Eventually, the COVID-19 crisis will end, but its effects will remain. Many people hope that it will be just like “old times” again. Don’t plan on it. Pandemics change the world. Here are some possible changes for our nation.
Cleanliness will be fashionable … at least initially. Frequent hand washing, fewer handshakes and more masks will be the norm. On our trips to Asia, I often commented that we Americans would never agree to wear masks on a daily basis as many Chinese do. Never say never.
Science should rule. For the past few years, our federal government has cut back on science spending, replacing career scientists with people with ideological pedigrees that meshed with those in power. Research scientists and medical personnel need qualified leadership. American public health planning and organization has to become as good as we Americans believed it was before COVID-19 struck. We need to be ready for the next health disaster — and there will be one.
How Americans pay for health care has to change. Few, except the nation’s very wealthiest people, could handle the cost of treatment for COVID-19. “Medicare for All,” which is not a “freebie,” probably isn’t the right vehicle for our nation’s health care. Yet, America can’t let over 40 million people function without affordable health care. It would be pure irony if a slightly changed “Obamacare” were updated to “Trumpcare.”
Out of necessity, technology has been embraced during this crisis; we have found it practical and economical. That reinforces the need to have technology services, including broadband, available for the entire nation. Telemedicine is here to stay. It’s no longer for just a select few in special areas. It’s more convenient, timely and cost effective.
Workplaces will never be the same. Those who really need or want to work from home have found they can do so effectively. It wouldn’t be surprising to see large businesses downsize their office spaces. Conferences and international business travel will shrink. While the perks of such were considered positive, the expenses, time involved, and stress of air travel make Zoom-type meetings more attractive.
Educational institutions will change. Online class will have advantages, but college costs may be prohibitive for many. Many parents of young children found that homeschooling was difficult, and children missed social interaction. For many, working from home and homeschooling leave much to be desired … like quiet areas.
Social contacts will be appreciated more while the economy will suffer for some time as small businesses and nonessential workers struggle for survival. Billionaires won’t hurt; low-wage earners will suffer the financial brunt. What seemed like a crazy idea of presidential candidate Andrew Yang giving a small livable wage to every American doesn’t sound quite as crazy this month. Saving for a rainy day will return. The federal government will stop pretending to care about the deficit, and partisan politics will continue unabated.
The pandemic will not end as quickly as we want; Americans will get restless and unpleasant. Unfortunately, we have no road map how to live through tough times as did those who experienced it during the Depression and World War II. But we will learn. American ingenuity got us through previous hard times.
Eventually there will be a new normal, but it won’t be like old times.