For the past several weeks we have been largely confined to our homes when we are not working at jobs deemed essential, or on trips to the grocery store. Frustrations and anxiety have been growing, and many have been expressing on social media that they can't wait for things to get back to normal – but what will the new normal be?
It is quite natural for us in the midst of this unprecedented (at least in our lifetimes) situation to be looking forward to it being over, and for life to get back to normal, but I think our new normal might look a lot like what we have seen implemented during this crisis.
I suspect that even without orders from above, social distancing will be a much more common practice after this crisis is over than it was before. I think we will be more inclined to keep some distance when standing in a line at the bank, and we will seek out tables at restaurants that will be furthest away from the rest. The handshake might actually become a thing of the past.
And while I think that we will naturally want to distance ourselves from others, I also think we will see businesses and governments continue with some of the measures that have been brought about during this crisis. I don't think it would be unreasonable to assume that the new normal will see Plexiglas barriers at store checkouts become a standard feature. We might see cash shunned by many businesses in favour of debit- and credit-only policies. Those lines that we have seen taped on the floors of many retail stores aimed at helping us keep our distance might just become standard for all establishments.
The new normal might also see many more people working from home as a standard practice. Through this pandemic many employers are discovering that a lot of jobs can be done by their employees in their homes, which could save some overhead for employers, while potentially avoiding some of the chaos that has come with this pandemic when the next one arrives (and it will). Many of those working from home are also discovering that it simply works for them. Reduced levels of stress, and even reduced costs when not having to drive to work, or spend money at the coffee shop.
I really do suspect that many of the measures implemented over recent weeks will continue on long after this particular virus has been stifled. In many ways those will be the positive lessons that we have learned from this crisis, because I don't think any of us would like to go through this experience again, where we are jolted into a new reality that shuts down an economy and rewrites how we conduct our daily lives.
Thus far we have been relatively lucky in our neck of the woods, as we haven't seen a surge of cases as larger urban centres have. As of the beginning of this week there were 39 cases of the virus in Grey-Bruce, with just one of those being in Meaford. That number is bound to grow, and will in fact be larger by the time you read this, but it isn't hundreds, and it isn't thousands at this point. We in rural communities tend to live further apart than our city-dwelling friends, and we don't often gather by the thousands for events, so our odds of exposure to the virus are lower than in some other areas.
There was news recently that an employee at the Owen Sound Walmart had tested positive for the virus, and I saw some folks on social media lose their minds over it, screaming for the store to be closed, and furious that it remained open.
Of the 39 COVID-19 cases we've seen in Grey-Bruce thus far, 12 of them have been healthcare workers. Should we shut down the hospitals? Or do we mitigate and move on? Most Walmarts these days are also grocery stores, and I think we would all agree that groceries are a necessity, and businesses that sell them are essential, so let's not be calling for the closure of an essential business simply because one employee has contracted a virus – that is lunacy in my opinion.
Don't be fooled however – we will see the numbers increase in our communities, and it will get worse everywhere before it gets better.
And if you are waiting and hoping for things to return to normal, I think you've got a wait on your hands, as I think we will never really get back to normal, and perhaps we shouldn't. Perhaps we need to take the lessons we have been learning during this pandemic, and we need to apply many of them on a permanent basis.
If we have learned anything by the time this crisis is over, I hope that we have learned that no matter our social standing, no matter if we are wealthy or poor, we are all in the same boat, and there are some great equalizers, and a highly contagious and potentially lethal virus is one of those equalizers.
The virus doesn't care if you are a good person or a bad person, it doesn't care if you drive a Hyundai or a Mercedes, and it sure doesn't care that you think yourself important; the virus comes after us all equally, as we have seen during this pandemic where celebrities and world leaders have been among those that the virus has targeted.
We are all just people, and we need to work together to get through this crisis, and what you can do at this moment is stay the heck home.