We’re Still in the Middle of a Pandemic and Our Lives Have Changed Dramatically. How Many of Those Changes Will Remain?
Significant events have forever changed many generations. The Great Depression had a lasting impact on those who endured it. The same is true of World War I and World War II.
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Every now and then, a generation has to survive the challenge of a dramatic threat to not only everyday life but its very existence and survival. Past precedent indicates that the psychological aftereffects of societal trauma last a generation.
Over the next 20 years, will we hesitate to shake hands, hug another person, come home without washing our hands, or replace “God bless you” with an expletive anytime a stranger sneezes?
The Coronavirus pandemic currently sweeping almost every nation has brought the world to a standstill. It has changed everything. Whole countries are in lockdowns, everything has been canceled from sporting events to conventions, concerts, even family gatherings and church services, and now the Olympics. Restaurants and bars are closed, and many stores have had whole sections roped off to limit purchases and transactions to essential items.
The result is that we’ve had to dramatically change the way we do some of the simplest things. Everyday tasks like shopping, going to the dentist, making a quick stop at the hardware store, even going to a grocery store or a pharmacy are done with trepidation, hesitation, and preparation.
The Current State and Projections Related to COVID-19
According to Nicholas A. Christakis MD, PhD, MPH and Professor of Social and Natural Science, Internal Medicine and Biomedical Engineering at the Human Nature Lab at Yale University,
“While early studies from China predicted that weather may not play much of a role in the progression of the pandemic, more recent studies suggest a reduction of cases and deaths during the summer, but not a huge reduction and not as much as some previous pandemics which were stopped in their paths by summer heat.
In the fall, I think there is at least a 75% chance it will come back with a second wave as it did in the 1918 and 1957 pandemics. I don’t know that it will be deadlier, but there will be a second wave and we will have to prepare ourselves for it.
However, even the brief respite is still months away. We are just at the beginning of this first wave and there is still much damage to come.
Eventually, COVID-19 will become endemic like the cold or influenza, and eventually, there will be a vaccine or better medicine to treat it. But until then, people are going to die.”
When Will it End?
According to Gerald Parker at Texas A&M, director of Bush School’s biosecurity and pandemic public policy program and associate dean of Global One Health,
“It’s going to be at least 18 months, I believe, before there’s a vaccine available to deploy in any meaningful way.”
Will We Ever Get Back to Normal?
Past precedent says no. Endemic is the evolution of a pandemic. It means that a disease remains present within a population, and unless someone has been infected and survived to develop immunity or has been vaccinated, the disease will remain an ever-present threat and continue to be as contagious as a cold or flu.
Of particular concern is a study out of South Korea indicating that previously infected people are showing a lack of immunity and are testing positive for the disease once again.
Worse, a small study recently conducted indicates that Hydroxychloroquine is not the cure that some have promised and is in fact, ineffective against COVID-19.
According to Gerald Parker,
“We’re gonna have a new normal. We’re all going to remember how important personal hygiene is — hand sanitizers, cough etiquette, the importance of washing our hands often for 20 seconds with soap and water.
We’re probably also going to do more cleansing and disinfection of our public spaces like you see in other countries— our subway systems and mass transit, and things like that, where there’s a lot of people.“
How New and Learned Behaviors Will Impact Everything
People are resistant to change, but events like COVID-19 necessitate change, and we have changed dramatically. What is true is that as people are introduced to new ways of doing things and thinking about things, they are quick to acquire those new behaviors. New behaviors become old habits fast.
Every marketer knows that the fastest way to get someone to continue to buy a product or to consistently use a service is to get them to try it once. No one had to ask us to try many of the new things we’re doing and will continue to do as a new or acquired behavior.
How We Interact With Others
Across business, schools, and interpersonal relationships, interactions are going online. Services once rarely or occasionally used like Zoom, Skype, Webex, and even Facetime are becoming the new norm as their use moves from convenience to necessity.
How We Work
Many companies and employees are quickly adjusting to telecommuting in those industries and jobs where job functions don’t require a physical presence. This is common to most white-collar jobs and it is already becoming apparent to many companies that the effective functionality of their business has not been affected by telecommuting.
In fact, it will become rapidly apparent that there are significant cost savings when whole buildings are no longer needed to house employees and all of the related costs associated to maintain a large brick and mortar location.
Employees will also appreciate the potential benefit not only as a way to avoid frequent contact with others, but the time and money saved from working at home rather than commuting five days a week. Telecommuting and the remote office will be here to stay to a large extent.
More importantly, hiring employees who can work remotely opens up the potential job force to a nationwide recruiting pool. People will not have to live or relocate to a city to go to work. This gives both employees and employers expanded options to find the right person and/or the right job.
Job and Career Reinvention
Many people will not be able to ride the telecommuting wave. This is particularly true for blue-collar workers. You can’t build a skyscraper or pave a highway online. In fact, all service occupations will have to continue confronting the challenges of COVID-19 now and into the future.
