Predicting the Coronavirus New Normal

The New Yorker, May 10, 2020

“When will all this be over and we return to normal”? The experts predict that life will return to normal only after a vaccine and antibody testing are readily available. The forecasts range from this fall to 18 months from now.

Until then, as the world reopens we will experience many more changes in our daily lives. Will they be upsetting? Not if you make a game of it by recording your predictions of what changes will occur, record your observations over time, and then see how accurate you were. You can record your predictions and observations quickly and easily, including photos and videos, using a secure electronic journal called CaseKeepers (www.CaseKeepers.com) for free.

Here are our predictions:

Workplace, Shop, Factory, Office: Your temperature will be taken at the entrance by someone who points a device at your forehead. You will be required to wear a mask except if you are in your own office or cubicle. Workspaces, cubicles, and desks will spread out, and work shifts will be alternated so fewer people are present. Some will continue to work remotely, and some will have a reduction in onsite work hours. Where items are handled by more than one person, gloves will be required. Gone will be the days of free snacks and beverages. Cafeterias will sell a few pre-packaged “Grab and Go” items.

Hair Salons, Barber Shops: No waiting areas or magazines; you will wait in your car and be called to come in at your appointed time. The hair dresser or barber will wear a mask and gloves. Chairs will be wiped down with disinfectant after each customer. Hair cutting or washing stations will be spread out. You will be required to wear a mask if it does not interfere with the service.

Doctor, Dentist, Chiropractor, Physical Therapist Office: See hair salon, barber shop. Each place where a patient sits or lies will be wiped down after each visit. You may not be required to wear a mask, but the provider will either wear a mask or a face shield.

Restaurants, Bars, Pubs: Waiters, servers, and busboys will wear masks and gloves. Tables will be spaced apart. Napkin dispensers, salt and pepper shakers, and bottles of ketchup will be replaced with disposables. No open bread baskets or bowls of salty nuts or spicy, crunchy munchies at bars. Tables and chairs will be wiped down after each use. Dinner parties will be encouraged to be immediate family only. To pay, you will be presented with a paper bill, no more fancy vinyl AmEx folder. You will be encouraged to use PayPal, Apple Pay or another form of touchless pay. Streets will be closed to support al fresco dining whenever possible.

Department Store, Clothing Store: You will be required to wear a mask, and all staff will wear masks and gloves. The number of customers in a department will be monitored to maintain social distancing. You will not flip through or pick up items on a display rack. A clerk will accompany you and s/he will flip through the items you want to see. When you find an item you want to try on, s/he will take it from the rack and hold it. When you have all the items you want to try on, s/he will accompany you to the dressing room, which has been wiped down after each customer’s use. You will try on the items. For those you do not want to purchase, you will hang them on a “waiting rack” where they will remain for three days before being returned to their original display rack. Those you wish to purchase, will be taken to the cashier. Before s/he rings up your purchase, s/he will remind you of the new return policy: all returns must be received within 7 days and with their original packaging. S/He will then bag your items, tell you the total charge, and you will pay using touchless payment. S/He’ll email you your receipt.

Airports, Airplanes: New procedures have already been implemented. Masks, social distancing lines, your temperature will be taken as you approach TSA, and signs everywhere to wear a mask and wash your hands frequently. New boarding procedures by zone avoid crowding the aisles. On board there will be no snacks or drinks, so bring a water bottle to fill before boarding. After landing, flight attendants will dismiss you by zone to avoid crowding.

Hotels: Masks and social distancing lines. When a customer leaves, the room is thoroughly cleaned and disinfected, and remains vacant for three days before the next guest. Room service is delivered on a tray placed on the floor in front of your door as the bellhop knocks on your door and moves away. The charge will appear on your final bill without your signing anything. You can add tips to the final bill.

Gym, Swimming Pool: Masks and social distancing lines, and your temperature will be taken at check-in. The number of patrons in the facility will be limited, and workout stations will be spread out. Staff will wipe down machines, seats, and mats with disinfectant towelettes, but you will be directed to do so, too. Saunas and steam rooms will be shutdown. An attendant will monitor the locker rooms to hand you a towel, limit occupancy and monitor social distancing.

Movie Theater: Lines will be formed outdoors using social distancing. Seating arrangements will be enforced by ushers so two seats will remain empty between parties. After each showing, cleaning staff will spray a disinfectant on all the seats and handrails. Because people remain nervous about going to theaters, drive-in theaters will make a come-back.

Schools: Masks for everyone. Students will be directed to wash their hands several times a day. Student-to-student contact will be discouraged, and no sharing of supplies or books. Desks will be spread out requiring smaller classroom sizes and split-shift scheduling. Older students will no longer move between classrooms; instead, they will be put into pods of 25 and the teacher will come to their classroom. Social distancing will be maintained in lines and in group meetings. Young students will no longer bring favorite items to school for “show-and-tell”, and recess playground activities will be altered to avoid touching or sharing equipment. Morning drop-off and afternoon pick-up will be sequenced so students don’t congregate in crowds. Lunch rooms will be closed and students will eat pre-boxed lunches or lunch from home at their desks. Sports will be played with limited or no spectators, but will be watched on Facebook Live.

The Silver Lining

Once the old normal returns, many will reminisce about the hidden silver lining of the pandemic lockdown: the quiet with no trains or freeway noise at night; the clean air and how you could see for miles; no traffic to slow you down, plenty of room on the freeway to change lanes, and reports of near-zero traffic deaths. Walking in our neighborhoods, neighbors gathered on their driveways and front lawns to chat, and strangers greeted each other with a smile and “hello”. Many kids spent quality time with their parents and ate meals together. And gasoline at Costco was $2.39 a gallon. Many people faced hardship, and many others stepped up to help and show kindness.

We had time to think about what is really important. After the coronavirus is gone, we will remember the lessons learned as they will be recorded in our journals. What are your predictions?

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