Time changes everything. The current time warp, bent by the coronavirus, has caused distortions that will change many things in our lives forever. It is impossible to be fully aware and comprehensive with what comes next, given the enormity of downstream global effects of COVID-19, but some things seem pretty clear. Let me tally some of the ways.
The future of travel may be quite different. Like it or not, vaccine passports seem inevitable. There will be protests from some, but private companies like airlines or cruise lines can insist. So can other countries. If you’re a vaccine resistor, future travels are likely to become more limited.
Telemedicine has seeded and germinated; so, will all doctor visits be online? No, but routine checkups may become the telemedicine norm. Why? Because the cost of Zoom medicine is less and insurance companies have learned that lesson. Want a medical checkup in person? In the future you may have to pay for that privilege out of pocket, whether your doctors like it or not.
Precollegiate education has been forever changed. As the former president of the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools and senior vice president for school management at K12 Inc., I was acutely aware of the potential of online learning. It was no secret that the military, colleges and universities were well into its uses. Yet full-time online doesn’t work well for many students and not at all if your access to the internet is limited. That being said, digital learning has also germinated during the pandemic and consequently, the demand for universal broadband has been heightened to a level of inevitability.
The Biden Administration’s $1.8 trillion recovery plan includes $123 billion for K-12 schools and districts. Higher concentrations of district poverty will get disproportionate amounts, trying to level educational program opportunities and resources and better equip schools for digital learning.
Stronger safety nets are sure to emerge, and forms of guaranteed income are sure to be embedded in recovery efforts, especially in the form of increased tax credits for children, and special nutritional programs like SNAP and WIC for women, infants and children.
If shopping malls were withering, the likelihood of any miraculous recovery isn’t likely. Lingering fears of viral infections and online shopping have had a toxic effect on these very American commercial edifices.
As for businesses, according to economists at the Federal Reserve, there were approximately 200,000 closures above the norm for these months, 130,000 of which were individual companies, less than was once feared and as the fittest survive, they will adapt and be stronger as the economy rebounds.
Public health will be forever changed. The health care infrastructure in this country and for the most part worldwide failed miserably in the pandemic. Nursing homes, hospitals, medical supply and distribution chains, national and state public health systems, the Center for Disease Control, and national political leadership all failed to meet the initial and systemic challenges of the Covid pandemic. With infections on the rise again, with mutating infectious variants and deaths moving towards an incredulous 600,000 in the U.S. alone, public health infrastructure will change and there will be an emphasis on more equitable access to needed health care.
COVID-19 booster shots are a likely part of our future, but there is a silver lining to this awful pandemic experience. It is the rapid development of mRNA vaccine technology, which teaches our cells how to make proteins that trigger immune responses, a technology that has a huge upside for other treatments where RNAs can turn genes on and off and potentially treat a wide range of diseases including influenzas, colds and cancers.
Work from home is here to stay along with significant reductions in business travel. Why spend thousands of dollars traveling from New York to Chicago to London for a board meeting when you can essentially accomplish the same online? The trickle-down effect of all this is that the demand for large offices will shrink, commercial real estate will feel the downward effects, and residential real estate will feel the expansive effects. And it is my personal opinion that rural real estate will become increasingly valued.
According to an analysis of leasing trends prepared for the Wall Street Journal, “Big companies are making plans to stick with city-center office buildings, but they are cutting back on space by about 10% and driving down rent prices by about 13% for years to come.”
As the developing world becomes increasingly burdened by the long-term effects of the pandemic, mass migrations are likely to surge creating rising international tensions. Disproportionate international distribution of vaccines evidences the problem of what has historically been deemed the gap between the “haves” and the “have-nots.”
Daily news tells us that the population of pets in homes is up, at-home cooking is up, early-retirement is up, and home improvements are up. So is the cost of materials. As we emerge from the pandemic, the International Monetary Fund predicts that 2021 global growth will be at a record 6%. Can we grow at such rates in this new economic environment with minimal inflation? The Fed chief says yes.
One of the most interesting things that has occurred during the pandemic has been the politicization of all things related to the novel coronavirus, where politics for many is the determinant in whether or not to wear a mask, whether or not to get vaccinated, whether or not to believe the nation’s scientists and hew to their advice. Peter Coleman, a psychologist at Columbia University has an interesting take on this kind of political polarization where it seems common sense isn’t common. He believes that this polarization will dissipate and common sense related to the pandemic morphs to the notion of a “common enemy,” like when the nation rallied together to fight Nazi Germany, the Great Depression or for civil rights.
Back to the future means a return for normalcy, where depression and anxieties that have infected many during this oppressive year will diminish and life will begin to feel familiar. But as we venture into the future, we need a renewed passion for life. I have latched onto a piece of advice given by celebrated author Cynthia Ozick who strongly recommends that we “Live each day as if we were immortal.”
Bill Sims is a Hillsboro resident, retired president of the Denver Council on Foreign Relations, an author and runs a small farm in Berrysville with his wife. He is a former educator, executive and foundation president.