By Pauline Kerr
When COVID-19 struck last March, most of us were on board for temporary measures that would bring this virus under control.
Now it appears temporary measures are going to be around for a lot longer than most of us anticipated. The longer they are part of our lives, the more likely it is that the impact of COVID-19 will be lasting, perhaps changing our society forever.
The handshake is probably toast. Those of us who have been treated to a Trump-style bone-crushing power grip will not regret its passing. Ditto for the full-body hug that had more in common with the WWF than a greeting.
The elbow bump or foot bump both feel a tad awkward unless we are card-carrying extroverts or teenagers.
Some cultures do a quick bow – a show of respect as well as a greeting. Others prefer a nod or tip of the cap in a quasi-salute – positive alternatives to squashing the person being greeted. Fortunately, they and their close relative, a casually raised hand, seem to be catching on.
So is the COVID-19 version of the air kiss – kissing one’s hand and miming blowing it at someone – especially when children and grandmas are involved.
The generic fallback is a verbal greeting, hopefully punctuated with a smile when we can set aside our masks.
Masks have become more than socially acceptable – they are a social requirement, as is frequent hand-washing.
Working at home, which became a necessity for many during the lock-down, is another change that is likely here to stay. For years, we have been told the way of the future is not the city office tower, but telecommuting from somewhere pleasant – live where you want and go to work electronically. Technology means you can have it all, except traffic jams.
Two decades into the new millennium, whether one’s job is hands-on – mechanic, cashier, nursing, childcare, chef, emergency responder and the like – or could, in theory, be done from anywhere with decent internet, the vast majority of people still expect to travel each day to a workplace. At least they did, until COVID-19 taught us what tech experts have been trying to say for a long time. As long as we have the internet and a computer, a lot of us can get up late, wander into the office or school in an old track suit, and put in a day’s work without stepping outside the door.
Telecommuting became a fact, not a dream, in a matter of a few weeks. This particular genie is not going back in the bottle. Many businesses are planning for a post-COVID work world by rethinking the need for expensive real estate, rows of desks and set hours of work for employees. Working from home, at least for some employees, some of the time, has become a viable option, making high-speed internet and computer technology as essential for every home as indoor plumbing.
COVID-19 has stretched our concept of personal space from between 18 inches and three feet, depending on how well we know the other person, to a good six feet. Few of us were comfortable, even in pre-COVID days, with getting packed like sardines into elevators, buses and planes. Now, someone accidentally stepping into someone else’s bubble can trigger grocery store screaming matches.
A lot of us will continue going out of our way to avoid encroaching on someone’s space long after the pandemic is but a distant memory. Kids have had that six-foot distancing drilled into them, for their personal safety, and it will not be a lesson that can be easily set aside.
For good or ill, our culture has turned into a touch-phobic, crowd-shunning, mask-wearing one where everyone carries hand sanitizer and uses it in public at every opportunity. Instead of actively seeking opportunities to gather in crowds, for example, at rock concerts and parties, we actively seek alternatives, most of them electronic.
Everything is not going to snap back to where it was, the moment a vaccine is found or the virus mutates into the sniffles. On with high-speed, dependable internet!