15 things the pandemic changed for now — and maybe forever | #elderly | #seniors | #execrise
It’s safe to say, COVID-19 has changed our lives forever.
The global pandemic, which began in March 2020 and has stretched more than a year, has altered just about every aspect of life in Michigan.
In some cases, life as we knew it will slowly return to form after the pandemic is over. However, some changes are likely here to stay, even after the daily case reports and mass vaccination clinics fade out of sight.
“I think for a period of time people will not be likely to shake hands,” said Stephanie Hartwell, a sociologist and the dean of Wayne State University’s College of Arts and Sciences. “I think it’s really bizarre now when somebody wants to shake my hand.”
Related: COVID-19 one year later: ‘This is our life now’
Many changes have brought new methods of access to things that weren’t so readily available before, including home delivery, telemedicine and online education. The pandemic also gave us flexibility to where we work and learn, and pushed us into more outdoor activities.
But which changes will be long-term or even permanent?
“That’s a really unique longitudinal question,” Hartwell said. “If we look back 10 years from now, what’s going to happen to the American family? What will be the other permanent change? I can’t answer that.”
University of Michigan historian Martin Pernick said the pandemic likely accelerated and made more visible the changes that, in retrospect, were already underway. It also brought awareness to things like disparities in health care and the irrationalities in the American health care system that aren’t new but weren’t as high a priority before.
“The immediate impact can be extreme,” Pernick said about an event like the COVID-19 pandemic. “But that doesn’t tell you what the long-term effects are going to be.”
Below are 15 things the pandemic forced us to adjust or reshape, and what aspects industry experts and residents expect might be here to stay.
How we receive health care
When coronavirus restrictions forced health care systems to close their offices to non-emergency visits last spring, providers had to get creative with how they continued to serve patients.
Their solution: virtual appointments.
As we look to the post-pandemic future, medical experts believe telemedicine will be here to stay as another option to increase access to care, reduce costs, and free up doctors to spend more time with patients who need in-person care.
The pandemic also magnified the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle as individuals with underlying health conditions were more likely to have a severe case if infected.
How we work
Work has changed for people in one of two ways – they either work in person and face a swath of protocols and potential exposure to COVID-19, or they can work from home, siloed to their kitchen tables and deprived of the social aspect of work.
It’s clear people can work from home much of the time. Hybrid solutions, like ditching the traditional office for a co-working space could be the answer for many companies.
The death of the traditional office has become a common premonition during the pandemic, but so far, it’s mostly talk.
Eventually, workplaces might look like a hybrid of 2019 and 2020 spaces – ideally, taking the best from both worlds. But the transformation can’t happen until the threat of the pandemic is gone.
How we parent
Parents throughout Michigan faced mounting levels of stress and worry while raising children during the coronavirus pandemic. COVID-19 and the ensuing state restrictions to limit the virus spread caused a whole new world of issues for parents.
For many parents, the stress reached its peak when specific health orders closed school buildings, businesses and, for a time, daycares. Parents were forced to juggle work and children at home, plus the challenges that came with schooling from home and managing disappointments over canceled activities.
The lack of socializing also left parents worried about the impact of COVID-19 on their kids’ mental well-being.
How we do schooling
Students, parents, teachers and school districts throughout Michigan have experienced frustrations in the year since the pandemic sent districts across the state scrambling. But the pandemic also has taught districts how to better meet students’ technological and social-emotional needs where they are.
What has unfolded since the closing of school buildings to in-person learning is a reimagining of what is expected from schools and an overhaul of how they operate.
Without face-to-face interaction with teachers and friends, children have experienced the effects of isolation. Screen fatigue has set in. Activities like sports, musicals, prom and graduation have been called off or done virtually.
Now, districts are contemplating how to make up for a lost year as they work to help students recover and get back on track.
How we socialize
Throughout the pandemic, Michigan residents have filled the void of little to no in-person human contact with virtual happy hours, coffee dates, book clubs, community message boards.
They’ve taught their grandparents how to use Zoom, held their birthday parties and holiday “gatherings” online, patched in loved ones on handheld devices so they could watch weddings or funerals without risk of disease. They’ve lost touch with some friends, deepened their relationships with others. Some used technology and a lot of time stuck at home alone to find lasting romance.
But after living so long with so much virtual communication, transitioning back into more traditional in-person interactions could be almost as tough as it was to shift away from them in the first place, experts say.
How we do food
The coronavirus pandemic changed many aspects of life, including how people eat, get groceries and enjoy food.
Restaurants began offering curbside pickup, grocery-delivering apps were created, and people started cooking more at home rather than eating out. Like almost everything else, the COVID-19 pandemic changed people’s relationship with food.
