During the Pandemic of 2020, NY was put on “pause” with the Matilda Law innacted by Governor Cuomo during a State Emergency. It started in March with the most stringent closings on March 22. Governor extended the May 16 reopening till June 6 with a new set of rules.
I could cry. This is the craziest time of my life. Well, at least the part I remember. These are the things I learned:
This is an article recently posted online:
Our world has certainly seen its share of generation-defining events, from global wars to the 1918 influenza pandemic to the attacks of 9/11. And now, the COVID-19 pandemic. While each was unique, they all altered the lives of those who experienced them.
With the coronavirus pandemic, we’ve surely learned a lot. Some lessons have been painful—COVID-19 spotlighted healthcare inequities and the higher rates of infection and death in Black, Latino, and Native American populations. But recognizing what’s been wrong will help push our systems in the right direction, experts say, and some of the disruptions the crisis caused may produce lasting benefits.
“There has been often a lot of focus on loss . . . now people are beginning to reflect on what was gained,” says Vaile Wright, PhD, senior director of health care innovation at the American Psychological Association (APA).
For instance, many people say they want to continue to spend more time at home as the pandemic eases, according to a March 2021 Consumer Reports nationally representative survey of 2,144 American adults (PDF). And the vast majority hope the emphasis on cleanliness and hygiene continues…
…”But what pandemic-related changes are we most likely to hold on to? Here, five key lessons and how they may improve our lives in the long run.
The tech revolution that seemed perpetually around the corner actually got here as the coronavirus spread—upending the way we work, socialize, and handle many basic needs.
Take telehealth. With restrictions on in-person visits, doctors saw patients via phone, tablet, or computer. More than 80 percent of clinicians who responded to a 2020 COVID-19 Health Coalition survey said telehealth improved the timeliness of care, and a subsequent HC survey found that patients were similarly satisfied. Experts say talk therapy also works well via telehealth. (What’s unclear: whether insurers, who expanded coverage for virtual care during the pandemic, will continue their coverage.)
Countless Americans used tech tools for working at home—a full 70 percent of full- or part-time working adults were doing their jobs remotely at least some of the time in April 2020, a Gallup poll found. Many liked it: 81 percent of 1,500 surveyed professionals who worked remotely in the past year would prefer not to go back to the office at all or to have a hybrid schedule going forward, according to a recent Harvard Business School survey. “We learned a lot about the ability to telework and still get the work done,” says Georges Benjamin, MD, executive director of the American Public Health Association (APHA). “The technology exists to do it effectively.”
Some also turned to tech for leisure activities like virtual cooking, live-streamed museum tours, and interactive fitness classes. And people regularly “visited” with relatives and friends via Zoom or FaceTime. While remote schooling for children was widely unpopular, the expansion of virtual adult education may continue to appeal: About one-third of American adults said online classes offered the best value for them, in a July 2020 survey by the nonprofit Strada Education Network.
One tech issue the pandemic magnified is that not everyone has reliable home internet access. Though solutions may be a while in coming, President Biden’s infrastructure bill aims to expand broadband to communities where it’s lacking.
Though we initially knew almost nothing about COVID-19, over the course of the pandemic many of us learned how strategies such as wearing masks, regular and proper hand-washing, distancing physically from those outside our household, ventilating indoor spaces, and staying home while sick could help reduce the spread of the illness.
At this point, experts as well as most consumers appear to want to see such infection-protective behaviors become the norm in the U.S. For instance, 79 percent of Americans say they feel positive about the focus on cleanliness and hygiene, and hope it remains after the pandemic is declared over, according to CR’s March 2021 survey. “I think handshakes probably won’t return real quickly,” says the APA’s Wright.
And just as many people in East Asia wore masks during daily activities such as commuting by public transit after the SARS outbreak there in 2003, some mask-wearing may persist in the U.S. for a while, says Barun Mathema, PhD, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University in New York.
This may be more likely in areas that were hit hard by COVID-19—or if a winter surge in coronavirus occurs in the U.S., according to Ali Mokdad, PhD, a professor of health metrics sciences at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington in Seattle, speaking at a news briefing in April 2021.
Importantly, smart health and hygiene habits have benefits beyond protecting against COVID-19. “The flu epidemic that comes every year didn’t happen this year, because of mask-wearing, hand-washing, and social distancing—and vaccination,” says the APHA’s Benjamin.
Those months at home gave some the chance to notice every area of their living spaces that needed fixing or upgrading. That, in turn, motivated consumers with time on their hands to try do-it-yourself projects, and built confidence in their abilities to wield a pair of pliers or a screwdriver, says Grant Farnsworth, president of The Farnsworth Group, which does market research on the construction, lawn, and home improvement industries.
The result: During the pandemic consumers started 5 to 10 percent more DIY home improvement projects—such as landscaping and installing lighting—than they typically do, Farnsworth says.
