Responding to

"Change is inevitable. Growth is optional."

John C. Maxwell
I've often written in this message that we'll be different when the pandemic ends. But will we have learned anything? Perhaps.

Everything from how we work, to how we play, to how we travel will likely change. "Folks with high levels of education have grown accustomed to working remotely," says Jason Schenker, an economist who runs the Futurist Institute. "It's going to be tough to get them back into cube farms."

Nearly 34% of Americans were working from home in November, according to a Stanford University survey, and those surveyed want to continue working from home at least twice a week once the pandemic subsides. And, since most of the up-front costs associated with working from home, such as upgraded computers, teleconferencing software, and home-office furniture, have already been realized, "these investments will lower the marginal cost of working from home after the pandemic," the survey's authors concluded. In short, people's expectations of how they work will be very different.

Some public policies may also get a needed review. Kirk Watson, Dean of the University of Houston Hobby School of Public Affairs and Steven Pedigo, Director of the LBJ Urban Lab at the University of Texas, laid out a post-pandemic road map for policymakers in a recent paper. "The crisis," they write, "has revealed how important paid sick leave is. Going forward, perhaps it should be treated like infrastructure — an infrastructure of well-being — and supported by tax dollars, much as roads are." Although last year's federal coronavirus legislation made funding for limited paid sick leave available to small employers, the United States does not have national standards on paid family or sick leave. The current system is a patchwork of policies determined by employers, state and local laws, or negotiated through labor contracts. Practices vary between employers, the reasons for needing leave, and the employment status of workers. As a consequence, some employees find themselves having to choose between taking unpaid leave they can't afford or coming to work when they're ill. The pandemic is reminding us of the importance of staying home from work when we're ill.

And, as my parents and grandparents understood because they lived through the Depression, stocking up on necessities will become a bit more important to many of us. "Pantries in people's homes will be bigger," Schenker predicts. "Think about the Depression and how that had psychological and economic consequences that acted on people throughout their lives. So, carrying more inventory of toilet paper and canned goods might be something people who live through COVID will do for years to come." 
In the near future, travel will likely require digital documentation showing that travelers have been vaccinated or tested for the coronavirus. Denmark, for example, recently announced that in the next three to four months, it will roll out a digital passport that will allow citizens to show they have been vaccinated. And it isn't only governments looking at "vaccination passports." Some airlines are working on mobile apps to help passengers manage their travel plans and provide documentation that they have been vaccinated or tested for COVID-19. “It’s about trying to digitize a process that happens now and make it into something that allows for more harmony and ease, making it easier for people to travel between countries without having to pull out different papers for different countries and different documents at different checkpoints,” suggested Nick Careen, senior vice president at the International Air Transport Association.

Having to prove one's vaccination status in order to enter certain countries isn't new. For many years, people have had to prove that they have been vaccinated against diseases such as yellow fever, rubella, and cholera. Often, after being vaccinated, travelers received a signed and stamped “yellow card,” known as an International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis. What will be new is having to prove one's vaccination status in order to travel domestically.

What about future outbreaks? Carl Zimmer writes there will be more coronavirus outbreaks. Bats and other mammals are loaded with strains of different types of coronaviruses. Some will inevitably cross the species barrier and cause new pandemics. It’s only a matter of time. That's why researchers are starting to develop prototypes of a so-called pancoronavirus vaccine, with some promising, if early, results from experiments on animals.

After coronaviruses were first identified in the 1960s, they didn't become a high priority for vaccine makers since, it seemed, they only caused mild colds. But in 2002, SARS-CoV emerged, causing a deadly pneumonia called severe acute respiratory syndrome. The risk became even clearer in 2012, when a second coronavirus spilled over from bats, causing MERS, another deadly respiratory disease. According to Dr. Eric Topol, professor of molecular medicine at the Scripps Research Institute in San Diego, coronaviruses are similar enough to each other that it might not be that hard to build vaccines that make broadly neutralizing antibodies. “This is an easy family of viruses to take down.” Topol, along with a number of researchers, is calling for preparations for the next deadly coronavirus. “This has already happened three times,” observes Daniel Hoft, a virologist at Saint Louis University. “It’s very likely going to happen again.”

But our immune systems are not doomed to be thwarted by a never-ending barrage of viral mutations. Katherine Wu writes in The Atlantic, "For every trick the virus plays, the immune system arguably has an equally impressive one." Smita Iyer, an immunologist at the University of California Davis points out that the protection offered by vaccines doesn’t need to be bulletproof to have an effect. “Even if vaccination does not prevent infection, the B cells and T cells [of the immune system] will prevent severe disease and bolster immunity, which is incredibly important.”

Once the pandemic ends, most of us will breathe a sigh of relief and begin the journey of returning to our previous lives. Some of us will try to forget that the events of 2020 (and likely much of 2021) even occurred. But there is wisdom to be gleaned from those events, and possibly even some public policy changes to be made, that can help keep future such challenges from becoming quite so destructive.

Albert Einstein is widely credited with saying, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” Let's hope we're not so foolish as to fail to take the opportunity to learn from our experience. I certainly don't want to repeat it.

Thank you for all that you're doing to stay safe and healthy.

I am forever grateful for all that you do.
Thank you for your vigilance. We want you to stay safe,
healthy, and informed.