9 Things the Coronavirus Is Making Obsolete

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People reading magazines in the waiting room
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Change is constant. Millions of Americans have been vaccinated against COVID-19. But even if everyone got vaccinated tomorrow, it’s unlikely the world would ever slip back into all of its old habits and ways.

From plexiglass separators in stores to no-contact food delivery, many of the changes that have come our way are likely to stick around permanently. And other societal shifts mean that certain things to which we’ve become accustomed are likely to join pay phones and parking meters on the slow but sure march to obsolescence.

Here’s a look at some familiar parts of life that the coronavirus pandemic is slowly pushing to the sidelines.

1. Traditional movie theater experience

Family watching a movie together
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Hollywood’s magical movie palaces, with their armrest-jostling and sticky floors, now seem like something out of germ-filled horror movies. Will we ever again chomp popcorn while sitting haunch-to-paunch with strangers in a crowded cinema?

Major chains like AMC Theatres narrowly dodged bankruptcy after extended closures during the pandemic. In the meantime, moviegoers have flocked to home streaming services such as Hulu and Amazon, where the concessions require no cash and the bathroom breaks are unlimited.

The final curtain may not be falling on the movie-theater experience, but a second, more subdued act seems to be waiting in the wings. If you’re interested in exploring affordable alternatives to the silver screen, check out “13 Streaming TV Services That Cost $20 a Month — or Less.”

2. Reusable restaurant menus

Man ordering from a digital restaurant menu
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Whether they’re plastic laminated one-sheets or those enormous books handed out by fine-dining establishments, reusable restaurant menus may soon be as outmoded as aspic salads.

They’ve never exactly been a clean option: Previous patrons dirty up menus with soda spills, cough and sneeze on them, and even lick their fingers to turn the pages. No wonder the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends disposable or digital menus going forward.

Whatever type of menu you find in your hands the next time you eat out, heed “8 Ways Restaurant Menus Trick You Into Overspending.”

3. Snow days

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Kids who grew up in wintery climates — chiming in for Minnesota over here — know very well the blissful gift of a snow day, when school is canceled due to blizzardy weather or frigid temperatures. Time to pull the covers up over your head, go back to sleep and, later on, indulge in video games, trash TV and snacks.

But now that nearly every school in the nation has had to figure out how to teach classes online, weather cancellations seem unlikely, as schools can just switch to virtual learning for a day and have kids use computers for homework, not games. Those beloved snow days may be melting away for good.

4. Print magazines

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The print magazine industry has been slipping for years, with many publications reducing their annual issue count, and others becoming digital-only.

And with fewer magazines to flip through, there are also fewer places to do so. The CDC recommends that dental offices, for example, no longer offer shared print magazines for patients to read while they wait, since they can’t be easily disinfected.

If you’re interested in switching to digital titles, check out “4 Ways to Read Magazines for Free or Cheap.”

5. Buffets

Buffet food at a restaurant
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Ah, all-you-can-eat buffets, the big eater’s friend. But this method of meal delivery is fraught with issues. Besides the food sitting under heat lamps and on steam tables, quickly getting cold, we now must worry about forking up fried noodles that everyone in the restaurant has sniffed and coughed over.

It’s no wonder that the buffet restaurants Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes (of the Garden Fresh Restaurants chain) were among the early casualties of the pandemic, as we reported in “11 Restaurants That Filed for Bankruptcy Amid COVID-19.”

6. Birthday candles

Woman blowing out candles on a birthday cake
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It’s an iconic image of celebration: Kids and adults alike pursing their lips and puffing away at flaming candles atop a birthday cake. But blowing out the candles means blowing spit and aerosolized germs onto a dessert that people are about to eat and out into the room around you.

7. In-person voting

A close-up picture of a mail-in ballot for an election
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Some states, including my own home state of Washington, moved to all-mail-in voting years ago and never looked back. Rather than leave work early to stand in line with strangers, often in inclement weather, voting by mail happens on a voter’s own individual schedule.

Voters also have time to research candidates and issues before filling out their ballots and popping them in the mail, later tracking their ballots online to ensure they were received.

According to The New York Times, a record number of Americans were able to vote by mail in 2020. And while some states still require in-person voting, a sea change is happening here.

8. Crowded elevators

Masked woman alone in an elevator
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Think of how jammed an office elevator can get during those inevitable work rush hours. The Centers for Disease Control has issued guidance for employers, urging businesses to limit how many people can use an elevator at the same time — as well as to add floor decals that space passengers out and encourage mask-wearing.

And if you dread that awkward elevator small talk, you’re in luck: The CDC also advises elevator users to minimize chatting. The good news: No more annoying elevator pitches?

9. Handshakes

Woman in mask giving peace sign
Denis Andricic / Shutterstock.com

The CDC still recommends that everyone try to limit gestures that promote close contact — skipping handshakes, hugs and even elbow bumps. The agency notes that even people without symptoms or with a recent negative test result can spread COVID-19 to others.

Hugs, at least among close family members who share germ circles anyway, will likely never go out of style. But handshakes with almost everyone else can be replaced with waves, verbal greetings and even peace signs or Mr. Spock’s Vulcan salute.

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