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Almanac: After 15 months living with COVID, the world has changed

by Mick Rhodes | mickrhodes@claremont-courier.com
As we emerge from our COVID-caves after 15 months of hunkering down, we see the world has changed.

But while it’s true we’re doing things again—going to outdoor events, movies, and restaurants—many of the pandemic’s by-products are still with us, and will be for some time.
Some folks are still wearing masks indoors in public, and even outdoors in some instances. Especially with the Delta variant impacting the unvaccinated.

The virus numbers fell enough to prompt the state of California to open up on June 15 and lift masking and social distancing requirements in many sectors of public life, but those same hopeful statistics are once again moving in the wrong direction with the increasingly prolific delta variant.

Are we headed for another deadly spike in cases and a lockdown? Time will tell.
In the meantime, folks are (tentatively) enjoying some of the spoils of the incredibly effective COVID vaccines, though the adoption rate failed to meet President Biden’s goal of having 70 percent of adult Americans having a least one shot by July 4. As of July 13, that number was sitting at 67.7 percent, with 58.9 percent fully vaccinated.

Still, in some ways things have gone back to business as usual in Claremont. Folks are eating in restaurants, going to movie theaters, and attending outdoor concerts. Even the city’s popular Friday Nights Live outdoor summer/fall concert series was resurrected on July 16. Same for its Monday evening Concerts in the Park at Memorial Park, which kick off August 2.

And as good as these nostalgic forays into the “before times” have felt for many, there are a host of things that will never be the same.

Take for instance, those pesky masks.

Though long a precautionary staple in many Asian countries, in the U.S. we rarely saw folks masked up in public in the United States prior to March 2020.
Almost overnight, masks became a necessary accessory in many parts of the country. As new coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths spiked in December 2020 and January 2021, some people started wearing two.

Almost from the start, masks became a symbol; a vast swath of Americans associated them with tyranny and government overreach. Their counterparts looked at them as proven effective tools against the spread of COVID, and symbolic of a belief in science and caring for others’ wellbeing.

No matter which side of the debate you line up behind, masks are likely going to be with us for the foreseeable future.

United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention statistics show a tremendous reduction in flu transmission among Americans during the pandemic, when masks were worn in public across wide portions of the country.

The data is clear: masks save lives. They prevented untold thousands of influenza deaths during the pandemic, which thus far has claimed the lives of 623,457 Americans (as of July 14).
So, among those who believe in science, masks are apt be a sensible accessory in the winter months, when the flu is spreading most actively.

One of the welcome new developments we saw in Claremont and across the country during the pandemic was the construction of oodles of new outside dining spaces. It was a way to survive for many restauranteurs, augmented by take-out and delivery service.

The outside dining rooms built atop what had been parking spaces were called “parklets,” a quaint new word to many, including me. Some restaurants went all out, with handsome spots resembling high-end decks, lighting, and in some cases, live music.

The charm of al fresco dining, long popular in big American cities and throughout the rest of the world, had officially made its way to the suburbs.

Now that L.A. County is (hopefully) taking steps toward a pre-pandemic world, those parklets are likely staying. Especially considering it’s hard to predict how long variants will be part of our lives. But parklets are a win/win for folks who enjoy eating outside and for those still wary of sitting indoors with unmasked patrons. So here’s to hoping this by-product of 15 months of otherwise immeasurable tragedy sticks around.

Another staple of American life that is definitely not coming back—and good riddance—is the American business model of spending 40-plus hours-a-week in an office, and enduring the traffic-choked commutes to and from said drudgery.

This one is near and dear to me, as I’ve always been more productive working from home. Now though, my boss, like untold thousands across the country, has clear evidence the work not only gets done, but there’s more of it.

Just like so many Americans who were forced to figure out how to work from home during the pandemic, I’m now allowed the freedom of working at my own pace, in my own space. My work happens in my home office, during hours that make sense for my life.

And businesses small and large are also seeing the light on this issue.

At the peak of the pandemic, up to 70 percent of Americans worked from home. That number has fallen steadily as more and more are inoculated, but many of these newly minted telecommuters are never going back to the pre-pandemic business model of full-time office work. Hybrid models are already becoming the norm at large tech corporations such as Apple and Microsoft.
And while it’s too early to tell if this new paradigm will result in increased levels of productivity, job satisfaction, and reduction in stress and anxiety, one would think the long-term upside would exceed the down.

This is of course a double-edged sword for some. Let’s be honest: not everyone is equipped to work from home, for myriad reasons. Some people need time away from their families, and some are just more productive in an office. Fair enough.

For those folks, the office awaits. For myself and many, many thousands (millions?) of other worker bees, the home hive is the overwhelming favorite.

Ask anyone who’s worked in an office: meetings can be incredible time suckers. Things get done, of course, but sometimes a whole day slips away as people discuss, argue, eat bagels, and re-discuss points and plans that could have just as easily been settled over Zoom in a fraction of the time.

It’s a hard pill to swallow for some, that corporate American may never again be the same. But it’s a necessary, and, in my opinion, welcome change.

Kids don’t want driver’s licenses or mortgages anymore. They want to be mobile, able to live where they want to live, untethered to a home, office or even a car.

And who can blame them? After all, the pandemic has showed us it’s possible to do many jobs from just about anywhere with a solid internet connection and a laptop.

Of course it’s patently elitist to operate under the assumption that we can all do this. There are vast sectors of American workers who do not have the option or means to do their jobs from home. I acknowledge my privilege in being lucky enough to pull this off.

That said, it’s my hope that this is the beginning of a new generation of at-home workers who are more productive, happier, less stressed from traffic, and more engaged with their families. I know working from home has boosted my own performance in each of these categories.

For those who crave the camaraderie of work friends, and the social interactions that come with working alongside one another in an office, it’s not like that’s ever going away. Have at it.
Along with those parklets, this new way to work may be the only pleasant by-products of the pandemic.

Millions of us have learned—as we navigate Zoom meetings while wearing our pajamas and sipping our own homebrewed coffee—the old way isn’t the only way. And change is good, especially in your pajamas.

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