Time Capsule, a reflection on the past two years captured in our current moment.


In one sentence, how would you describe your new normal?

Subdued happiness, bedeviled by impending doom

“I care less about devoting my life to work and more about living.”

“I can no longer tell the difference between loneliness and solitude.”

“I have found joy and beauty all around me.”

Becoming a wife and mother during COVID has been bittersweet

“Nothing seems simple anymore.”

“I live hyperlocally, focus on outdoor activities, and no longer travel.”

“The thought of leaving the house twice in one day makes me shudder.”  

“Mask in the glove box and rapid test in the closet.”

“Missing my dad.”

A balance of savoring life and the guilt we made it through okay

“I have turned into an antisocial goblin.”

“Going out maskless seems weird now, like you are naked.”

“So much loss.”

Share three words to describe your hope for the future

Empathy, compassion, understanding

“Hug loved ones.”

“Belief in science.”

“Hope, love, empathy.”

“Peace of mind.”

“Vaccination for toddlers.”

“To be calm.”

“Return to sanity.”

Remember our humanity

“Freedom from fear.”

“See faces again.”

“Dinner with friends.”

“No more masks.”

“All are vaccinated.”

To add your reflections to the time capsule, share it on social media with your thoughts and tag us—@theatlantic on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

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