COVID-19: The long-term implications

Article By : Brian Dipert

As we grapple with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, we're entering a "new normal" era that will bring some different ways of operating.

I started writing my previous novel coronavirus-themed post (in what I sadly suspect is going to be an ongoing series) exactly two weeks ago as I type these words. Since then, the governor of Colorado has predictably extended the state-wide “stay at home” order. And given that the infection “peak” is now forecast to not hit here until (at least) some time in May, a schedule pushout ironically the result of high levels of “social distancing” compliance, I suspect that at least some degree of mandatory “shelter in place” will remain in place beyond month-end.

Longer term, even after restrictions on “normal” coming-and-going are lifted (which, I’d argue, won’t be realistic until after widespread, ideally home-based, testing of both the presence of infection and successful transition through infection, are a reality), “normal” coming-and-going will be long in actually returning.

And until an effective vaccine is developed and widely deployed, people will understandably be wary of congregating in close proximity, especially with strangers, as well as exposing themselves to the lingering byproducts of infected individuals’ respirations on packages, doorknobs, countertops, and other surfaces.

Even longer term, I’d argue, some things will never return to “normal.” Said a different way, we’re entering a “new normal” era. That’s the focus of this particular piece. Some of this impermanence will be judged as “good,” some of it will be viewed as “bad,” but much (if not all) of it will end up just being “different.” Without further ado, and in no particular order save for how they streamed out of my noggin, here are my thoughts.

Work

Much of my prior piece focused on how to make effective leverage of your (supposedly) temporary work-from-home time. But it might not be so temporary after all. Consider the benefits to your employer if you remain based from your abode long-term:

  • No need to dedicate expensive real estate to your office or cubicle, or, for that matter, your parking spot
  • No need to heat you in winter, cool you in summer, and more generally pay for the various utilities you consume each day
  • No need to pay for your toilet paper 😉
  • And (potentially) no need to dedicate IT resources to you, or even to pay for your computer and other hardware (if your employer can persuade you to finance and maintain your own gear instead, that is)

If you’re “under the weather” you’d normally stay home and take a day off work, but you’re now working from home full-time, so get to it, sickie! And more generally, all that time previously “wasted” in unproductive meetings, stuck in roundtrip commutes, at the water cooler, and on lunch and other breaks, now becomes even more opportunity to work. Assuming Darwinism (as discussed last time) doesn’t lead you to indulge excessively in bed, in front of the television or with your head stuck in the refrigerator, you’ll be far more productive as a result. And anyway, “face time” is overrated, what with Slack, Zoom, and the like, right?

image of a man and woman participating in a teleconference

Education

This topic, the other one I devoted my prior post to discussing, is a bit more of a struggle for me to wrap my head around. But then again, today’s youth are far more immersed in technology than I was at their age (back when dinosaurs roamed the earth. but I digress). While the abrupt and bumpy recent transition to online learning has left many students unmotivated (or perhaps just unable) to effectively function in cyber-school, in time more will adapt (with some inevitably still left behind).

And, as the Purdue-acquired online Kaplan University that I mentioned last time exemplifies, these students’ older peers are in many respects already online. Sometimes this is due to preference, other times out of necessity, the result of needing to juggle night studies with a full-time day job, for example, or due to lack of cost-effective and capable nearby higher-education facilities.

Shopping

Amazon and its ilk have already grown to dominate sales in numerous retail product categories, and nowadays plenty of folks are doing their grocery shopping online too, whether by leveraging delivery services of traditional stores, upstart alternatives like Amazon’s Whole Foods subsidiary and Fresh and Pantry services, or gig economy workers at Instacart and elsewhere. And as those services continue to improve in accuracy and responsiveness, as well as becoming more cost effective, folks will (I’m guessing) be increasingly unlikely to return to their past habits of driving to stores and pushing grocery carts around.

Prepared meals

What Instacart has done for grocery deliveries, DoorDash has done for delivering prepared food. Right now, of course, eating out isn’t an option; the only way restaurants are remaining open (with workforce reductions, alas) beyond relying on DoorDash and its gig economy competitors is to deliver food to your door themselves (or at least to your vehicle idling in the parking lot). Here, as with groceries, the long-term eating-out experience will likely be increasingly disbanded in favor of delivered dining-at-home, even after COVID-19 is tamed.

Telemedicine

While I was writing my prior piece, I was recovering from a locked-up back, by far the most painful of a number of episodes in recent years. My left-side hip’s sacroiliac (SI) joint is arthritic from many years’ accumulated effects of backpacking, hiking, trekking, and long-distance running, and it periodically flares up. I wasn’t able to drive to the doctor’s office even if I wanted to; my wife could have transported me but neither of us wanted to expose ourselves to potentially COVID-19-positive others there. Instead, I rang up the doctor’s office and, after a short chat on the phone with the physician assistant, a prescription for a muscle relaxant was waiting for me at the local pharmacy.

Admittedly, my well-documented longstanding medical history of occasional back-pain flare-ups was helpful here, as was my longstanding relationship with the medical staff (not to mention my complete absence of any evidence of past prescription painkiller abuse). But more recently, the medical group my doctor’s office belongs to announced that it was launching a video-visit program. And veterinarians are even joining the trend. Perhaps obviously, online appointments won’t eliminate traditional face-to-face office visits. But I’d wager that many things historically done in-office can be just as effectively (not to mention more conveniently and cost-effectively) done virtually instead. And now that physicians and patients alike have been forced to test-drive this route by virtue of the pandemic, I suspect that it’ll be a much more commonly trod path going forward.

I’m at well over 1,000 words already, and I’m only halfway through my list, so stay tuned for part 2 to come. Until then, I await your feedback on what I’ve postulated thus far.

Brian Dipert is Editor-in-Chief of the Embedded Vision Alliance, and a Senior Analyst at BDTI and Editor-in-Chief of InsideDSP, the company’s online newsletter.

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