Until we have a COVID-19 vaccine and massive infection and antibody testing, I’m not sitting knee to knee in a movie theater, ballpark, concert or house of worship.
Or eating in a crowded restaurant. Or shaking hands. Or using your pen. Or dealing with paper money and coins.
Maybe one day I’ll be telling stories about living through this COVID-19 health and economic disaster. I’ll be like my mother, of blessed memory, recalling how she grew up during the Great Depression.
As a kid she was selling newspapers at the corner of 16th Street and Wabash Avenue to help the family survive. My grandfather, a Russian/Polish immigrant running a newsstand, did not read English. My mom told him the headlines.
Just as the Depression shaped the generation living through it, our reality is things will never go back to how they were. COVID-19 is changing how we live, learn, work and communicate.
On Sunday, more than a dozen Sweet family cousins scattered in 10 states got together on Zoom, with two cousins meeting each other for the first time. It was wonderful to be with everyone. This never would have happened pre-COVID-19.
The coronavirus outbreak transformations are already happening with changes to come as plans loom to ease government-imposed lockdowns:
Sky’s the limit: Handwashing.
Evolving: Mandated wearing of masks and gloves at events, stores and workplaces, with enforcement of new rules still to be determined. A new mask industry is taking root. People are scared and want to feel safe. Retail and restaurant customers will want to be served by masked and gloved staff.
Beloved new heroes: The 9/11 attacks threw a spotlight on first responders — the police, firefighters and paramedics. Frontline COVID-19 workers are getting deserved newfound respect because they are risking their lives to help us. The COVID-19 first responders are our superstar health care providers, grocery store, mass transit and hotel workers. Add to this list everyone I did not mention who has to come in contact with people and are part of the essential workforce.
Prediction: Front-line workers will have potentially more bargaining power when it comes to raising the minimum wage.
The Zoom, FaceTime, et al factors: The quarantines have vaulted Zoom and other teleconferencing platforms from a business niche to everyday personal and professional life. Zoom and similar services have unleashed demands to be connected with people no matter where they are, and that will outlive the pandemic. Business travel will decline because Zoom can provide good enough face-to-face conversations and people will not want to go to in-person meetings.
Seniors introduced to Zoom family dinners and play dates with grandchildren will be hooked. Marketing appeals and simpler and cheaper devices will be developed for them.
Remote working: The lockdowns have demonstrated that, for many, remote working is a viable way of running a business. This means an employer may need less physical space for the office — which will reconfigure the commercial real estate markets.
Social distancing: It may not stay at six-feet, but it will be something. There are developing new cultural and societal norms about physical closeness. One day we may be wearing buttons flashing our temperatures, needed to get into stores or meetings.
Redesigns: There’s been a trend to cram a lot of people into a small space — whether in the workplace, restaurants or sports stadiums. There’s going to be a big need to build in more protection. Seriously, are people going to want to sit around crowded tables when they get back to the office? Sports arenas will remove seats so fans are spaced out.
Restaurants will add more distance between tables to lure worried customers — cutting into revenues. Hand-washing stations in the dining section will be installed to make it easier and more sanitary for wait staff and customers to frequently washup and not have to run to the bathroom.
Installing plastic shields at grocery counters is already happening. Some kind of barriers between work stations and restaurant tables will be needed. People may not want to reuse menus.
Schools will also face design challenges, from revamping classroom layouts to figuring out gym class.
Curbside pick-up: Now that they are getting the hang of it, people may demand a continuation of ordering online and picking up supplies even when restrictions ease.
Telehealth: People are consulting with doctors over FaceTime or other video calling alternatives. This will stick for minor issues.
Access to health care: Massive joblessness means people lost health insurance. Democrats will use health care access as a mega issue heading into November.
Ending dependence on foreign medical suppliers: The scramble for masks, ventilators and personal protection equipment — known as PPE — revealed the crippling dependence the U.S. has on China and other foreign suppliers. There will be a push for made-in-the-USA products, sparking new manufacturing in the U.S., even if government subsidies are necessary and equipment is more costly.
Can’t wait for us to get to the other side. Even if I won’t be getting in an elevator with you.