5 Pandemic Changes we ought to keep (and 3 that need to end immediately)
What we got right, and what has been security theater
COVID-19 is not the only disease out there in the world. Even as vaccines bring the pandemic under control (but it is not over) that doesn’t mean that we should aim to get everything back to the way it was in 2019. Even though this last year has been defined by illness, its been one of health for me. This last year I haven’t had a cold once, I’ve never gone that long without one. That was kind of nice, maybe we shouldn’t give up all of our social distancing measures. Here’s some changes that should stay:
1. I don’t want to shake your hand, ever.
Handshaking never really went away completely, I’ve had people extend their hand to me for a shake throughout the pandemic. But at a certain point I put my foot down and started refusing to shake people’s hands. As people get vaccinated my resistance is crumbling, but there’s no reason it should. Handshakes serve no value and they are pretty much a guaranteed way to exchange micro-organisms. Please, don’t ask me to shake your hand.
2. We have been way behind on using masks.
Masks aren’t really necessary outside and in time we’ll probably stop wearing them inside. However, there’s some sensitive places that mask wearing should remain the norm. Even before the pandemic one in ten people who were admitted to the hospital contracted an infection. At long term care facilities an estimated 1 to 3 million serious infections occur every year. These places should probably keep mask wearing as a rule. When I was living in Japan I would see people wearing masks if they had a cold to protect other people, which I realize is a galling prospect in some corners of America, but it’s a social norm worth considering
3. Cruises are the worst
According to Tara C. Smith, professor of epidemiology at Kent State University, “Cruise ships take those risks of background infection and amplify them due to the constant shared quarters of travelers onboard.” And that was before COVID-19. Cruises are associated with norovirus (stomach bugs) but that’s really only because respiratory diseases are more likely to have a delay period, causing people getting physically sick after they get off the ship.
Cruises aren’t just bad for the people on the ship, they’re bad for the whole Earth. Ships in general burn “bunker fuel” that is dirtier than the gas in your car--and it takes a lot of fuel to move a whole floating city around. And all those people can create 120,000 liters of sewage a day. Everything about these ships, their noise, their toxic paint, their ballast water, is harming the ocean. Don’t go on cruises, pick one nice beach and just go to that one.
4. Remote working even helps those of us who have to commute.
I can do some of my job from home, documentation and virtual meetings. Most of the actual productive, getting stuff done part of my job, involves field work that can’t be done from home. I usually have to go to multiple locations in a given day. So when I see another article about how we’re all working from home now, it does make my eye twitch a bit. However, I recognize that I’m benefiting from other people working and studying at home. I can see the difference on the road--there are fewer cars than there used to be. This means less wasted time and wasted gas stuck in traffic for me.
Some people will want to get back into office whether it is for the social connections or the gains of teamwork. That doesn’t mean everyone has to be there 5 days a week. If office workers can keep working home at least a few days a week we can all benefit.
5. Just giving people money works
Hey remember when you got your stimulus check and then you immediately went out and blew it on hookers and cocaine? Yeah, me neither. That’s because people generally either saved that money (I know we were supposed to spend it, but hey we’ve been getting scolded for not saving my entire life) or spent it on food, rent, and bills. It helped me refinance my home. My biggest criticism of the checks was that there were any restrictions on who got them at all. “Oh, so you want to send a stimulus check to Jeff Bezos?” Yes straw man, yes I do. Some people were excluded from getting checks based on their 2019 taxable income. However, people’s 2019 income didn’t necessarily reflect their financial condition in 2020. You know, because of the global pandemic. Not to mention that method excludes millions of high school and college-aged dependents, as well as many disabled adults and elderly people under someone else’s care. Stop worrying about giving checks to people who don’t deserve it. No one will fall through the cracks if you include everyone. Send the checks out to everyone and then, radical idea here, tax the rich to recuperate that money from high earners who don’t need it.
Here though are a few things that ought to change immediately:
1. Stop putting restrictions on which doors I can use Schnuck's supermarkets, that is not helping.
2. Ross needs to open up their dressing rooms so my wife can try on clothes there rather than just buying a bunch of dresses, coming home, finding out they don’t fit and then telling me to return them.
3. Stop asking me if I’ve traveled internationally as a screening question. COVID-19 is as American as apple pie, I don’t need to go abroad to get it.
And, twist, here are four things we need to be start going forward.
1. More surfaces need to be made of copper.
We’ve actually known that copper prevents disease since the Roman times. Copper surfaces can inactivate SARS-CoV-2 in as little as one minute. There's multiple reasons why it works and it works on many diseases. Copper will inhibit influenzas, fungus, and importantly, antibiotic resistant diseases. The only reason we don’t do it already is that copper is more expensive than steel. This last year has shown that’s a cost that might be worth paying.
2. We need to upgrade our ventilation systems.
Who would have thought that fresh air would be important for a respiratory disease? Over the last century we’ve become so focused on using antibiotics and chemicals to protect us from sickness that we’ve completely forgotten about the simple benefits of not inhaling the same air just exhaled by sick people. It's time to upgrade our ventilation.
3. Preparing for emergencies before they happen.
It’s possible that there was just something about Tiger King that made people want to buy toilet paper and ammo. More likely though is that when lockdowns began people were panic buying because they didn’t know what to do. This can be avoided by having some emergency supplies at home. Prepping for disasters is somewhat tainted by association with people with apocalyptic fantasies. Don’t think in terms of the end of the world though, because that’s not helpful. Think in terms of a natural disaster hitting and food supplies to your city are cut off for a week, would you be prepared? (It cracks me up when I see post-apocalypse movies and people are scavenging from grocery stores hundreds of years after they’ve shut down. Supermarkets have to constantly restock to keep their shelves full.) Or would you know how to shut off your gas line if it broke? (It’s not hard to do, but you have to know where the shut off is.) Or hell, forget disasters, if you lost your job, would you be food secure? You don’t have to buy an expensive kit, you can start preparing by building up reserves of dry goods you already eat. You can see the government recommended list of supplies here.
4. Let’s not elect anti-science buffoons.
It’s impossible to know exactly, but I would say that hundreds of thousands of additional deaths were caused by Donald “inject disinfectants” Trump mishandling the pandemic. Trump fueled 38% of pandemic misinformation & conspiracies. Everything didn’t suddenly get better when Bidden took office, but it’s a relief to not have a president who is actively making things worse.