Being at home more often inspired some people to spend more time in the kitchen. With hopes of the pandemic nearing an end as state and federal officials ramp up vaccine distribution, some people are keeping the habits they created in the last year.
How we do sports
The pandemic has underscored the economic and cultural importance of sports. Some debates and serious discussions have surfaced.
How do you strike a balance between the desire to play and protecting athletes and those around them? How important are sports, especially at the youth or high school level?
The MHSAA’s goal throughout the pandemic has been to see fall, winter and spring sports seasons through to their completion. Fall sports ended with champions crowned in state tournaments and winter sports are headed that way, even if both seasons have encountered lengthy delays along with numerous stops and starts.
College and professional sports have regained a sense of normalcy but still look vastly different with the very limited number of fans.
How we worship
The coronavirus pandemic has created tremendous upheaval among Michigan’s religious institutions.
Churches moved to online services last spring. Some transitioned to in-person worship in churches with limitations in the summer, but switched to outdoor services when case numbers climbed again. In the fall, churches reverted back to online services.
Some have yet to resume in-person services. Others have returned to their buildings, but have had to enact rules about masks and social distancing. Activities such as giving communion and singing have had to be rethought and adapted. At many places, social hours and church dinners are now a memory.
Yet another issue for churches this past year is the impact on community outreach and ministries.
How we do weddings
2020 was the year of delayed or canceled weddings. Those that were held were smaller, more intimate ceremonies, often held outdoors and/or with masked guests to avoid becoming a super spreader event.
Weddings that were originally planned for 200 guests were held with 20 instead. Some called the limits a blessing in disguise.
Smaller weddings became common throughout the pandemic, so much so that businesses started getting creative.
To some, the pandemic has made smaller weddings more socially acceptable and will let couples focus their money elsewhere. But the larger wedding isn’t likely to go away for good.
How we do business
When COVID-19 hit and the stay-home order was put in place, many businesses transitioned how they get goods and services to their customers.
The Michigan Retail Association, which represents 5,000 businesses throughout the state, saw E-commerce platforms, virtual storefronts, and curbside and home delivery significantly increase among small and independent retailers.
The association tracked home delivery data through shipping company PartnerShip and found that total shipping revenue was up 28% year-over-year for MRA businesses in 2020.
Online options and increased social media presence have increased customer bases and are likely here to stay.
How often we get outside
Social distancing is easier outside.
That simple maxim drove Americans outdoors in a huge way last year. Local, state and national parks usage shot up substantially in 2020 as people searched out leisure and fitness activities that weren’t precluded by COVID-19 rules limiting indoor entertainment and exercise options where the coronavirus is more easily spread.
As the second pandemic spring dawns a year after Michigan’s first infections arose, and vaccines offer a path back to normal life, parks officials hope those who took refuge from the pandemic in the great outdoors keep coming back for more.
How we take care of the elderly
Perhaps no group has been hit harder by the pandemic than the elderly. They’ve comprised a lion share of COVID-19 deaths and hospitalizations, and the threat posed by the virus to their physical health has forced many into isolation, taking a tremendous toll on their mental health.
Advocates for the elderly are now hoping the current attention being paid to nursing homes and senior citizen services will galvanize policymakers to adopt long-term reforms.
“I think the pandemic has put broad problems within the system into focus,” said Mark Hornbeck, spokesman for the Michigan AARP. “And we certainly hope that that will have positive, long-term impacts on services and long-term care facilities.”
How we mourn death
Funerals were among the long list of traditions and activities that were altered by the coronavirus pandemic, which began in March 2020. Restrictions put in place to slow the spread of the virus meant fewer people allowed to gather, and made even comforting hugs a potential threat to the grieving family’s health.
It’s not yet clear what funerals will look like in a post-COVID-19 world. Traditional services will likely return with larger crowds, though some might decide they liked the smaller, more intimate ceremonies required in 2020 or a hybrid model that provides virtual opportunities.
One change that will likely stick however is the use of technology to expand access to funerals,
How we participate in local government
It has been a year since government bodies across Michigan were first allowed to meet virtually, amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In the months since, local governments and school boards saw an influx in the number of citizens making their voices heard.
The impact of such a major change in how local governments do the public’s business goes beyond a spike in public comments. It has also led to an erosion of civility, some say, and issues of access for those struggling with technology necessary to access the newly virtual meetings.
Still, others see virtual access to public meetings as one positive result of the ongoing pandemic.
How the pandemic reshaped Michigan politics
If the first year of coronavirus started with solidarity over a much-loved lawmaker’s passing, the ensuing months turned into a cavalcade of partisan divisiveness, fiery rhetoric and consequences that rippled into the November 2020 presidential election.
Divides between Republicans and Democrats existed in Michigan well before the pandemic, but COVID-19 “agitated” it, said Republican strategist John Sellek.
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