The New Normal

Normal 2.0

When the pandemic is finally in the rearview mirror, what will "normal" look like? Four Leos respond.

Someday—sooner rather than later, we all fervently hope— the COVID-19 pandemic will be in the rearview mirror, a plague for scientists, sociologists, and historians to dissect and the rest of us to move beyond. One thing, however, seems certain. What lies on the other side of the pandemic is not merely a return to Normal, but rather a Normal 2.0. After all, nothing that disrupts life across the entire globe simply springs back to the way things were. Like the virus itself, humans have adapted.

To get a sneak peek, Voice talked with people in a variety of professions and life stages to find out what has changed since the pandemic began and how their new normal is taking shape. Here’s a page from the Normal 2.0 playbook.

Alyssa Navarro

What began as a surreptitious recording of her singing Disney songs while at work in her home office turned into nearly 11 million views on TikTok for Alyssa Navarro ’16 and her fiancé, A.J. Rafael.

It started with “Reflection,” from the Disney animated feature Mulan, with Navarro singing and Rafael backing with keyboards and occasional vocal harmony. It moved on to songs such as “What I’ve Been Looking For” and “Breaking Free” from High School Musical and “On My Own” from Les Miserables.

“Just started playing to see if she’d sing along while working,” Rafael captioned the original video. “And still sounds like a freakin Disney princess when not warmed up and working from home.” That she was working at home, for Disney, made the story all the better. Eventually their close harmony landed the duo on Good Morning America in the heart of the pandemic—a bit of brightness in an otherwise dreary COVID-19 winter.

Normal 2.0 for Navarro? Hard to tell. She’s keeping her day job, which she loves, helping to produce short original films by directors from under-represented groups for Disney Launchpad on Disney+.

“I now have a newfound love for bringing creative people together from across the world,” Navarro said. “I don’t think I would have been able to do this if the pandemic didn’t happen. Pockets of happiness have come along the way, and I will take those forward with me.”

Gretchen Cooper

Gretchen Cooper ’08 is a licensed marriage and family therapist whose practice aided the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health in supporting high-risk populations. Her clients were Medi-Cal recipients, undocumented migrants, and the unhoused. She reached clients in schools, shelters, and courthouses as well as her office.

The pandemic left Cooper scrambling for a new way to reach those who needed help. The answer she found was telehealth. Research and experience convinced her that it was just as effective as in-person therapy. “Telehealth made mental health accessible,” she discovered. Clients who were without transportation and time-constrained could still connect through virtual sessions. With younger clients, it was especially easy. “Children of this generation have adapted much quicker to online therapy than adults, because they’ve grown up with tablets in their hands,” she said. “It’s fascinating how adaptable children are.”

But who helps the helpers? To help ease the strain on her fellow therapists, Cooper obtained a telehealth grant in partnership with The Gentle Barn, a nonprofit animal welfare organization. Cooper now brings animals into Zoom work meetings, providing stress-relief to mental health practitioners. Said Cooper, “Watching people heal is the most amazing feeling in the world.”

Jonathan Ayala

Jonathan Ayala ’13 was a respiratory therapy student close to completing his clinical units. Then, almost overnight, he became a life-saver, helping to treat patients in extreme distress. The COVID-19 pandemic was creating a crush of patients, too many of them with respiratory failure. A new federal policy quickly passed in the spring of 2020 allowed eligible students like Ayala to work as externs, stretching the respiratory therapy workforce and his own professional experience.

Ayala was asked to check patients every two hours. Just putting on personal protective equipment took ten minutes before each visit. He quickly became family to strangers facing extreme need. The long hours were physically and mentally exhausting, but he felt hope as he saw patients survive.

At the University of La Verne, Ayala had majored in athletic training, aiming to improve lives. He found his calling in respiratory therapy following his own experience of lung collapse in 2018. He completed his program and is now a licensed respiratory therapist.

In Ayala’s Normal 2.0, he takes nothing for granted. As he witnesses the most fragile moments of his patients’ lives, he vows to take every measure to ensure they are given the utmost emotional support, just as much as physical care.

From the experience of the past year, Ayala now has a new philosophy. “Live in the present,” he said, “because we cannot control the future.”

Michelle Pasos

Until the pandemic struck, Michelle Pasos was living her dharma—her life mission—as owner of United Yoga Studio and partner with the Randall Lewis Center for Well-Being and Research at the University of La Verne, where she led classes and trained certified yoga instructors.

All that changed in March 2020. To abide by local COVID-19 public health guidelines, Pasos shut down studio operations, closed off yoga-session memberships, and sent reimbursements to her clientele. Only the support of her yoga community kept her business afloat. They raised thousands of dollars to cover months of unpaid studio rent. “I have chills, because they are the reason we’ve stayed in business,” she said.

In the throes of the pandemic, Pasos pivoted her business to a new Normal 2.0. Now, her once temporary plans for virtual classes have become permanent.

Always committed to inclusion along with well-being, Pasos found a way to teach her first yoga instructor trainee, who is deaf. Using Zoom accessibility options and an interpreter, this student was able to attend the entire yoga training online without limitations. She used the chat function to ask questions fast and was able to do the yogic practice postures in a space that was familiar to her.

“Online training allows us to be more accessible,” Pasos said. The studio will continue to offer hybrid class options in its new Normal 2.0.