This social phenomenon is both psychologically and practically relevant, in that pandemics — including the 1918 influenza and Covid-19 pandemics — significantly affect how we assess and act on risk, or stay resilient, but also how we work, play and socialize.
Similarly, as the Covid-19 pandemic fades, “some existing trends will remain,” said Jacqueline Gollan, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.
For example, the recent expansion and use of online shopping, telehealth services, hybrid work models and technology that allows virtual gatherings will endure, Gollan said. And “given our recognition that global crises occur,” she added, “we’re likely to retain an inventory of cleaning supplies and personal protection materials. We are also likely to adopt habits that improve cleanliness to promote personal or group hygiene.”
These are the changes that might stick around post-pandemic.
How we greet people
“I also hope there will be alternatives to handshakes as in, maybe instead of doing handshakes, we have the elbow bump or the namaste greeting as the baseline of a greeting, especially between strangers,” Wen said. Simply waving is another option that’s taken hold.
Thinking twice about travel
As late Canadian physician William Osler observed, the flu traveled only as fast as modern transportation, meaning “it was human bodies and not some ethereal atmospheric force that spread it,” Tomes wrote.
Depending on future rates of cases of coronavirus, flu or other viruses, when choosing travel destinations, people might have considerations they may not have contemplated in the past, Wen said.
Mask-wearing and other precautions
“The influenza pandemic heightened a contrast between the safe home and the dangerous public space that had already become a familiar theme in the late 19th century,” Tomes wrote.
The adoption of safety precautions such as coughing into handkerchiefs or avoiding crowds to try to manage the 1918 flu didn’t have a ubiquitously positive impact on individuals’ safety habits over the next decade, since some people abandoned such practices. However, some behaviors did influence how people and institutions responded to later disease outbreaks.
When influenza broke out in 1928, for example, some colleges and universities immediately isolated people sick with flu, Tomes wrote. “By acting quickly, college authorities at the University of Oregon limited the spread of influenza to less than 15% of the student body.”
Interwar educators, advertisers and public health officials “embraced the gospel of germs with great enthusiasm,” Tomes wrote. New health curricula in the 1920s introduced kindergarteners to handkerchiefs, while elementary school children learned versions of the “‘handkerchief drill,’ in which they sneezed into their hankies with military-style precision.”
After more than a year of wearing masks to keep ourselves and others safe during the Covid-19 pandemic, some experts foresee masks becoming a permanent part of our arsenal against coronavirus and other viruses or bacteria.
“You’re sneezing a little bit, you don’t know whether it’s a cold or allergies — I could imagine people putting on masks in those circumstances or people putting on masks when they’re going traveling,” Wen said.
Women in the workforce
“When schools and daycares shut down or moved to a virtual platform, women’s jobs were disproportionately affected because they are still the primary care givers in the home,” Clark wrote. “In one survey, 1 in 4 women who became unemployed during this pandemic did so due to lack of childcare — double the rate of men.” These disparities could urge employers and academia to consider alternatives, Clark added, such as flexible work schedules and virtual courses that would allow women more feasible access to higher education.
In 1918, “the infrastructure of scientific research was a tiny fraction, infinitesimal compared to today,” Barry said. “But the response of the scientific community was very solid today, that basically everybody dropped whatever they were doing and tried to work on the disease. Now, given the timeframe even today, we would not have developed the vaccine in time to do anything against that (1918) pandemic because it moved so quickly. And, of course, they did try to develop vaccines, but they didn’t know what the pathogen was.”
After the Covid-19 pandemic shifted many children from in-person schooling to virtual learning, some parents have grown fond of homeschooling while others probably would rather never, ever attempt it again.
“According to a survey by EdChoice, 64 percent of parents said their view of homeschooling has become more favorable as a result of the pandemic,” Joshua Coleman, a psychologist in private practice in Oakland, California, and a senior fellow with the Council on Contemporary Families, told Asia Despatch via email.
Regardless of whether parents continue to homeschool, their children could still take on extracurriculars without the commute.
“Even though I’ve studied remote work and taught online classes, I’d always assumed that my kids’ oboe lessons and art classes would always be in person with remote instruction being a suboptimal modality for such classes,” said Ravi S. Gajendran, Florida International University’s chair of the global leadership and management department, and associate professor in the College of Business. “But I’ve been surprised at how close online classes are to the in-person experience and am more open as a consequence.”
The future of work
“Companies are likely to think of remote work as a business continuity mechanism, one that they can readily shift to if new variants of the coronavirus emerge that get past the protections the current vaccines afford,” Gajendran said via email. “This is also likely to make hybrid work a key part of how work is performed because it provides flexibility not only with dealing with the pandemic but also offers a way of keeping operations going during other emergencies such as natural disasters and terror attacks.”
More of our daily lives — such as meetings, appointments, trainings and activities both inside and outside of work — might be conducted online, Gajendran said. “Offices are going to be redesigned with the assumption that a lot of work and collaboration is going to involve a higher proportion of online interactions than in the past.”
Resulting changes, like fewer business lunches, could shuffle cities built on downtown, in-person work, Barry said.
“I think the architecture may change and (have) more focus on ventilation in buildings. I hope they go back to the ability to open a window in an office building,” he added, laughing. “That would be nice.”