J.J. Perry: After this pandemic, what will be our new 'normal'?
Summary: Columnist wonders what the new "normal" will be all of us.
We take our shoes off at the airport.
That is one of the biggest changes in American lives after 9/11. A podcast host recently said it would have been impossible on Sept. 12, 2001, to imagine that the creation of the TSA and heightened security measures — including taking our shoes off to be screened — would be one of the outcomes of the Sept. 11 tragedy.
Think of all the war movies, disaster movies, that were produced before that date; removing shoes was not on anyone’s “what if?” list.
None of us can predict what American life will look like after the COVID-19 pandemic. But can we guess, or speculate? Yes … and most of us are.
One thing is clear: When we return to “normal,” it won’t be the old normal before 2020.
Working from home for a couple of months can give a new perspective, and force the challenging of assumptions. Here is what I have been wondering, for good and bad:
Will we always wear face masks? We have seen people in some countries wear face masks for years for various reasons (health, pollution, etc.). Studies are showing that all of the social distancing and PPE changes have reduced cases of regular flu. With all we are learning, why wouldn’t masks become more common going forward?
Will we ever go back to work? For many of us, we have seen the benefits of working from home. If I am being honest, I feel so much more efficient working at my dining room table than at any office I’ve otherwise called “home.” Many employers are finding they don’t need to provide a space, or a ton of gear, or snacks in a breakroom. The cat is out of the bag on this one — I believe many workplaces will shift to remote employment.
Will we ever shake hands again? Hear me out on this one. We know it is a big-time germ spreader, and really defeats the purpose of all that necessary hand-washing. Just like other gestures that have come and gone, I could see this one disappearing in favor of elbow-taps or some other new hand signal.
Will kids go back to school? The pandemic has forced the hands of many educational institutions at all levels; from grade school to university, the concept of distance learning has been debated and slowly brought into existence. Now, we know it is possible. Given the social-distancing guidelines, cash-strapped school districts and the unpredictable future, why wouldn’t schools devise plans that “hack” the traditional school day? Maybe students only come to class once a week. Maybe there are no more snow days (considering that learning can occur at home). Maybe there will be a new balance between schoolwork, homework and afterschool activities.
Will business ever get back to business? That’s the multi-million dollar question, isn’t it? What we do know is that in an emergency, being deemed "essential” — whether in name or actual practice — makes all the difference. We have seen small businesses and restaurants pivot to offer new products, different services, new workflows and changes of philosophies, all to keep running safely. The ingenuity shown by so many is to be commended. Those that have been able to care for the well-being of their employees during all of this deserve special recognition.
Will we still get along? Does everyone seem friendlier to you lately? I chalk it up to it being hard to show a smile from behind a mask: We have to show our community spirit in other ways. That’s saying hello or waving, or “please” and “thank you.” I find myself asking strangers, “Are you doing OK? How is everything?”
There is a we’re-all-in-this-crazy-world-together vibe that is bringing us together in our isolation.
I hope some things extend past the pandemic.
Parades when you turn 100 years old. Firetruck rides when you turn 6. Colorful construction-paper hearts in windows, and messages of hope written in rainbow chalk on the sidewalk.
Less crime. Less pollution. Fewer horns honking.
More awareness of those around us, and how we fit into the larger picture.
Good ol’ ingenuity and resourcefulness. Creative problem-solving.
Maybe there are some things we can control.
J.J. Perry is editor of the Detroit Lakes News and Perham Focus.