After Coronavirus: 6 Things We'll All Be Better at Once the Crisis Has Passed
The toll exacted by COVID-19, or novel coronavirus, continues to rise. The cost in terms of human lives, economic loss, and social disruption remains incalculable.
Once the pandemic has passed, however, the world will be forever altered. And while the situation is still grave in the immediate term, the long-range forecast does allow for some optimism.
“For those of us who don’t get sick or have a personal tragedy in the midst of this — of which there will be many — there will be many silver linings,” says Darla DeMorrow, a home office expert and founder of Philadelphia-area HeartWork Organizing.
Society will recover from the coronavirus pandemic. When it does, it may reveal a better way forward in several key areas.
1. Public Health
Suffering caused by the coronavirus is immense. But in its aftermath, an improved system for dealing with future health emergencies may emerge.
“I’m definitely optimistic in the wake of this there will be a reckoning about public health,” says Dr. Richard Carpiano, medical sociologist and population health scientist at the University of California, Riverside, and former co-editor of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.
“Public health has been underfunded in the United States for years,” he continues. “An interesting analogy is 9-11; it lit a fire under the U.S. government to get moving on things. We had hearings. We had a commission. Law enforcement got more modernized to deal with national security. We got better at handling terrorist threats.
“The coronavirus situation presents an important opportunity to educate the public on the value of a well-funded, well-supported public health system.”
Whether people will maintain the stricter hygiene practices widely adopted during the pandemic remains to be seen.
“The unfortunate reality is many people tend to forget situations as soon as things return to normal,” says Mascha Davis MPH, RDN, founder of Nomadista Nutrition and author of the newly released Eat Your Vitamins.
“Having said that, I do think the effects of this will cause us to be more aware of hygiene and personal preventative measures, at least for the coming disease cycles, which could help to slow the spread a bit.”
2. Personal Finance
The economic impact of the coronavirus epidemic is dire. In time it may also be a financial wakeup call for a nation that MarketWatch declared is “horrendous at managing money.”
“A lot of us are being forced to cut back our spending because we don’t have any choice; all the places we usually spend money are closed,” says Kimberly Palmer, personal finance expert at NerdWallet and author of Smart Mom, Rich Mom. “It’s teaching us there are benefits to scaling back. It’s coming at this huge price — I don’t want to minimize that; people are really suffering right now — but the good that’s coming out of it is that it forces us to be more mindful about spending and saving.”
Palmer believes coronavirus lessons will stick, especially with younger people.
“Millennials who were in their early twenties during the 2008-09 recession were permanently changed by going through that at a young age. A number of studies show that,” she says. “When you’re establishing spending habits against this backdrop of an economic crisis… you’re more sensitive going forward to the necessity of savings and having a backup plan.”
3. Home Fitness
The coronavirus isn’t keeping us from exercising — it’s simply changing the way many of us go about it. With local gyms and major fitness chains temporarily closing their doors, more people are turning to streaming services, apps, and equipment they can use to stay in shape at home.
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And not just in the United States. Purchases of home gym equipment have soared across Europe and Asia. One report from China says sales of dumbbells have increased 50 percent, with rowing machines and yoga mats up 100 percent, since the outbreak of the virus.
Sales spikes may be inspired by necessity, but users are discovering benefits that could shape future habits.
“I prefer doing online workouts at home versus paying $25 to go to a class. I’ll keep doing that because I realize I like it better,” says Palmer of NerdWallet. “Most importantly I can do it on my own schedule. If my baby is napping I can do it then. And my older kids can do it with me. Instead of being away from them for an hour, it’s something we can all do together.”
4. Home Cooking
Nationally, spending on food outside the home surpassed spending on food at home for the first time in 2010. That trend that has continued ever since, bringing with it a number of adverse impacts on public health.
“Unfortunately, food away from home (FAFH) often contains fewer fruits and vegetables and have more calories, fat and sodium than food prepared at home (FAH), and consuming FAFH is associated with obesity,” according to the USDA.
But the closures of restaurants have forced many Americans to make big changes in meal planning. Many for the better.
“I have clients that have set a goal to cook more meals at home and are loving it,” says Elizabeth Rutledge, RDN, a Seattle-area registered dietitian nutritionist. “They are prioritizing meal planning… and taking advantage of the time and energy that have been gained by not having to commute to get reacquainted with their kitchen and try new recipes.”
Families suddenly finding themselves gathering at the dinner table night after night will also benefit.
“As children are home, families can prioritize family meals, as they have been shown to be more nutritious, and children in families that regularly eat together are more likely to have higher fruit and vegetable intake and have a healthy weight,” says Jessica Kim RDN, also in Washington state.
5. Remote Working
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, before the coronavirus pandemic, nearly a quarter of employed Americans did some or all of their work at home. With businesses across the country shifting to remote operations — more than two-thirds of the U.S. population is now officially being urged to stay home — off-site work will become more pervasive and efficient. The impact will be permanent.
“It is going to change everything about how we do meetings, how often sales executives fly and drive to see their clients,” says certified professional organizer and home-office expert DeMorrow, author of the 2020 book The Upbeat, Organized Home Office. “After [the coronavirus crisis] I think the number of remote workers will blow way past 50 percent.”
DeMorrow says many workers prefer working remotely. For companies there’s a huge cost advantage.
“There is no doubt smart companies will take advantage of the fact that they have a work force that by necessity is learning how to operate outside of the office,” she says. “The tradeoff for them is they push real estate costs over to employees. Commercial real estate costs are just so out of scale for employers, they’re much higher than just providing someone with a laptop or broadband.”
6. Phone Calling
Talked — actually talked, like verbally — to grandma or a friend across the country you haven’t touched base with in years? You’re part of a wave.
Social distancing may have stunted public gatherings, but one side effect is that it’s got us talking again. Not just in videoconferences — though if you hadn’t heard of Zoom before coronavirus you certainly have now — but in good, old-fashioned phone conversations.
Tim Kreider of The New York Times declared, “The phone call is back,” and data supports the claim.
“During the coronavirus pandemic, our customers continue to make a lot of calls, with Wi-Fi calling continuing to lead the way up 78 percent versus a normal Monday as customers keep connected while staying home,” according to AT&T spokesperson Jim Greer. “Consumer home voice calling minutes of use were up 45 percent (last week).”