When spring 2021 rolled around, and COVID-19 vaccines became widely available, industry experts expected the DIY home fix-up trend to end. But it didn’t. Instead, even as the professional contracting business has picked up, people are tackling DIY home improvements much as they did in 2020.
And the DIY movement went beyond home fixes. Thanks to guidance from friends, virtual classes, or video tutorials on YouTube, consumers learned to cut their own hair, designed and sewed face masks, and began breadmaking in such large numbers that flour became scarce in grocery stores. Many people also started crafting for fun, says Diana Smith, associate director of retail at market research firm Mintel, which predicts a rise in handmade gifts such as knit hats and home-baked cookies throughout 2021.
Whether this penchant for self-reliance will last is unclear, but the confidence that many gained from home projects could remain for life, Farnsworth says. And some of these DIY projects, Smith points out, offer a leisure option that “kind of feeds the soul.”
When the pandemic forced us to suddenly alter our shopping routines, many people opted for contactless pickup and online and other delivery-based options.
Before COVID-19, online shopping was growing—people already bought most electronics on the internet, for instance. But the pandemic accelerated this, says Mintel’s Smith, particularly for groceries, household cleansers, and healthcare products, and tech gear useful for working at home. A nationally representative August 2020 Consumer Reports survey (PDF) of more than 2,000 U.S. adults found that the percentage of Americans who used delivery or pickup for groceries grew by more than 80 percent.
Consumers turned to local venues too, especially for food. A March 2021 survey by the International Food Information Council (IFIC) found that 44 percent of Americans ages 18 to 80 made an effort to support area restaurants and 25 percent purchased from nearby farmers.
The pandemic’s economic blow also made it hard for some people to put food on the table. CR’s August 2020 survey found that about 1 in 5 American grocery shoppers had used a food bank or pantry at some point since the pandemic began—and about half of them said they hadn’t used these programs in the preceding year. In IFIC’s March survey, more than 40 percent said they often or sometimes bought less food or less healthy food due to money worries.
Looking ahead, 55 percent of Americans say they hope contactless options like curbside pickup will last, CR’s March 2021 survey found. Almost half say they’re still shopping online more than in the past, Mintel says. But many may also continue to buy local, says Smith: “There’s an emphasis and a focus on community and connection.”
Throughout the ups and downs of the pandemic, many Americans have been reconsidering what matters most in life, and that’s little surprise to the experts we interviewed.
As Richard Tedeschi, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, points out, going through challenging experiences often leads us to think more deeply about our core beliefs—whether it’s our personal relationships or health, the work we do, or how we spend our free time.
In addition, the coronavirus “caused people to realize that things could change in an instant,” says Mintel’s Smith. The firm’s recent data found that 59 percent of Americans say they want to spend more time with family. And 44 percent said they enjoyed spending more time at home during the pandemic and hope that continues afterward, according to CR’s March 2021 survey. “I think people have appreciated being forced to slow down,” says the APA’s Wright, “to actually be present in activities” with family and friends.
Mintel also found that 58 percent of people express a desire to take better care of their physical health. Home cooking could help there. According to CR’s August 2020 survey, more than a third of grocery shoppers say they cooked from scratch or tried new recipes more often than they used to before the coronavirus.
On the job front, the dedication of healthcare workers throughout the pandemic appears to have inspired more people to become doctors. Applications to attend medical school in 2021 were roughly 18 percent higher than the previous year’s numbers, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. “After 9/11, [we] saw a big increase in individuals joining the armed forces,” Wright says. “I think that this is probably similar.”
The crisis motivated us to look out for our local communities, too, a trend that’s likely to endure, Smith says. We saw this worldwide: COVID-19 drove a global surge of interest in volunteering with food banks and organizations that support the elderly, disabled, or migrant populations, according to the United Nations.
Finally, 35 percent of us say we yearn to try “something new,” Mintel reports. But what? Only time will tell whether that means starting a blog or a business, learning a new language, raising chickens, relocating—or an entirely different kind of pursuit.
Future pandemics are inevitable, according to health experts, but they note that takeaways from this crisis can make all the difference. Here’s what they say matters.
Many countries around the world need expert help to identify emerging outbreaks and new pathogens so that possible threats can be contained.
The U.S. spends roughly $98 billion annually on public health. That needs to grow by about $7 billion, says Georges Benjamin, MD, of the American Public Health Association, to address new and chronic diseases. By comparison, the U.S. government spent trillions after COVID-19 spiraled out of control.
Scientists across the globe worked together to develop safe and effective vaccines and treatments and learn about the virus in record time.
After early failures in the U.S. pandemic response, people stayed home when requested, so “we were effective at bending the curve,” Benjamin says.
Editor’s Note: This article also appeared in the August 2021 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.
Consumer Reports is an independent, nonprofit testing and advocacy organization. Since 1936, we have provided unbiased, evidence-based information and advocated to protect the rights and safety of consumers. Sign up for a free CR newsletter to get expert insights delivered to your inbox. This article was originally published by Consumer Reports on July 8, 2021.“