In The Cheshire Herald’s most recent “Blast from the Past” feature, we looked back at May of 2020, when Connecticut was just beginning to peek its head above the lockdown waters that had come crashing down on us in the middle of March.
While things began to “open” for the first time in months, the message from local and state officials was clear — stay safe and stay home, if possible. It perhaps wasn’t the message local business owners wanted to hear, and it meant that numerous activities and events would remain canceled, but everyone understood the logic. America was still in the grips of the pandemic.
Stay safe, stay home was the advice, and many of us heeded it.
Now, the message has changed. Just last week, Gov. Ned Lamont, speaking from the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford, told people to “get out of the damn house,” as he encouraged residents to once again re-enter society. Lamont’s advice was focused on the economy, as he discussed the need to get people back to work and back to patronizing Connecticut businesses. According to Connecticut Economic and Community Development Commissioner David Lehman, the state ranks 19th in the country as far as economic recovery is concerned, estimating that the Connecticut economy is at about 92% of what it was pre-pandemic.
But there’s perhaps another reason why the messaging is changing.
The issues of mental health and substance abuse were being discussed well before the arrival of the pandemic, and throughout the last year there were many signs that such problems had only increased. Now, as we emerge from this crisis, it appears that we’re getting a better look at the damage caused by the steps we took to mitigate the terrible disease.
According to report this month by NBC News, drug overdose deaths in the U.S. as a whole rose by 29% from September 2019 to September 2020. Alcohol sales in Connecticut were up significantly by the end of 2020, with the state estimating that residents had spent more than $75 million in comparison to approximately $68 million the year before.
As far as the younger generation goes, national polling has shown that problems with mental health have dramatically increased. According to a survey taken in January by the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Michigan, one-third of teen girls and one-fifth of teen boys have reported new or worsening anxiety levels. This seems to correlate with what has been reported by local and state mental health workers and facilities — more young people than ever before are seeking help for everything from depression to anxiety.
Taking steps to beat this virus was absolutely necessary. With approximately 600,000 dead in America since the start of the crisis, and more than 8,000 dead in Connecticut, this terrible illness has exacted a horrendous toll. But the cost for “stay safe, stay home” was always going to be high.
Now, as Connecticut continues to see high vaccination numbers and low vaccination rates, the impetus must be on getting people not only back to work, but back together as well. So many of the problems caused by the mitigation protocols stemmed, it appears, from lack of socialization. Individuals felt disconnected from their friends, family, co-workers, and school mates. Many reported feeling cut off.
Of course, everyone will have their own comfort level when it comes to re-entering society, and no one should be made to feel uncomfortable about their choices. Already, one sees a number of establishments populated by masked and unmasked individuals, and that’s OK. Some will rush to return to normal, others will take their time.
But now, with COVID-19 on the run, the state is looking to get people back out there, living and enjoying life once again. That’s not just good for the economy. It’s increasingly clear “getting back out there” is important for our societal health as a whole.