State and local officials may be loosening the restrictions on our daily lives imposed by COVID-19, but the pandemic will continue to change the way we conduct our social lives for many months to come.
That’s the word from Michael Urban, senior lecturer and founding director of the University of New Haven’s doctorate of occupational therapy program. Urban has been instructing his students on the ways COVID-19 will continue to influence everything from the way we wash our hands to the way we spend a day at the beach.
Forget social distancing, Urban told InsuranceNewsNet. The term implies that we aren’t socializing, he said, and humans are social creatures by nature. He suggested instead that we think of the COVID-19 restrictions as physical distancing, because we are remaining physically separated from each other while still being able to socialize.
Physical distancing and COVID-19 precautions will affect nearly every aspect of our social lives, Urban said. Those precautions start with the basics we have become accustomed to since COVID-19 ground most activities to a halt: staying home if you have a fever or a cough, frequent hand-washing with soap, wearing a mask in public.
Spending Time Outdoors
Outdoor activities are a great way to begin resuming our social lives during the pandemic, he said.
“You’re out in the fresh air, it’s healthier for you than being trapped indoors,” Urban said. “You can go hiking, you can go to the beach, you can go to public swimming pools, you can keep that physical distance at least six feet apart.”
In many areas, officials will keep crowds under control even in outdoor gathering places, Urban said. “They may limit the number of cars they let into the parking lot or limit the number of people admitted into a location or take some other action to maintain that physical distancing.”
Physical distancing is even changing etiquette to some degree, he said. “For example, when we meet up with people or you’re outside and you see someone you know and you want to talk, you will stay six feet apart, and you will wear masks. That’s going to be part of our way of doing things for a long time to come.”
As another example, instead of crowding around a picnic table, family and friends can enjoy an outdoor picnic or backyard cookout by sitting in chairs placed in a circle, with everyone maintaining the proper distancing.
Retailers that were permitted to remain open during the COVID-19 lockdown put social distancing protocols into place for their shoppers, and those protocols will remain in effect as more stores open for business, Urban said.
“We saw retailers looking at ways consumers can change their behavior to remain physically distant and to feel safe shopping in an enclosed space. For example, retailers established pathways inside the store so that shoppers could maneuver around but still remain physically distant, and I think we will see some form of this continue. I’ve noticed shoppers have become more accustomed to standing six feet apart while waiting in line at the cash register. Some retailers moved racks of merchandise so that they could be more spread out in the confines of the store. That also helps people with physical disabilities get around in the store much better because there’s less clutter, and so it becomes a way to be more inclusive for people who have disabilities.”
Retailers also will continue to be vigilant in sanitizing door handles and other surfaces that people frequently touch, as well as using plexiglass shields at the checkout. Employees will be on hand to guide shoppers in physical distancing protocols. In addition, shoppers will continue to see restrictions on trying on clothes or returning merchandise.
Expect to see new protocols in place for doctor’s offices, hair salons, the gym and even church services, Urban said. “No more sitting in the waiting area for the doctor’s office or the barber shop or hair salon. You’ll check in for your appointment — often online — and then they notify you when it’s OK to come in.” Locations will limit the number of people allowed inside as well.
“Those protocols will change as we learn more about COVID-19 and the people who run these various businesses get an idea of how many people are coming in,” Urban said. “As we move about our daily lives, we will need to get accustomed to checking ahead of time — either going onto a business’s website or calling ahead — to find out what to expect before we get there.”
COVID-19 will force some new habits as people leave their homes either to socialize or to take care of life’s necessities, he noted. “We’ll have to make sure we have masks and hand sanitizer with us. In my family, we keep some bags with disinfectant wipes in the car so that we can wipe down shopping cart handles or door handles. I think this will become a habit with many of us into the future.”
The COVID-19 shutdown forced many social activities to move online. Everything from library story hours to dance classes to Scout meetings were held remotely. Urban said that while online activities have been good for giving people a social outlet, ultimately people are social creatures and crave doing things in person. He predicted activities will continue to be held virtually to give people an option in case they don’t feel comfortable venturing out among others. But for those who want to participate in activities in person, physical distancing will remain the norm.
“We will see activities being limited in the number of people participating, keeping some kind of physical distancing,” he said.
Rituals such as graduations and weddings in the time of COVID-19 have forced people to get creative in the way they approach these traditions, Urban said. For example, more weddings have taken place with only the couple, their officiant and witnesses, with family and friends watching the event online. Graduations have moved from crowded stadiums and auditoriums to “drive-through” events, parades or livestreamed events.
Urban predicted that COVID-19 will force people to take stock of social traditions and ask themselves how they can be done differently in the future. “Don’t be surprised to see the bride and groom posting for pictures wearing face masks or seeing the wedding guests wearing masks on the dance floor,” he said. Perhaps friends and family are leery of traveling to a social event because they are at high risk for COVID-19 but they still want to participate in the occasion. Giving guests an online option could become the norm.
Look for protocols such as temperature checks at the entrance to an event, spacing of tables and chairs to maintain physical distancing, and limits on the number of people invited to events to become more common as people socialize in the COVID-19 era, Urban said.
COVID-19 brought travel to a halt. Although people slowly have begun to venture out on the open road and into the airways, the travel experience will never be the same again, according to a report commissioned by Allianz Partners. Futurologist Ray Hammond said in the report that travelers will see “a new era of precaution with less spontaneity and more protections against virus.”
Hammon predicted that short-haul and domestic air travel will recover first, but travelers will change their behaviors, including wearing face masks throughout their journey and saying goodbye to loved ones outside the airport. In some cases, jet bridges to planes will be used as a final “disinfectant tunnel.” Airlines will cut down on cabin bags to speed up boarding and reduce contamination risk, and will reduce food and drink services.
The cruise industry will be most affected by COVID-19, Hammond said, as no one has a clear vision of how cruises can be organized while respecting distancing and, above all, quarantining sick travelers to avoid contamination.
Hospitality will be affected by enhanced sanitation measures. All-inclusive hotel packages are likely to be redesigned to remove buffet-style food and drink delivery to ensure guests receive service at their individual, physically distanced tables. The free continental breakfast buffet offered at many hotels will be a thing of the past.
Finally, business travel will be greatly reduced, since the pandemic has shown that global project management can be done by video conferencing. Hammond predicted only trade meetings, exhibitions and international sporting events are likely to resume to normal levels in the foreseeable future.
How Will COVID-19 Change Our Lives?
In The Home
- Homes will continue to be fitness centers, classrooms and medical consulting rooms as exercise, education and health care continue to be conducted virtually.
- More young adults will remain at home as universities conduct online learning and more paid work can be done virtually.
- Electronic sensors to detect virus particles are in development, making the home a “sterile sanctuary.”
- Greater use of masks and gloves when taking public transportation.
More walking and bicycling.
- Less traffic congestion as more employees work remotely.
- Less business travel.
- Airlines will restrict carryon luggage and onboard food and beverage.
- Increased sanitation measures in hotels and the elimination of self-serve buffets.
- The mental health aftermath of the pandemic will last longer than the pandemic itself.
- Greater use of telemedicine.
- Medical supply chains will become increasingly localized to ensure quick and easy access.
Source: Allianz Partners and futurologist Ray Hammond