The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly upended lives across the globe in a multitude of ways. While some of these changes -- staying at home, social distancing, online everything -- may have been more temporary and unfavorable (but necessary), there are likely some modifications that we’ve made to our lifestyles over the course of the past 18 months that may be here to stay.
Here’s an exploration of some of the new habits we’ve formed over this pandemic that may stick in the long run:
Much like many countries in Asia adapted after SARS in the early 2000s, mask wearing may become more common in certain parts of the United States when individuals feel sick. People may even feel more comfortable staying at home if they feel sick and teleworking instead.
While virtual, remote school has not quite been an effective long-term solution and is highly unlikely to become commonplace, there are certain aspects of remote work that have proven to function effectively. Whether that be a telemedicine visit for a quick doctor’s appointment or saving a trip across the world for one meeting, our need to travel will likely decrease, as will our creativity in figuring out how to best leverage technology to advance our work and human connection -- without Zoom fatigue.
This pandemic has been inherently global, with spread accelerated worldwide because of the increasingly interconnected nature of the planet in the 21st century. In addition, supply chains are highly international, and the effects of the pandemic across the globe were compounded as a result of these connections. Now more than ever, it is clear that public health is not a domestic concept, nor is it one devoid of national security implications -- the health of one country affects the health, prosperity, and security of multiple others, whether in the same geographic region or across the planet. Such a mindset will likely remain in some form, or at the very least, it will be beneficial to retain in any work that goes towards preventing something at the scale of the COVID-19 pandemic in the future.
Much of the conversation around COVID-19 transmission eventually shifted to discuss aerosols and spreading through the air, rather than just droplets “falling” and infecting people. This shift had big impacts on ventilation; thus, suddenly, the surrounding environment of an area became a much bigger topic of discussion. More broadly, while individuals themselves may not concern themselves with this arena, the intersection of a built and natural environment with health will likely become a more immediate focus, as figuring out how to improve each goes hand-in-hand with the other.
The paradigm of available testing has largely been that of confirmatory diagnosis, rather than preventative screening. Much of the scaling of technology and demonstrated usefulness of testing in a more proactive way -- testing before getting on an international flight or going into the lab, universities testing students multiple times a week, rapid tests for sports teams, and more -- has been cheap, efficient, practical, and helpful enough to stay as a long-term preventative mechanism. In a sense, widespread testing of this nature helps reduce downstream healthcare costs and could even help prevent the next outbreak from growing into a pandemic by identifying cases faster.
In 2019, if you stood on a street corner spouting off “PCR,” “antibodies,” “mRNA,” or “sensitivity and specificity,” odds are people would have looked at you like you were crazy. Now, these terms have become fairly common to hear in regular conversation. While the end of the pandemic hopefully marks the end of extreme concern about such topics, it is likely -- or perhaps idealistic -- to project that science remains as a topic of greater interest and general inquiry for society at large. This is especially plausible considering that this pandemic has demonstrated an extreme version of the impact that science has on our lives and how far awareness and literacy can go, both for the individual and the general public.
Overall, many of these changes reflect a shift in footing to a more preventative mindset. COVID-19 has shown us what happens when we are caught off guard and do not respond adequately and early enough. These simple, seemingly subconscious and subtle changes in behavior that may very likely accompany us well into the future will serve us well in averting the next public health crisis and truly reflect strength in numbers of individual changes.