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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The frightening, post-election COVID surge is making everything feel strange, different and unsettled all over again.

Why it matters: With Thanksgiving canceled, doctors quitting their practices and grocers limiting purchase quantities (again), Americans have the ambient sense that our safety net is unraveling. Not only are things not returning to normal, they may not return to normal for a long time.

The people and institutions we look toward for guidance and leadership — like elected officials and medical authorities — seem as flummoxed by the pandemic as we are. They issue new rules day by day (closing schools, restricting shopping, issuing curfews), yet look helpless and flailing as infections rise.

  • Our comforting touch points, like family get-togethers and holiday rituals, are suddenly off-limits.
  • There are fewer entertainments and distractions, with movie theaters closed and our appetites for TV bingeing satiated a long time ago.
  • For those who derive comfort from their faith, remote worship offers less fulfillment.

Strangely, CEOs and corporate America have been serving as a rare anchor in this unmoored reality, attempting to provide some moral suasion and fueling the engine behind the stock market's rally.

  • Companies like Pfizer and Moderna are looking like the heroes of the day — though their vaccines can't come soon enough to allay our worst fears.
  • Meanwhile, the restaurateurs and merchants who form the pillars of our communities are suffering with growing intensity before our eyes.

Economically, the nation is heading into uncharted territory, with COVID-related uncertainty obliterating all forecast attempts.

  • While many Americans are doing fine financially, it's hard not to think that a lot of people's personal finances may be poised to head off a cliff — and the promise of federal help is looking questionable.

Politically, the standoff between President Trump and the rightfully elected new administration has left a vacuum.

  • By all accounts, the situation is thwarting efforts to attack the coronavirus.

Socially, we feel isolated and trapped in our pandemic ruts, not even permitted to savor the promise of holidays we've been looking forward to.

  • Doctors say pandemic-induced loneliness will shorten life expectancies.

Culturally and intellectually, the arts, concerts, films and literary output that we rely on to enhance our lives are dampened or depressed by pandemic strictures.

Emotionally, we worry about ourselves, our loved ones and all of our futures. How will the pandemic stunt my child's education, my career trajectory, my experience of the world? And what if I get sick and there's no hospital bed available?

  • "Thousands of medical practices have closed during the pandemic," per the NYT.

What's next: "Next Thanksgiving will be different," Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases told CNN's Chris Cuomo on Thursday.

  • Americans who persevere through 2021 will, we can all hope, weather this turmoil and see flourishing times ahead.

Go deeper

20 hours ago - Health

Fauci: U.S. could have herd immunity by the end of summer 2021

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Anthony Fauci at the White House in November. Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

NIAID director Anthony Fauci said Tuesday the U.S. could achieve herd immunity to COVID-19 by the end of next summer or fall if there's a "good uptake" of Americans vaccinating against the virus.

Driving the news: Fauci said during an online video conversation with Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) he expects the general population to have access to the vaccines U.S regulators are now considering by April.

CDC to cut guidance on quarantine period for coronavirus exposure

A health care worker oversees cars as people arrive to get tested for coronavirus at a testing site in Arlington, Virginia, on Tuesday. Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

The CDC will soon shorten its guidance for quarantine periods following exposure to COVID-19, AP reported Tuesday and Axios can confirm.

Why it matters: Quarantine helps prevent the spread of the coronavirus, which can occur before a person knows they're sick or if they're infected without feeling any symptoms. The current recommended period to stay home if exposed to the virus is 14 days. The CDC plans to amend this to 10 days or seven with a negative test, an official told Axios.

  • The CDC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Updated 17 hours ago - Health

U.K. first nation to clear Pfizer coronavirus vaccine for mass rollout

A health care worker during the phase 3 COVID-19 vaccine trial by Pfizer and BioNTech in Ankara, Turkey, in October. Photo: Dogukan Keskinkilic/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The U.K. government announced Wednesday it approved Pfizer-BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine, which "will be made available across the U.K. from next week."

Why it matters: The U.K. has beaten the U.S. to become the first Western country to give emergency approval for a vaccine that's found to be 95% effective with no serious side effects against a virus that's killed nearly 1.5 million people globally.