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The Quad: Predicting the potential impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the world

As the COVID-19 pandemic impacts the world, restaurants and businesses, as well as schools and workplaces have made adjustments. It is not currently known how many of these changes will continue even after mandates for self-isolation are lifted. (Christine Kao/Daily Bruin)

By Rachel Sarrafzadeh

April 17, 2020 5:47 p.m.

Crisis is an opportunity for change.

The 1918 influenza pandemic promoted national health care in Europe. The attacks of 9/11 brought heightened airport security with winding lines and shoeless passengers. The 2008 financial crisis transformed the home-buying process.

And the coronavirus pandemic, when it subsides, will probably be no different. When our regular routines are fully upended, our old ways are often adjusted, and we face change – whether we like it or not.

However, we hope that the change will be for the better. In the words of Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s chief of staff: “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.”

Haroutune Armenian, a professor of epidemiology, emphasizes the important role that universities like UCLA can have in using adversity as an opportunity for positive achievement.

“UCLA has the opportunity of developing projects, research and learning about some of the fallbacks and problems, as well as the possibility of learning some of the potential positives of this situation,” he said.

In an effort to honor this positive school of thought and get the ball of progress rolling, The Quad is here to share some of the discussion buzzing among macro-thinking experts on how the coronavirus may shape our future.

[Related: The Quad: Quarantine can be a time to follow in Shakespeare’s footsteps, explore new ideas]

For starters, the current pandemic may introduce shifts in how we both learn and work. As a result of the pandemic, the use of Zoom has skyrocketed with at least 90,000 schools in 20 countries currently using the program for lectures, discussions, office hours and meetings.

Although the debates over whether online education is merely a substitute for face-to-face is ongoing, the shifts the pandemic has introduced in a matter of weeks will probably ignite conversations on learning remotely in the future.

For instance, Mary Kalantzis, a professor at the University of Illinois, said in an interview with Illinois News Bureau that higher education is experiencing a structural crisis caused by rising tuition and student debts.

Online education is an opportunity to increase programs while decreasing costs, she said. Even more so, she described how it might be beneficial for nontraditional students with family responsibilities as it gives them access to higher education.

Similarly, for many office workers, commuting an hour to work in a suit and tie may appear unproductive or senseless. With remote work already increasing by 44% in the U.S. in the last 5 years, the pandemic may introduce a turning point.

Katherine Mangu-Ward, the editor-in-chief of Reason magazine, told Politico that once companies strengthen their platforms for remote work, it will be harder and more expensive to deny employees these opportunities. Many things that could have just been an email might actually become just an email, she explained.

Another major shift the coronavirus has introduced is the power of telemedicine – healthcare via technology.

Associate professor Kimberly Gudzune and assistant professor Heather Sateia at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine recently wrote in The Washington Post that even beyond the pandemic, telemedicine will prove itself as a powerful tool.

In the past, health insurers have declined to cover virtual appointments, but with the coronavirus, they’ve opted to change these policies and will probably continue to do so even when social distancing passes, Gudzune and Sateia wrote in the article.

With increased access to telemedicine, other potential intersecting barriers to healthcare such as race, gender, weight, income and geographic location may be alleviated. Telemedicine, although not able to solve all issues, may make the caregiver-patient relationship more accessible.

Beyond technology, the virus may also have significant political impacts, particularly in changing the landscape for voting. The 2020 election is quickly approaching and with several states already postponing primaries, the process may look different.

[Related: UCLA report urges vote-by-mail, other provisions for elections during COVID-19]

Over the last decade, voting in America has slowly transformed from a one-day communal experience to a multiweek individualized experience as more and more people participate in early voting. In an interview with FiveThirtyEight, political scientist Paul Gronke called this a “quiet revolution,” and the coronavirus outbreak may introduce a sharp turning point.

In the wake of the pandemic and the social distancing encouraged throughout it, mailed ballots may become a new norm and Election Day may turn to Election Month in an effort to avoid crowds.

Similarly, Lee Drutman, a senior fellow at New America, speculated that such voting convenience will result in higher voter turnout, ultimately enhancing our partisan competition.

In addition to politics, social habits may also experience a shift. During the pandemic, touch has practically become taboo – the National Review even wrote a eulogy for the handshake.

Some experts believe that even when the pandemic subsides, it will become our second nature to flinch at a handshake as we become increasingly aware of personal space and hygiene.

For instance, UCLA public health professor Roshan Bastani, said that people may be more comfortable just nodding in the future. There are many cultures that don’t shake hands, opting for a bow or namaste instead, and we may see these greetings become more common, she explained.

On a larger scale, Bastani also said the pandemic may help society think more proactively, rather than reactively. She said that the whole system – the government, public health departments, even businesses – will perhaps take a long-horizon planning perspective to be better prepared for future crises.

According to Henry Graber from Slate Magazine, Americans will probably never stop going to sporting events or taking vacations, and no advance in technology will fully dissolve our natural tendencies as social beings. Nonetheless, there are still reasons to believe that change will happen.

“We, as a human society, need to be able to develop a status that is antifragile, that does things better, at a different level than what was during the period of resistance,” Armenian said.

When quarantine mandates do begin to slowly lift and life begins to reopen, most of us will probably be rushing back to regain a sense of normalcy. The reality, however, is normal might look different — and hopefully, the new norms bring positive change.

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Rachel Sarrafzadeh
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