March 7th marks the one-year anniversary since New York State declared the state of emergency as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. On March 20th, 2020 statewide stay-at-home order was declared, all non-essential businesses were ordered to close, and all non-essential gatherings and events were canceled or postponed. A year later, vaccinations are well under way, and the economy is re-opening step-by-step. New York Forward website provides current information by industry and re-opening phase, travel advisory guidelines, hot spots, as well as testing and vaccination sites. The grim reality is that the U.S. surpassed 500,000 deaths from COVID-19 on February 22nd, which makes the virus the leading cause of death in the country, along with heart disease and cancer. John Hopkins University has a Coronavirus Resource Center where you can track more data.
Consumer spending habits have changed. The lockdown has forced everyone to rethink their priorities and make adjustments. After the initial panic buying in March, April and May last year, when staple products were flying off the shelves, consumers have shifted their attention to remodeling their homes for the era of the indefinite home office, and replaced restaurant and entertainment expenses with home cooking and streaming services. Casual fashion has replaced business suits, and masks have made lipstick irrelevant. These are some of the few pandemic induced lifestyle changes. Read more about consumer spending in the U.S. in this Brookings Institution study.
The most dramatic change in our lives over the past year has been not being able to travel and spend time with family. Another significant change has been remote work and remote learning as the new norm, with some companies announcing indefinite work from home policies. The essential workers of course cannot work remotely, and hence they have been deemed indispensable to keeping our economy and daily lives running.
A year later, we have adapted to wearing masks, using hand sanitizers, and staying six feet apart, while at the same time contemplating how the new normal would look like once the pandemic is over. Socializing in restaurants, cafes, theaters, museums, and art galleries is sorely missed, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Rapid testing and vaccinations are key to re-opening the economy. Google, for instance, is now offering its employees free weekly at home COVID-19 tests. Also, the company announced that its employees won’t return to office until September, and when they do, flexible work weeks will be assessed. Other companies have announced that a significant number of their employees could be working remotely over the next ten years, and some may work from home permanently.
The debate over work-life balance is taking on a new meaning as working from home has eliminated some of the boundaries, and over-work is common. According to an article published in Bloomberg last April, “America’s always-on work culture has reached new heights.” One cannot escape work.
As for team building, people are getting creative. Peek is launching a platform that will offer teams and clients the opportunity to share experiences other than business meetings, and connect in a cooking or mixology class, wine tasting, chess competitions, and other fun activities.
Almost a year since the lockdown, The New York Times reports that “There are hints that the economy has turned a corner: Retail sales jumped last month as the latest round of government aid began showing up in consumers’ bank accounts. New unemployment claims have declined from early January, though they remain high. Measures of business investment have picked up, a sign of confidence from corporate leaders.”
As reported by The New York Times, movie theaters in New York City will be permitted to open for the first time in nearly a year on March 5 at 25 percent of their maximum capacity, with no more than 50 people per screening – movie theaters in the rest of the State were permitted to open last October. Also, as reported in The New York Times, a public-private partnership, New York Arts Revival, was formed to bring back arts to life, offering pop-up performances spearheaded by the producers Scott Rudin and Jane Rosenthal, along with the New York State Council on the Arts. Since the pandemic started, employment in New York City’s arts sector has decreased by 66 percent.
As countries prepare to reopen their economies, the idea of introducing vaccine passports is seen by some as a way to facilitating traveling abroad and even gaining access to venues like restaurants and bars. Vaccination for vacation is an Internet meme that is catching on. There are however ethical concerns surrounding this issue, and it remains to be seen how it can be implemented.
Lifestyle changes that are here to stay: remote work, online shopping, cashless payments, telehealth, digitized operations, and reduced contact. This article in The Harvard Gazette tackles the question on everybody’s mind: What will the new post-pandemic normal look like? Some experts think that we may have a clear idea by the end of the summer if we don’t experience another outbreak in September.