In the meantime, I have done virtually nothing that I’m supposed to be doing in order to get myself through this pandemic, which is definitely not over yet. I have had an impossible time not just completing work tasks, but cooking for myself, working out, running errands, reading books, and even finishing shows I’ve started on Netflix. My executive function, feeble in the best of times, is apparently never coming back from war. I couldn’t even think of a name for this phenomenon until a co-worker invoked an old high-school trope to explain why she was feeling similarly. As soon as she did, it made perfect sense: We’ve got pandemic senioritis.
For those who are unfamiliar with the concept—or who were simply more committed students than I ever was—senioritis is a psychological affliction both totally made up and very real. More a mood than a diagnosis, you can find many students afflicted by it in their last semester of high school or college. Senioritis comes from reaching the end stages of the lengthy work necessary to achieve a difficult—and often not altogether voluntary—goal. (Sound familiar?) It’s an abrupt bout of laziness, or flakiness, or riskiness. It is sudden-onset farting around, and maybe breaking a few rules in the process.
This might be hitting a little close to home for you right now. Taking a nation’s behavioral temperature can be a bit tricky, but data are beginning to show that even people who have stuck to safety protocols for much of the pandemic are getting antsy and letting things slip. In a March poll, Gallup found that only 46 percent of unvaccinated Americans who intended to get a shot were still mostly or completely isolating. That was a 12-point drop from January—a much larger change in activity than even that of the newly vaccinated. This shift comes as COVID-19 cases have once again begun to rise in many places in the United States; even as the country vaccinates millions of people a day, the danger of the pandemic has not yet subsided for the majority of people. Nonetheless, more Americans are traveling, salons and spas have started to book up, and many restaurants are desperate to rehire workers to meet increased demand.
I was among the very first of my friends to get a vaccine, and seeing it become a reality for a few of us seemed to poke the pandemic soft spots on the whole group’s skulls. Some of my friends became the people from the Gallup poll who were still anticipating their own jab but started to cut some corners anyway, after almost a year of toeing the line. Maybe we could sit in one of those weird, unventilated dining huts that have sprouted on city sidewalks. Maybe we could all pile into one of our apartments after an evening getting before-times drunk outdoors at a series of bars. My colleague Katherine J. Wu refers to this type of rule-bending as “vaccine cheat days,” and as she predicted recently, they are indeed adding up.