The Covid-19 emergency that lasted for millions of Americans during the last couple of years has been largely quelled by the introduction of vaccines and antiviral medications.
Thursday's expiration of federal public health emergencies was a formality that few people noticed.
There are signs of change everywhere: in the thousands of families who quietly mourn a loss; in those who suffer from long Covid; and in many Americans' continued use of one of the most controversial tools of the pandemic: the humble mask.
Nicole Uhiry (38), who was wearing a mask and shelving books in a branch library of the Des Moines Public Library, said, "This is my new normal." Ms Uhiry said that wearing a face mask helped her feel more comfortable at work. She was not moved by the decision of the government. It doesn't appear that Covid will disappear. It is constantly changing and evolving.
In interviews conducted across the country, the majority of people expressed a sense resignation at the news. Many people described becoming more aware of hidden risks to the public's health and ways to defend themselves against them, sometimes with government assistance. They were now largely on their lonesome.
Maria Paula, 52 years old, a Brooklyn-based home attendant, said: 'It is not over. I know people with the virus.' She said, 'I am tired of wearing masks.' "But the virus continues to be here."
Ms. Paula, along with the majority of respondents to a Monmouth University survey conducted mid-March, believes that the pandemic has not ended and may never end. Around half of those polled said that they wear a mask in public most of the time and around 20 percent reported doing so all the time.
Interviews revealed that those who still wear masks for a variety of reasons. Some had respiratory issues or relatives with compromised immune systems. Some noted that even though the federal emergency was over, the pandemic wasn't yet over.
Many people said that there are many other diseases than Covid-19. They described the mask as an easy tool to fight disease, which should have been adopted long ago.
Melissa Link, 52 a county commission in Athens Ga. who wore a face mask when she was sick with a cold, said: 'It has helped us become more aware of the spread of diseases.' Nobody can afford to miss work.
Link and other conservative leaders in states have known that the state of emergency was over, at least as far as government regulations were concerned, for many years. Many Republican governors including Brian Kemp of Georgia prohibited localities to require masks many years ago. This left the issue of pandemic preparations up to businesses and individuals.
Even in places that were more liberal, masks were common during the pandemic, and they are not uncommon now. But restrictions have been lifted for a long time.
Karen Stallard (65), who was returning from Trader Joe's, a store in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood, said, "I would wear a mask regardless of whether there is a mandatory requirement or not." She said that she has respiratory issues and considers masks to be a medical necessity. She added, however, that it was a personal choice and should remain so. She said that the time had come to put an end to the federal health crisis.
Some people said that their mask-wearing was motivated by a sense social responsibility. They were concerned about the elderly strangers they might encounter in the grocery store or on the bus. Ariel Hsu is a retired 61-year old woman from Los Angeles. They are the ones that have suffered most.
Some had specific reasons. Lindsay Kolasa (46), a 46-year-old herbalist from Santa Barbara, Calif. said that she wore the mask to protect her daughter (5 years old) against all of the viruses that are going around. Anastasia McTague wore her mask at the Maitland dry cleaner's front desk for her colleague whose mother had died from Covid. She said, 'She's been anxious the entire time about it, so I wear the mask to make her feel better.
Masks were never universally accepted, just as vaccine mandates or school closures weren't. Many medical professionals strongly encourage wearing masks or mandates. They cite studies showing that masks can slow down transmission. A growing number of public officials and citizens have condemned mandates for being an infringement on individual freedom.
The public health emergency has ended, and many of the federal Covid mandates will be lifted. People will lose their right to eight free home tests per month under their insurance. Few of those interviewed on Thursday knew that the health emergency was ending, and those who did know said it wouldn't have a big impact on their daily lives.
Annie Gaines of Brooklyn said, 'I've taken it with a grain' of salt. She still wears her mask in close proximity to other people. "I'm curious. Why now?" She asked about the announcement. Maybe it's because of the vaccination rate? It's like the landscape is changing.
The most common reaction was a sense of confusion: why now, what did it mean, and what really had happened in the last three strange, awful, bewildering, years?
What was the whole thing about? Diane Soto was wearing a disguise and walking into a Chinese Restaurant in Altamonte Springs on Thursday.