COVID-19 Year 3: Social Workers and Their Clients Continue to Nagivate the Pandemic and its Impact, Even as Society Shifts Back Toward ‘Normal’

By Sue Coyle, MSW 

As the world nears the end of the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States is both transitioning back toward pre-pandemic life and settling into a new normal. It’s a delicate balance that continues to evolve, as does the virus. 

Cases of the coronavirus have not disappeared. In mid-September, two and a half years after the pandemic began in the U.S., there were 471,611 reported weekly cases in the country and 3,230 deaths. 

However, vaccines and proven treatments have allowed for a somewhat more relaxed, though still cautious, relationship with the virus. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention no longer advises fully vaccinated and boosted individuals to quarantine after exposure, and the World Health Organization stated in September that the end of the pandemic was in sight. 

For social workers and their clients, the pandemic may not be as front of mind as it once was, but it remains a factor and adds another layer to already challenging situations. 

“It’s stressful personally,” says Danielle Wagner, MSSW, LCSW, staff therapist at a Pennsylvania college who also sees patients in private practice. “In the sense that it’s just one more thing to check in about, and then systemically, it’s stressful in that it’s a strain on our very strained resources.” 

General Policies 

For social workers and their clients, the changes in how COVID-19 is managed may be most visible now in an organization’s or facility’s policies. This is, after all, where many individuals first encountered COVID-19 restrictions. 

“During the height of the pandemic, we were limited to how many people could be present in a room at one time, we had to wear masks and wipe every surface down that we touched, and we were required to work remotely or quarantine if we felt sick or came in contact with COVID-19 in any way,” describes Megan Macareno, MSW, Housing and Street Outreach program supervisor at Valley Youth House in Pennsylvania. Macareno works primarily with young adults aged 18 to 24, many of whom are experiencing homelessness. 

These restrictions were not uncommon for social workers on the front line, and some remain in place today. For example, both Jeffery Jin, DSW, an oncology social worker in New Jersey, and Jordan Levy, LCSW, a social worker for an inpatient psychiatric unit in Philadelphia, note that masks are still worn by employees and likely will be for the foreseeable future in medical facilities. “I personally do not ever plan to work in the hospital without wearing a mask/PPE (personal protective equipment),” says Levy. 

Read the full article at the NASW Social Work Advocates magazine here.