This may lead many people to consider reinventing themselves to acquire a skill set that allows them more flexibility, not only to pursue a job that lets them work remotely but to expand their options for employment as the economy and the job market continues to struggle.
From Kindergarten to Graduate school, students and teachers are taking to the online classroom. Zoom is emerging more and more as the Internet portal of choice, allowing whole classes to share a computer screen for daily lessons.
Even after a return to the classroom, the teaching and learning behaviors acquired may move more into a standard pattern of teaching. It’s also possible that something as simple as a flu outbreak in a city could result in schools going back to remote-learning for a few weeks now that they’re already used to it.
Remote Higher Learning
Overnight, many colleges and universities have temporarily moved classes off-campus to remote learning. Eventually, students will return to the campus, but the question remains: how many?
This may finally upend the rapidly rising costs of higher education and the stranglehold that colleges have had on students burdened with overwhelming student loan debt.
Prestigious schools will remain attractive, but public colleges will probably see increased growth while many private schools slowly fade away and online classes become a regular part of all curricula to reduce costs and make enrollment more attractive. This may finally burst the higher education bubble.
How many of us will look forward to sitting in a crowded movie theater again, especially when the guy behind us can’t stop coughing? For now, many people are discovering streaming entertainment for the first time and like all new behaviors, they quickly become a habit.
Entertainment through streaming video will also bring with it a dramatic demonstration in cost savings as a new frugality continues to emerge in a stressed and challenged workforce and economy.
Will Anything Ever Happen in Vegas Again?
Or concerts, professional sports, hotels, resorts? There will probably be a gradual return to past events, but a renewed awareness of contagious venues and occasions will most likely diminish attendance and some of the more fragile businesses and franchises will simply fold.
Even airline travel may never recover to the volume of air-travelers before COVID-19, and it’s most likely many people will look to their cars and local destinations for vacations more and more. If you have any doubts, think about how soon you want to go on a cruise.
Restaurants will survive, but many won’t. Local restaurants may be the most vulnerable during the pandemic, but it’s possible that the local Mom-and-Pop restaurants may come back stronger than before as large chains close and people dedicate themselves to supporting their local businesses.
The End of Cash
Cash has already been identified as a prime medium for infection. COVID-19 can survive 3 hours on paper and up to 7 days on metal, and that includes coins. Some stores have actually posted signs saying, “No cash.” That’s a true sign of the times in a world where cash was king and “cash only” was a common sight.
Credit and debit cards will emerge stronger than before and the evolution of digital cash will occur quickly and most likely become the new currency.
People have had to learn to do without, either because of shortages or because of the simple fear of going to the store. Many people have found new ways to improvise, from baking their own bread to cooking at home on a regular basis.
With new behavior comes new skills, and after someone has mastered the ability to bake fresh bread on a regular basis, how soon will they walk away from that ability? This applies to many other improvised solutions, from home gardening to sewing and repairing clothes.
Living in a Depression
Politicians will never use the “D” word, but an economic depression is defined as two consecutive quarters of negative GDP and rising unemployment. That is happening, and the effects on how we spend, what we buy, and how we live will last beyond the pandemic.
The Death of Retail
Many retail stores were on the brink of closing before the pandemic, but COVID-19 will shut the doors on many retailers forever. The rise of e-commerce will continue to grow as more and more people become accustomed to ordering everything online.
Stores will reopen and we’ll still shop, but we’ll shop differently and assess purchases based on necessity rather than vanity. Clothing choices will be driven by what is functional over fashionable, and we’ll find numerous limits on what we can buy.
The New Shopping Reality
If the depression of 1929 is any clue, a hoarding mentality will persist for years, resulting in stores continuing to put limits on the purchase of certain items. But it’s not just about stores. As the supply chain continues to be stressed, manufacturers will begin to limit the choices they offer.
If you’re one of the few people who used to buy those reduced-sodium-organic-stewed tomatoes, you may find them no longer appearing on the shelves. Manufacturers will simplify their manufacturing to base items that meet basic demand and attempt to offset the very fragile just-in-time manufacturing and distribution process that dominated the past.
One of the greatest barriers to telemedicine was the reluctance of many medical professionals to engage in a practice that was potentially less profitable. Not to mention the refusal of many insurance organizations, including Medicare, to cover costs incurred through telemedicine.
That’s all changed, and the changes will be permanent as in-office visits continue to be limited to the sickest patients or those with chronic conditions.
Telemedicine also keeps anyone who is potentially sick with any condition, including COVID-19, out of the mainstream transit systems, waiting rooms, and away from other patients. Prescriptions for basic conditions that were sometimes diagnosed and treated at a pharmacy will occur via videoconference, and pharmaceuticals will be delivered via mail.
Necessity as the Mother of Invention
COVID-19 is forcing us to make radical changes to the way we live, work, and pursue leisure activities. The changes have been forced on us, and we have no option but to realign the way we think and act as a result. Those new behaviors will last well past the pandemic and, in some ways, a new normal may be just what we need.
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