Right now, it may feel like most people are still in a perpetual state of waiting. Waiting for the number of COVID-19 cases to stop rising, waiting for pandemic restrictions to ease, waiting for our turn to get the vaccine …
But even after things return to a more normal state — whenever that may be — it’s clear that some of the changes we’ve made will be permanent.
Some of those may be positive. Others may forever remain annoying reminders of this unusual time.
No one can predict the future, but here’s a look at many things that might be part of our lives long after we return to a more normal state.
1. No magazines in waiting rooms
Waiting rooms are famous for their ancient issues of magazines. (That Spiro Agnew seems like a real up-and-comer.) But now the CDC recommends that dental offices, for one, clear waiting areas of toys, magazines and other shared objects that can’t easily be disinfected.
Bringing your own books, magazines and smartphone games may have to fill in for the foreseeable future. If you prefer not to pay for magazines, check out “4 Ways to Read Magazines for Free or Cheap.”
2. Working from home
Some employers offered work-at-home options before the pandemic. But now, many more do.
Going forward, companies that value their employees will feel pressure to offer some kind of work-at-home technology if working from a distance is a realistic possibility.
3. Movies at home
With many movie theaters having been closed for much of 2020 and many currently closed again, Hollywood studios have been funneling some of their big new titles to various streaming services.
If brick-and-mortar theaters can return to some kind of normal operations, then some movie blockbusters surely will be reserved for the big screen. But the future of streaming video services has never looked better.
There are seemingly more streaming services than ever before. If you find the options overwhelming, start with “4 Streaming TV Services That Cost $20 a Month — or Less.”
4. Cashless stores
We’ve known for years that paper money — traveling from person to person, staying in circulation for years, never getting washed — can harbor thousands of microbes.
Credit and debit cards, because they stay in one person’s possession, can be a safer and cleaner option — especially if they are contactless and only need to be waved in front of a reader.
5. Voting by mail
Today, 28 states offer mail-in ballots as an option but only five states — Utah, Colorado, Washington, Hawaii and Oregon — conduct their elections entirely by mail.
But since standing in long lines at crowded polling places seems less appealing these days, the mail-in practice may be poised to spread.
Washington state’s secretary of state told The New York Times that officials from every other state and Puerto Rico have spoken to her or to her election director about how to make voting by mail work.
6. Face masks in public
Some states now require residents to wear face masks or other facial coverings when they visit stores or ride public transport. There’s no one national rule but expect to continue seeing folks wear them, from the disposable medical kind to fancier versions with sports team or pop culture logos.
7. Shaking hands
Wave goodbye — from a socially approved distance — to the practice of handshakes and other touchy-feely greetings.
Maybe substitute a wave, a thumbs-up or Mr. Spock’s “live long and prosper” Vulcan hand gesture from “Star Trek.”
8. Plexiglass separators in stores
Cashiers don’t want to be sneezed on these days any more than you want them to sneeze on you. Those transparent plastic barriers you’re seeing in supermarkets and other stores are likely to stay up.
9. Vacationing close to home
Disney World and Hawaii may be out of reach for a while, as flying seems fraught with issues. To quench our wanderlust, travelers are likely to rediscover local destinations, including day trips to nearby national and state parks.
10. Drive-in theater revival
At a drive-in theater, moviegoers have always stayed socially distanced in the family car, with the exception of snack runs and bathroom breaks.
Even drive-ins have had to adjust. Some are adding online ticket and concession sales. But the old-fashioned drive-in just might continue to be one of Hollywood’s hottest destinations.
11. Dairy delivery
The neighborhood milkman, delivering clanking bottles of milk to your door, is not a relic of the past. Local dairies that deliver milk, eggs, butter and more never entirely disappeared, and the coronavirus may be helping this old tradition make a modest comeback.
12. Social-distancing stickers
If you’ve shopped at all during the pandemic, you’ve likely seen stickers on store floors showing how far apart to stand from other customers while waiting in a line. Expect more of these wherever lines are likely.
One-way aisle traffic stickers also seem likely to stick around, guiding the flow of customers to avoid face-to-face encounters.
13. PPE upgrades at the dentist and doctor
Face masks on grocery cashiers and other retail workers have become a common sight. But for health care procedures that require getting up close and personal, such as those performed by dental hygienists, you may be seeing the use of more intense personal protective equipment, such as face shields.
14. Fading sick-day stigma
The coronavirus pandemic has reminded us all that there’s no perfect attendance award at work when an illness could be contagious or even life-threatening. Sensible bosses will likely be more encouraging of sick-day use in the future, especially for workers with fevers or coughs.
Of course, it’s much easier to stay home if you have paid sick days or can work from home — luxuries not everyone has.
15. Telehealth appointments
During the coronavirus outbreak, many medical professionals have shifted to meeting with non-emergency patients with video conference software, a practice known as “telehealth” or “telemedicine.”
This form of doctor’s appointment may not be as personal, but it is likely to live on as a convenience, especially for patients who have difficulty traveling to see a doctor in person.
16. Electronic menus
I’ll bet we’ve all used giant paper restaurant menus that have been spilled on (and maybe sneezed on). We may not have given them a second thought last year, but those grungy menus are off-putting today.
We may be seeing more recyclable, single-use menus or possibly table tents — placards with barcodes that customers can scan to see the menu or make an e-payment.
17. Hotel key on your phone
Hotels, like airplanes, must adjust to keep up with a traveling public that’s suddenly anxious about sanitation.
At Marriott, for instance, guests will be able to unlock their rooms with their phones, Travel & Leisure reports. Front desks are adding partitions, and lobbies and other public areas will have hand-sanitation stations and more space between seating.
18. Sporting events with empty stands
Will sporting events ever feel as exciting without cheers and boos from a big home crowd?
Root, root, root for the home team … but maybe from your couch.
19. Food deliveries
Signing for a package or a pizza, where you come into close contact with the delivery person and share a pen and clipboard, is a practice that has already disappeared from many delivery services.
Camera alerts and other technological advances that let customers see when a product is delivered seem likely to be more common in the future.
20. More bagged produce
The CDC says there’s no evidence to support food-related transmission of the coronavirus.
That’s good news. But it doesn’t mean grocery shoppers won’t be comforted by choosing pre-packaged foods more often before, rather than digging through an open pile of produce as we previously have done.
21. Buffet restaurants rethought
Buffet restaurants offer a lot of food for a good price, but that food sits in open steam trays, potentially exposed to unwashed hands and airborne droplets from sneezes and coughs.
The CDC says there currently is no evidence the coronavirus is spread through food. But will eaters in the future be willing to return to buffets?
22. Big group birthday parties
If you have a kid, you’ve likely attended more than one birthday party at a giant trampoline park, bounce-house palace, indoor gym or game arcade.
These days, though, it seems likely that most parents won’t encourage their kids to jump into a ball pit where 20 other toddlers have been chewing and coughing on the toys.
23. Attending religious services in person
It’s a sad irony that many places of worship, where people seek comfort in troubling times, have been all but off-limits during the outbreak.
National Catholic Reporter suggests that churches may need to use tickets to limit the number attending services. It also considers the possibility of putting individual communion hosts at each seat to prevent eucharistic ministers from having to touch congregants’ tongues or hands.
And outbreaks such as one last March that infected dozens at a Washington state church mean that the potential spread of coronavirus by choir singing could be a problem for some time to come.
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