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What will life be like after the coronavirus pandemic ends?

As 2020 ends happily, it’s tempting to wonder where we’re headed once the pandemic is history. In the spirit of year-end curiosity about the possible long-term effects of COVID-19, Science News posed this question to some scholars: What major social changes do you see after the pandemic? As baseball yoke Berra once said, "It's hard to make predictions, especially about the future." The following forecasts, edited for length and clarity, are not written in stone and are not intended to be so. But they raise some provocative possibilities.

John BarryChris Granger

John Barry

Historian, Tulane University
Author, The Great Flu: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History

What happens in the next six months will have a disproportionate impact on what happens in the more distant future. If vaccines are very effective, if immunity lasts a few years, if very effective therapeutic drugs are used, and if we have a wide use of fast cheap antigen tests that can assure people that others around them are safe, it predicts relatively few changes. other than the really obvious ones, like more work at home, teledoc services, and a tenth of the small business.

If the virus remains a threat, the changes can be quite profound, all stemming from a desensitization, if such a word exists, of life in general. This trend would affect where and how people live and work, the real estate market, commercial real estate practices, and interior design of buildings. There would be more cars and less public transportation.

Katherine HirschfeldKatherine HirschfeldCourtesy of K. Hirschfeld

Katherine Hirschfeld

Medical anthropologist, University of Oklahoma
Author, Gangster States: Organized Crime, Kleptocracy, and Political Collapse

The changes I think are most likely include increasing political division and increasing economic inequality in the United States and elsewhere, with basic science of epidemiology and public health being attacked and undermined by conspiracy theories spread on social media. If an effective vaccine is developed and available in 2021, then the pandemic will contract, but the social environment will still support new disease outbreaks. There is no reason to assume that a post-COVID world will be a post-pandemic world.

If this sounds unusually sad, it may be due to my years of research on post-Soviet conflicts, when many multicultural countries disintegrated into warring factions that triggered epidemics of easily preventable diseases.

Anna MuellerAnna MuellerSarah Diefendorf

Anna Mueller

Sociologist, Indiana University Bloomington
2020 SN 10: scientist to see

The pandemic has shown us how online teaching can be a tool that makes the classroom more accessible, especially for students with disabilities. In the past, I have had students who sometimes found it difficult to attend class because they faced anxiety or lived with significant pain. They needed my empathy and flexibility with class attendance but still missed the classroom experience. Now I realize how easy it is to turn on a camera and jump into a microphone so they can come together from the comfort of their homes.

Given the number of families who have lost jobs or income due to the pandemic, we will see an increase in children who have experienced deprivation, insecurity, and traumatic stress. These early life challenges can have lasting consequences for physical and mental health and academic performance. Without active measures to help affected children and their families, this will have a long-term tragic effect on American society.

A hard tackle from Mario Luís PequenoA hard tackle from Mario Luís PequenoCourtesy of M.L. Small

A hard tackle from Mario Luís Pequeno

Sociologist, Harvard University
Author, someone to talk to: how networks matter in practice

COVID-19 has shown that a lot, if not all, of higher education can occur online. Parents and students will likely ask how much of the experience on campus is really needed and will demand alternatives. And when the virus is under control, I suspect that companies, organizations, governments, and individuals will take a look at their travel practices and decide to cut back, although many of us yearn to participate in the physical contact that is part of social interaction. .

I wonder what new strategies people will learn to fight loneliness and avoid isolation, which of them will last after the pandemic ends, and how those strategies will affect our sense of belonging to the collective.

Christopher McKnight NicholsChristopher McKnight NicholsMina Carson

Christopher McKnight Nichols

Historian, Oregon State University
Author, promise and danger: America at the dawn of a global era

We can see a dramatic increase in leisure activities and post-pandemic collective gatherings, including live music concerts and sporting events. That was what happened in the 1920s when societies emerged from the 1918 pandemic [flu] and the First World War. In the United States there has been an increase [in popularity and national prominence] in professional baseball and college football. In Europe, professional football has expanded. We’re not having fun together right now.

It is an open question whether the social behaviors we have taken for granted, such as handshakes and hugs, will persist.

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