5 things we’ll never do again

Biking with a mask on, the new normal.
Biking with a mask on, the new normal.
Kevin P. Coughlin/ Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo
Biking with a mask on, the new normal.

5 things we’ll never do again

Even after the pandemic is over, your old routine might remain a thing of the past.
June 16, 2020

If you thought a global pandemic – unprecedented in scale in recent history, claiming 118,000 lives in the U.S. and counting – would cause Americans to make permanent behavioral changes for the good of public health, we have some bad news for you. As it turns out, some Americans, New Yorkers included, can only go so long wearing a face mask in public, keeping their distance from friends or foregoing a pedicure. 

As each region in New York moves further into the various stages of reopening – keeping a watchful eye on states that have reopened only to see coronavirus cases spike – it seems clear that while some activities, like going to the pool, eating at a restaurant or getting a haircut are coming back with significant modifications, others, like going to a live concert or movie theater, will be remain verboten for the foreseeable future.

Here are some routine activities that public health experts say may go away for good – or at least until an effective vaccine is widely available.

Handshakes

For all the condescending advice young people receive about how to make a good impression with a firm handshake, you’d think more people would be sad to see an end to the gesture. But unlike some of the other activities might change drastically because of the coronavirus, some public health experts think the handshake is one that could actually go extinct. “I’ve got no problem with the handshake going away,” Barron Lerner, a professor of medicine at New York University Langone Health, told City & State. “Shaking hands is an easy thing to say, ‘You know what, we've just realized that in a world where there's viruses and transmission, we should just develop other gestures.’” It remains to be seen whether New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Council Speaker Corey Johnson will be able to settle on the next fiscal budget without the customary "budget handshake" agreement. Perhaps a “budget head nod”?

Instead … An elbow bump, or better yet, a head nod could become the norm.

Coffee culture

Curbside pickups and drive-thru windows – for those outside of New York City – may be popular options under social distancing, but it could be a while before you can wander into a coffee shop to spend a couple hours reading, working or hanging out. “I think one thing that will change is lounging spaces, where anyone can come in,” said Dustin Duncan, an associate professor of epidemiology at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. “I think the Starbucks coffee culture is effectively dead for a long time.” 

Instead … Freelance workers who used to cozy up in the corner of a coffee shop may instead choose to rent private space at a shared work space like WeWork – assuming they can afford to do so. 

Swiping right

If handshakes are to be a thing of the past, just how soon will it be before New Yorkers can hit the dating scene? Call it what you want – blind dating, internet dating or checking the “apps” – but meeting up with a stranger for drinks at an intimate bar is one activity that epidemiologists are worried about. The New York City health department recently released guidelines for safe sex during the coronavirus; the bummer for singles is that warns against close contact with anyone outside your household. 

Instead … Physical contact with new acquaintances may be off-limits, but that doesn’t mean you can’t experiment with video-conference dates. 

Carefree travel

It may be summer, but anybody with plans to travel in the next few months either had to change them or take drastic precautions. In some places, air travel – done only when absolutely necessary – has been accompanied by temperature checks, no-contact check-ins and other measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus. But it’s not just air travel that could change – at least in the medium-term. “I probably won't travel by train or plane for the rest of this year (at least),” Melody Goodman, associate dean for research at New York University’s School of Global Public Health, wrote in an email. And while car trips might be preferable to trains or buses, road warriors might want to limit their breaks at rest stops, too.

Instead … If you’re taking a trip, arm yourself with a face mask, hand sanitizer and a detailed plan to limit potential exposure wherever possible.

Going to work while sick

New Yorkers who once worked in offices have spent three months getting accustomed to working from home, and some predict more flexible work schedules will be normalized even after social distancing restrictions end. But after observing the devastating effects of a virus spreading quickly in indoor spaces, it’s possible one distinctly American behavior – toughing out a day at work, even while sick – could also change in the long term. It may be too optimistic to hope that expanded sick leave policies will be available to all workers in the post-pandemic future, and may be even less likely for low-wage or gig work. But if the coronavirus is any teacher, some may think twice before coming to work – or asking employees to do so – with the sniffles.

Instead … If you’re sick and you have the option to work from home, do it. Or better yet, take a real sick day off, if you can.

Annie McDonough
Annie McDonough
is a tech and policy reporter at City & State.
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