I’ve been thinking of these lines from W.B. Yeats’ poem “Easter 1916” for a few days now. People long for a return to “normal,” back to the way things were before the pandemic. But we are not going back to “normal.” Not by a long shot. Whether COVID-19 plays out this summer, this fall, next winter or not until 2021, things will not be the same, some in good ways, some in bad.
What normally takes the public, both here and around the globe, time to accept or to adapt to has been rushed into acceptance. Here are a few of the changes that are probably going to last.
The expanded use of televisits to doctor’s offices
COVID-19 won’t mean the end of going to the doctor’s office, but many people will now use telemedicine to deal with less serious ailments. This may also provide a lifeline for small/rural communities who are losing their health clinics and hospitals. Rather than driving miles in a car to reach medical care, patients will first do a video call with a physician or physician assistant who could determine if they do need more serious medical care.
Universities will see a similar strong shift to online
Professors who have fought against the use of technology in their classrooms are being forced to use it if they want to teach at all. More students will see the advantages of taking online classes, particularly in terms of reducing student debt. Universities will need to up their games to keep pace.
The other possible outcome is that student tuition will disappear. Universities who want to lure students to campus to pay for room, board and extras will need to give them a financial reason to do so. Zeroing tuition or dramatically lowering it will be the best way to accomplish this.
America will have a single payer health care system within a decade
Although support for this option had already started to grow, the damaging effects of COVID-19 and the lack of proper health care among large segments of the population will make it easier for progressive politicians to sell the idea to a previously wary public.
There are detractors, of course, but the longer COVID-19 lasts and the more people it infects, the weaker the arguments against single-payer become.
Telecommuting will become the way we work full-time rather than an option
There will always be people who’ll want to ‘go to the office’ and bosses who want them to do that, but the pandemic has turned telecommuting from a part-time option to a full-time possibility. Greater telecommuting and more flexible hours for those who do want to go to the office will also ease the burden on public transport and the density of the public.
It’s also hard for controlling basses to argue that work isn’t being done when everyone is working from home. Plus the added benefits to the environment, reduced daily traffic, the price of gasoline and an employee’s bank account.
Oil won’t hit $60-$80 a barrel again
While people will probably surge out of their homes after “stay-at-home” orders are lifted, it will take many years for most people to overcome the psychological fear of infection. Especially for international travel by airline or cruising. (Cruising may never totally recover.) So less oil will be used. And the oil “end game” between Russia and Saudi Arabia, made worse by COVID-19, will keep prices depressed for years.
It will be easier and safer to stay at home. Add in changes because of telecommuting and by the time people get over their hesitation to travel, alternative energies will have a much larger footprint around the world.
The end of the handshake
It’s hard to say what will replace it (a slight nod or a namaste-like greeting?) but it has gotten really bad press in the past few months. Most people will stop doing it by 2030, if not sooner.
Finally, America will no longer be the dominant nation on the planet
Things were already trending towards China. But the election of Donald Trump in 2016, the way he has handled this pandemic and the way China has reached out to nations around the world to help even as the US has dramatically stepped back its international role have accelerated this change.
China will undoubtedly take heat for the way it initially failed to notify the world about the virus, but as Obama chief-of-staff/Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel once said, ”Never let a good crisis go to waste.”
Almost as soon as Trump announced he was putting a hold on funding for the World Health Organization, China stepped in to say it would pick up the financial slack. And this is not the first time the Chinese government has done this. (For instance in Italy, China no longer thought of as the origin of COVID-19 but as a nation that reached out to help Italy. The same is true of Serbia and Poland.)
While there is little doubt that the Trump administration will spend the next few months attacking China, it will be too little, too late. COVID-19 will speed up the decline of the US as a world power and speed up the ascension of China.
Will “a terrible beauty” be born because of all these changes? Only time will tell.