Pandemic is major life-changer

IN OUR FUTURE? — The coronavirus pandemic is expected to change our lives in many ways and drive-thru and grocery pickups are expected to become routine in the future. American Press columnist Jim Beam talks here about what the AARP thinks about the country's future.

Those of us who grew up during the Depression years lived during some tough times, but that helped us deal with many problems that life has thrown our way. The coronavirus pandemic has complicated our lives as well, and it’s obvious our future is going to be much different.

If you’ve been wondering how different our lives might be, a cover story by David Hochman in the June issue of the AARP Bulletin asked some experts what they thought could be in our future.

Jeffrey Cole, director of the Center for the Digital Future at the University of Southern California, called the pandemic “the single greatest disruption of our lifetime.” He said the kind of change that’s occurred over a few months will change how we do things for years.

Eric Turner, M.D., a senior scholar with the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said, “Especially for older people, hand scrubbing, mask wearing and hyper attention to surface disinfection will be the norm at every turn.” He said we won’t enter a supermarket or office building without a sanitizing wipe or disinfectant hand cleanser being available.

Online ordering will become the norm for what Hochman calls a “touchless” or “distance” economy for millions and a true lifeline for vulnerable, older adults. Tim Wu, a New York Times opinion columnist and author, said people will be using online sources for things they never considered before.

Hochman said department stores like J.C. Penney and Neiman Marcus finally declared bankruptcy, and Coresight Research, a retail research firm, said more than 15,000 stores could eventually close. Recent TV news reports also talked about the pandemic affecting the future of many of the country’s shopping malls.

Ken Doctor, a media analyst, called the pandemic “an extinction event” for newspapers and magazines. That comes as no surprise, but those media companies that have concentrated on giving their readers local news they can’t get elsewhere have managed to survive some tough times. It’s been a struggle, but the American Press is one of those newspapers.

Many smaller cities across this country have lost their newspapers, and finding out what their local government agencies are doing has been difficult, if not impossible. Investigative journalism is almost non-existent.

Restaurants have also seen some hard times. Hochman said in March alone, restaurants and bars have accounted for about 60 percent of total job losses in the U.S. Ruth Reichl, a chef and food writer, said we aren’t likely to see buffets, salad bars or serve-yourself-anything soon.

Hochman said movie-going ranked second to last on a list of 15 activities people said they miss the most while stuck in their homes. However, things are going well for Netflix, Amazon Prime and other streaming services.

Some new drive-in movies may surface with first-run releases and concessions by phone. Victory gardens and jigsaw puzzles are also making a comeback.

Abraham Madkour, publisher and executive editor of Sports Business Journal, said he believes baseball, hockey and the NBA may play to empty arenas at least into 2021. He said football might be the exception because it needs fans to work. However, there may be 25 to 30 percent capacity, he said, higher ticket prices, segmented arrival times and cordoned-off sections.

A new Harris poll showed nearly a third of Americans are considering moving to less populated areas in the wake of the pandemic.

Nora Super, senior director of the Milken Institute’s Center for the Future of aging, said, “Those of us who are aging experts thought the best place to retire would be somewhere dense, where you have access to museums, transportation, restaurants and places to walk, even with limited mobility.” Super said that has changed as metropolitan areas have become COVID-19 epicenters.

Everyone is waiting and hoping for a coronavirus vaccine. Hochman said there are more than 250 therapies and 100 vaccines related to COVID-19 that are being explored, but there is a need to build factories to produce hundreds of millions of doses.

Dr. Turner of Johns Hopkins said, “If we’re lucky and fast-track this, we may have a vaccine in a year or two, but it could be three or five years or longer. My hope is we can learn from this painful lesson. We’re not going back to how things were, but with new precautions and new habits, we’ll be better prepared for the next superbug du jour.”

That certainly isn’t what we want to hear, and we can only hope a vaccine is coming much sooner.

Opinions expressed here by these experts are just that, opinions. Others believe people will migrate back to some of the things they used to enjoy like reading books, magazines and newspapers, going to restaurants and concerts, church, dinner parties, family reunions, vacations and sporting events.

Most of us know we will probably have to accept major changes in our lives, but we also hope we can get some of those old pleasures back.

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