10 Things the Pandemic Is Making Obsolete

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Change is constant, and it may help to remember that as the coronavirus outbreak drags on. Even if a miraculous vaccine for COVID-19 is discovered tomorrow, it’s unlikely the world will 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 pandemic is slowly pushing to the sidelines.

1. Traditional movie theater experience

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Hollywood’s magical 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?

In mid-August, AMC Theatres announced plans to reopen about two-thirds of its U.S. locations by September, but with limited seating, social distancing and mandatory masks. In the meantime, moviegoers have flocked to home streaming services such as Hulu and Amazon Prime Video, where the concessions are free and the bathroom breaks 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 “4 Streaming TV Services That Cost $20 a Month — or Less.”

2. Reusable restaurant menus

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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. Crowded elevators

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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 add floor decals to 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?

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, including Playboy and Time Out, 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 magazines for patients to flip through, 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. Snow days

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Kids who grew up in wintery climates — chiming in for Minnesota over here — know only too 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.

6. Pennies

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Penny for your thoughts, and maybe those thoughts are about ditching our lowest-denomination coin. During the pandemic, many shoppers have shifted to credit and debit cards over germy cash and coins, resulting in a national coin shortage.

That’s led to the Federal Reserve forming a task force to make recommendations to cope with the shortage, The New York Times reports, and it may be time to bank the penny for good. There’s precedent — Canada stopped minting pennies in 2012, and this change seems to make cents.

7. Hugs and handshakes

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It feels unnatural not to hug a grandparent, or a friend you haven’t seen in months. But the CDC recommends minimizing gestures that promote close contact, skipping handshakes, hugs and even elbow bumps.

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

8. Birthday candles

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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 people are about to eat and out into the room around you.

The glow of tiny flames and the magic of a birthday wish are still special, but there are ways to do it spit-free. One enterprising company is selling birthday-candle fans instead.

9. In-person voting

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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 76% of Americans can vote by mail in 2020, and while some states still require in-person voting, a sea change is happening here.

10. Buffets

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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.

The CDC advises that event planners and schools replace self-serve options like buffets with pre-packaged food.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

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