What Will the World be like After COVID-19?
Quarantine, coronavirus, what else is new? The truth is: nothing.
We are all watching the world and the news, wondering when this will end. On top of that, the first signs of summer have people feeling extra stir crazy and anxious. But as stay at home orders are lifting in various states, and the prospect of businesses reopening begins to reach our news feeds, people are wondering how long it’s going to take to get us back to normal.
Can we really return to our pre-pandemic lives? Right now, people are coming together in unbelievably creative ways, from businesses and restaurants adapting to their new circumstances, to families and friends staying connected from a safe distance. When a tree falls in a rainforest, the living organisms in that tree and on the forest floor that the tree crushed are destroyed, but the missing tree opens up the sky and sunlight falls through, all the way to the forest floor. The destruction creates new life, bringing new brightness and diversity to the forest. This phenomenon is called a light gap. In our world right now, the tree is still falling and destroying our pre-pandemic lives. But soon enough this will end and, like the light gap, we will have the chance to harness the creativity and humanity that the virus has brought out, and create change. Coronavirus is affecting all aspects of our lives, including work, education, transportation, government, and the environment. The next step is figuring out what will change.
The environment has benefited immensely from the global shutdown, with the largest hole in the ozone layer closing up, dolphins appearing off the coast of Venice, and improved visibility of the Himalayan mountains in India. Fewer trains, planes, and cars are travelling and many industries shut down, which is reducing pollution and giving us a glimpse at action against climate change. This virus could be a wake up call from Mother Nature telling us to get our act together for the environment. But this change is temporary. If we go right back to our old habits, or even eliminate public transportation when this is over, we will be no closer to a solution than before stay-at-home orders went into effect. More people could start working from home full time to reduce transportation and the spread of germs. We could all make the effort to get our exercise by walking or biking to work or school instead of driving. Hopefully, we will eventually gravitate back to public transportation when a vaccine ensures our safety. The end goal: start reducing our carbon footprint.
Educational systems all over the world were forced to quickly adapt to remote learning, which proved a difficult challenge. It became evident to administrators that many students do not have the access to computers or the internet that they need. Not to mention, many students and parents rely on school meal plans. Some kids are going hungry, some don’t have access to their online assignments or meetings, and others struggle to adapt to this brand new method of learning. Schools tend to be epicenters for the spread of germs and it will take time to plan out how to safely allow students and teachers to return. Teachers will be faced with the task of catching up on content and curriculum while addressing students’ different developmental paces, especially in the earlier years. In the coming months and years of recovery, there will undoubtedly have to be change in education to support students’ interrupted growth.
Already it is evident that returning to school won’t be the way we remember it. In Sydney, Australia, schools are starting to reopen in phases, gradually increasing the number of classes and students allowed in school until June. In some countries in Asia, elementary school students created three-foot-long cardboard hats to ensure they keep a safe distance. Other schools are only allowing their seniors, who need to take college entrance exams, to return. The students re-entering schools are faced with daily temperature checks, increased spatial distance in classrooms, more hand washing, and even the restriction of no talking while eating lunch.
Our strongest chance at starting recovery is a functioning, safe, and widely available vaccine. While that process ordinarily takes years, researchers are scrambling to speed up that process to months. Some companies are even skipping steps, like animal testing. Pfizer and BioNTech recently began a human trial for their potential vaccine with healthy volunteers. If successful, the vaccine could be available to millions by September. Despite restrictions easing up right now, we need the vaccine to safely start interacting with others again. In the meantime, lifting stay-at-home orders requires the responsibility to continue to stay safe with new measures. Coronavirus will undoubtedly bring about new social norms, such as doing away with our age old handshake or wearing masks all the time. Every aspect of our lives that we are missing right now is going to be different in the coming months, and maybe years. Schools, workplaces, public transportation, places of worship, malls, and markets are not going to be the same. Social distancing, disease control, and government restrictions are still going to be necessary for awhile. We are going to have to find a new normal, but right now our future is still very unclear.