While COVID-19 has devastated countless lives, there is one bright side: Our society has strengthened, in certain small ways, due to the pandemic. “Think of all of the amazing things we have collectively learned!” Jaimie Meyer, MD, a Yale Medicine infectious disease doctor and assistant professor of medicine at Yale School of Medicine points out to Eat This, Not That! Health. “I’d like to think that we will take the positive things COVID has taught us into our future lives.” Here’s a glimpse into what that might look like.
Because we have learned that WFH is totally doable and even efficient, a lot more people will work from home. “The coronavirus has forced us to see that many jobs can actually be conducted from our houses and flats, employers may take notice of this,” says Dr. Daniel Atkinson, the GP clinical lead at Treated.com. “Saying this, however, I believe social interaction among all sectors and workforces is really important for efficiency and morale.”
And, if more people work from home then this means less people will use public transport and cars, “which could, hypothetically, lead to a reduction in services and emissions which would be of benefit to the environment,” Dr. Atkinson points out.
If you didn’t know the right way to wash your hands before, you do now! “It might sound slightly obvious, but I also think people will wash their hands—the importance of which I cannot understate—with more frequency, and with improved technique,” Dr. Atkinson says.
COVID-19 isn’t the only bacteria or virus that we carry on our hands, “and in light of the fact that few people handwash sufficiently, shaking hands is a very unhygienic cultural practice!” points out Dr. Meyer. “We’ve all learned from this pandemic how to bow, salute, Namaste, tap elbows, and wave without feeling completely awkward. Even Dr. Fauci suggests we may never shake hands again!”
Telehealth or eHealth has long been possible with existing technologies but rollout was limited by billing restrictions and state laws on licensing requirements, explains Dr. Meyer. “Practically overnight, our busy clinics were transformed into telehealth practices as the COVID pandemic lifted these restrictions. Although it has presented some challenges, I am amazed at how much I am able to connect with my patients through the phone or video visits.”
She adds that her patients “show up” for their appointments and, without the distractions of a busy office, they can have longer, more meaningful conversations. “While there are some components of the in-person visit that are, of course, irreplaceable (the physical exam, the connection from the human touch), we now have a great appreciation of what is possible with telehealth,” she says.
The educational system has done a great job in adapting—and evolving—due to the COVID-19 pandemic, points out Dr. Meyer. “In nearly the blink of an eye, entire school systems have had to move from full in-person school days with hundreds of children to teaching remotely. Whether districts are providing learning packets, video chats or some combination, it is clear that teachers everywhere have worked hard to make a tremendous leap…and parents (like me) have a newfound appreciation for teachers’ patience, kindness, and enthusiasm for learning.”
She points out that this could help schools stay on schedule due to weather restraints (possibly no more snow days) or help individual students stay on track during personal or health issues.
Who knew online grocery shopping could make life so much easier? “For many of us, this pandemic was our first foray into the world of Peapod, Instacart, Uber Eats, and other grocery and food delivery services,” points out Dr. Meyer. “By a miracle of modern technology, our groceries arrive right on our doorstep, obviating the need to schlep to the store, wipe down grocery cart handles, search the aisles aimlessly for the one item you want, wait in line for checkout, and dodge people you didn’t really want to see while shopping in your pajamas with unbrushed hair and no makeup.” How will we ever go back?
Zoom and other video conferencing platforms have become pervasive in the lives of those of us who are able to work (mostly) from home. “Clearly it has taken us all a while to get used to Zoom etiquette—i.e. turning off your video when you are eating or using the restroom please!,” Dr. Meyer jokes. “Now that we have, maybe we can all commute less and be more productive.”
Social distancing demands physical separation but emotional connection is still possible when we can talk face to face, even if virtually, Dr. Meyer points out. “This was the year when we figured out how to include everyone at the Passover/Easter/dinner table, even those who wouldn’t otherwise have been able to attend in person,” she says. “You can still talk over each other all at once and yell about politics, it just becomes that much easier to tap mute when you need to roll your eyes and scream.”
For decades, advocates of criminal justice reform have pushed for reducing the size of prison and jail populations and have said we can do so without threatening public safety. “In light of the COVID pandemic, many criminal justice systems have received court orders to decarcerate, with a focus on prioritizing people for release who are high-risk for COVID infection because of chronic underlying health conditions and who present limited risk to public safety—for example the diabetic person who is in jail because he couldn’t afford to post bail,” Dr. Meyer says. “Once we see that this can be done and done safely, we can imagine a future without mass incarceration.”
You must admit that you’ve been more attuned to your own health since the virus hit these shores. This is a good thing in the long term, says Dr. Atkinson. “A lot of the consequences of poor lifestyle choices—such as smoking, drinking too much alcohol, not exercising enough and eating poorly—used to seem far away,” says Atkinson. “It was easy to tell ourselves we’ll make a positive change ‘tomorrow.’ But complications due to the coronavirus are a consequence of poor lifestyle choices that could affect anybody, at any time. So I envisage that more people won’t wait to make a positive change,” he says.
There’s also a chance we may begin to see discussions, and indeed legal cases, arising in court of ‘deliberate’ infection—”though this is a strict hypothetical possibility,” says Dr. Atkinson. “This would be a bit like someone with HIV engaging in sexual intercourse and withholding the knowledge of their infection with their partner.”
Dr. Atkinson also believes that governments will work more closely with their health officials and advisors—”to better predict, facilitate and prepare for future health emergencies,” he explains. “I hope there will be more cooperation between states and their health professionals, and that, as a consequence of the coronavirus, we all learn to listen and work together more, for the benefit of society and the collective good.”
Dr. Atkinson points out that healthcare workers are finally gaining the recognition they deserve. “I think there may also be a change in the social status of people working in hospitals, on the front-line, such as doctors and nurses,” he says. “I hope there will be more recognition of the important work that healthcare professionals do and the risks they take for their own health.”
Family therapist Dr. Paul Hokemeyer, Ph.D., author of Fragile Power, reveals that the coronavirus pandemic is bringing humanity back to where they need to be. “Over the last month, the sessions I’ve had with my clients have filled me with hope and optimism. People who before the onset of the virus were filled with hubris are now appreciating the benefits of humility. People who suffered from entitlement are now finding solace in gratitude; and people who felt they needed to dominate the planet to be successful are now seeing that the well being of their children depends on the honoring of mother nature and her conserving her precious resources,” he explains.
Dr. Hokemeyer also points out due to this “recalibration” people are more aware of morality, and will appreciate life more. “Nearly everyone I work with knows someone or a few people who’ve died from the virus. The value of a heightened awareness of death is the simultaneous heighted savouring of life and the significant people in it. The fear of death brings into sharp relief the joy of life,” he explains. “It fills us with gratitude for each breath, for every hug what we share with our children or partner, for the friends whom we call to check in on or share our frustration and fears, for our morning coffee, and the bloom that is coming on the trees. It also connects us to the billions of other human beings who are going through this pandemic with us. It enables us to see through labels of you and find strength and comfort in the being of we.”
And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don’t miss these Things You Should Never Do During the Coronavirus Pandemic.