Paging Dr. Frischer: The Future

What will our new normal look like, once we finally get a handle on this pandemic? This highly contagious virus has altered our lives in so many ways. What might 2021 and beyond look like? I may laugh at myself when I look back on some of these predictions, but here goes:


Facemasks: Get used to them. They’ve been common in many parts of the world since long before this pandemic. They reduce the spread of all contagious respiratory diseases. Even after we have been vaccinated and reach herd immunity, I predict that the sight of them will not be uncommon.


Handshakes and hugs: Will our long tradition of shaking hands survive this pandemic? The handshake demonstrates trust and respect, but infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci says that we must break this custom now and forever. A handshake is one of the best ways to transmit a respiratory-borne disease. And how about a hug? Despite its physical and emotional benefits, its future is shaky as well. Let’s hope that some form of human touch can be restored to our post-pandemic lives.


Schools: A return to live teaching is important for many reasons: Most students learn better in person, they benefit from socializing…and parents need to get back to work! At present, of course, COVID numbers are spiking and teachers are rightly concerned about going back to the physical classroom. The future may include staggered school schedules, hybrid virtual options, and major changes to assemblies, PE, and recess. New floor plans will include physical distancing. Masks, temperature checks and frequent COVID tests are here to stay for some time.


The Office: Corporate America has long believed that working at home is less productive. Studies now show that this is not necessarily the case. Clearly, there are advantages to working together in one location, including collegiate interactions that often improve decision-making and cooperation. However, working from home saves time, gas, vehicle wear and tear, parking costs, traffic stress, and the enormous company expense of maintaining a large physical space. Several major corporations have made it clear that they do not want all of their employees back in the foreseeable future. This trend will surely continue.


Training: Remember the days when we traveled, in large numbers, to huge hotels, and gathered in enormous conference rooms? We (or our sponsors) put out significant sums of money for our transportation, housing, and food. This is currently being done online. Who out there expects to return solely to the old model? Virtual training can often be quite effective in smaller groups, at staggered times, at minimal cost, and without leaving our homes.


Restaurants: Indoor (and now, even outdoor) seating at restaurants is not currently allowed in our community. When restaurants (those which survive this pandemic) reopen indoors, there will be fewer tables and seats. Expect to see barriers between tables, and mask-wearing diners greeted by masked and gloved servers. Will patrons be required to have their temperature taken before entry? All of these changes may be necessary in order to make customers feel comfortable, and will likely stick around for some time. One easy prediction is that prices will rise in order to pay for all of these measures.


Concerts, amusement parks and theaters: It will take an effective and well-distributed vaccine, leading to genuine herd immunity, before we again see crowds in Dodger Stadium and Disneyland. When will you feel comfortable sitting elbow to elbow with a stranger, talking, singing, or perhaps shouting at an umpire? When that day comes, it will likely be accompanied by limited numbers, social distancing, and masks.


Airports: Who could have predicted the enormous changes to travel brought about, two decades ago, by 9/11? Currently, this pandemic has resulted in a dramatic decrease in the number of passengers as well as in the number and variety of flights offered. Businesses hold virtual meetings in place of enormously costly business travel, and pleasure travel has plummeted. Airports and airplanes require masks. Beverage and snack service has changed, in order to minimize movement around the cabin. Airlines are not anticipating a return to previous levels of travel anytime soon, although limits to the number of passengers, and to those empty middle seats, are now ending.


Shopping: We’ve all heard about the wealth of Jeff Bezos. Amazon, among a few other fortunate companies, was uniquely positioned to benefit from a worldwide pandemic, and sadly, brick and mortar retailers were not. My money is on Internet shopping and not physical shopping malls. This trend is here to stay.


There has been considerable debate about the future use of “immunity passports” - evidence or documentation of individual COVID immunity. Consider that it has long been routine to demand that schoolchildren and incoming college freshmen provide proof of immunity to various infectious diseases. Perhaps we will be required to show a certificate or use a smartphone app to provide evidence of COVID antibodies.


Or, perhaps we will be seeing the proliferation of the use of rapid-testing. I just received notification that the Los Angeles Marathon will be requiring rapid-testing on the day of the race. Will this become inexpensive and accurate enough to be required at the entrance of restaurants, airports, or large events?


Here’s an easy prediction to conclude with: We’ve got considerable technological, financial, and ethical hurdles to overcome.

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