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The public discussion about the new coronavirus over the past couple of months has largely been based in optimism. It is worth it now, as we face an uncertain summer, to consider whether that optimism was misplaced.
Much of the initial legislative and social response looked at shelter-in-place orders, store closings, and changes to our daily routines as — at most — temporary inconveniences. But COVID-19 has continued spreading, job losses have mounted to unimaginable heights, and scientists tell us there likely will be no quick resolution to the crisis.
The longer this goes on, however, the more our society will change. The more our lives will shift. Like it or not, we all may face fundamental changes in what America and Kansas looks like in the months, years and decades to come.
The question isn’t whether our lives will return to “normal.” Time, as the cliche helpfully informs us, heals all wounds. The question is what “normal” looks like.
Take handshakes, for example. Would you go back to shaking hands, with all the possible germ transmission it entails?
How about the ways offices are organized and run? With so many workers operating from home, will executives see a way to save on real estate costs and phase out centralized offices?
What about the retail space? Small businesses and local retailers are hurting right now, and there is no guarantee that shoppers will return even if they can. Meanwhile, online giants like Amazon are seeing more orders than ever before.
More widely, the unemployment created by the virus looks to be crushing. According to estimates, roughly one in four workers are now without a job, the highest level since the Great Depression. “Reopening” state economies, while possibly helpful, won’t bring all those jobs back. How will we as a society deal with the possible social upheaval?
We aren’t being alarmist here. We believe our country and people will endure and thrive. As a nation we have endured a Civil War, World War II and 9/11, among others. We always persevere and come through stronger.
But change is difficult. No one enjoys seeing the foundations of a society shift. Public anger over mask requirements and closure orders likely reflects this. Those who are protesting realize, on a level they probably are reluctant to admit, that their lives have changed. That is unsettling.
We will make it through together. But we may have to accept long-lasting change as we do so.