Life after the lockdown: 8 predictions for the new normal

#7: No more mega-cities.

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Photo by Drew Beamer on Unsplash

You might have seen a great article about how there is going to be a new normal after the lockdown ends.

People, businesses, and communities will be stumbling into a new reality after this lockdown, no matter how much everyone might try to convince you that everything is the same.

What might this look like?

Here are 8 predictions in 8 different domains for what it might look like.

One of the things that have been a challenge through this time has been tackling the problem of waiting.

Given that some Emergency Rooms had an average waiting time of over one hour in 2016, several solutions have been implemented with COVID-19 to prevent mass infections in waiting rooms.

One of the most popular ones was the idea of drive-thru testing. This was a solution implemented first in South Korea and then picked up in certain parts of the US very well.

Because the US has a very strong car culture, as well as the generally accepted consensus of cars being somewhat safe places to be (as it limits exposure to COVID-19), we have also seen drive-thrus for many different things besides testing.

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Drive-thru food bank lines
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Drive through Easter services

Anything from drive-thru food bank lines to drive-thru Easter Services has been implemented due to social distancing restrictions, but is it possible that some of these things will stick around after this is all over?

Consider this: if this virus might become seasonal, is your 60-year-old neighbor going to want to stay at home and completely miss out on all of their normal social activities for the next few years?

Or would they want to do mostly the same stuff, just from the comfort of their car?

If there is a demand from certain audiences, then many businesses or organizations may try to meet that.

Imagine going to large concerts, crowding around in Times Square for the New Year’s ball drop, or hanging around in nightclubs or bars with a bunch of strangers. How comfortable will you be there after this?

Let’s assume that the younger generation is unfazed by the virus, and as soon as the lockdown lifts, they’re willing to embrace the same life as before. What happens if someone gets sick at one of these places?

Asymptomatic carriers of COVID-19 exist right now, and they could easily find their ways into one of these nightclubs. All it would take would be a single incident, and then the club might just be forced to close.

If you don’t believe that could happen, consider what happened to Pulse Nightclub in Orlando after the mass shooting which left 49 people dead.

The nightclub was changed into a museum soon afterward to honor the people that were killed, but it’s very likely that they also did that because it couldn’t stay open as a nightclub.

Would you feel comfortable relaxing, drinking, and partying in a place where people had perished?

If someone got sick in one of those nightclubs, would you feel comfortable surrounded by strangers, dirty bathrooms, and mystery liquids?

Considering how much of an investment it takes to run a nightclub (between music, alcohol, and personnel) and how quickly it could turn sour, we might see this change significantly.

On March 16th, the Surgeon General tweeted out a recommendation for hospitals to follow to prepare for the rush of COVID-19 cases. One of the things that he tweeted, though, caused a major stir: those that can avoid elective surgery.

On the surface, it doesn’t sound bad: things like cosmetic surgery or optional surgeries should not be high-priority when there’s a pandemic going around, as we need all of the hospital beds as possible.

The problem is, though, that elective surgeries are broad in definition. Liposuction may be elective or non-urgent surgery, but so is removing a cancerous tumor, or replacing a defective heart valve. These may not be urgent at the time, but if left untreated, they may become severe or even lethal.

And you know that cancer waits for no one.

Depending on how long the lockdown lasts, people may find it harder and harder to find hospitals that are willing to do elective surgeries. That, combined with a growing reluctance to even visit hospitals (as the risk of infection may be perceived as high), means that people may become unwilling or unable to get cancer treatment or surgery that they need.

Which means this year and the next might be rough in terms of preventing the spread of cancer.

Hopefully, I haven’t bummed you out too much, because there may be some positives that come out of this. One such thing is a re-discovery of civics and the Constitution.

Tim Poole had a short skit in which he quoted Patrick Henry’s famous lines, with alterations:

“Give me Liberty, or give me death…except when there’s a virus going around. Then it’s okay to limit my liberties.”

Once this is all over, there will likely be lawsuits and challenges based on how different parts of the country handled the lockdown.

One such battleground may be the state of Michigan, where many people are protesting what is perceived to be an excessive lockdown for the state, including the banning of certain goods such as gardening and home improvement supplies.

The fundamental question that seems to be in question is this: “How much should the government be doing to keep people safe, and how much of it should be on people and personal/community responsibility?”

We may see discussions on this in the future, as people begin to examine what is constitutional and what is not.

While the virus and lockdown have been devastating in terms of economic health and loss of life, one of the few positives has been getting a chance to look at what life might be like without car pollution.

It is almost assuredly a temporary effect, as pollution will probably come roaring back once lockdowns are lifted. But seeing sights, such as LA have the cleanest air in the world for one night, which is something that might stick with people.

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As cities get a glimpse of what life is like without cars, people might be tempted to try and save on one of the biggest traffic jams: the work commute.

The lockdown has acted as one of the largest experiments in working from home.

And for many people, they like it.

In a poll done with over 500 workers, 68% of people are currently working from home.

51% of millennials and 75% of baby boomers said they’d like to work from home full-time, with 44% of them saying that they often feel more productive at home.

While the majority of Americans believe that their work won’t allow for permanent remote work, it’s indicative of a growing sub-culture of people that may want to skip the commute, the suit, and tie, and just stay at home.

And with technology catching up to user needs (such as Skype, Zoom, Slack, and other technologies), we may soon tackle some of the outstanding issues with remote work which include psychological safety and loneliness. Which may shift one of the major tenets of work: that you have to live near a city.

New York City is the largest city in the US, with a population of over 8.6 million. You might also call it the city structured most like Asia, as the population is densely concentrated on a small area of land.

It was also the epicenter of the outbreak here in the US. As a result, we got to see a tragic story unfold for millions in the city, even for those that weren’t hospitalized.

Millions of people were suddenly stuck inside their apartments for weeks, with a lot of the city’s appeal being closed off for them.

Different restaurants, bars, hangouts, event spaces, and places to walk to were suddenly closed, and there was an inherent risk of even going out.

All that was left was the little box of an apartment.

Suddenly, paying for a location wasn’t that appealing: when you were stuck inside a 700 sq ft apartment that cost an arm and a leg, perhaps you might start to reconsider your choices.

Especially when you consider the parallels with Wuhan, a densely-populated city of 11 million who had to deal with intense anxiety and mental health issues after 7 weeks of lockdown.

Unlike parts of Asia, there is an ample amount of land within the United States for people to move to and settle in. So, you may not be trapped in a certain area.

Between those that have lost their jobs and can no longer afford to stay there, the people who can now remotely work for their New York firms, and those that simply find that their priorities have shifted following being stuck inside your apartment, we might see an exodus away from New York City.

Lastly, we might see communities starting to be built and maintained regularly.

We have seen some signs of stronger communities and trust being built from this, as different cities and organizations seek to fill in the gaps that the government cannot provide.

Things as simple as a Facebook group for your neighborhood, where you can trade amongst your neighbors or point out which stores have what, are growing in popularity.

Not to mention fetching groceries, meals, or other essentials for at-risk populations such as the elderly.

Simple phrases, such as “Your mask protects me, my mask protects you.” have begun to make us more aware of others, and provide incentives for participating in our local communities.

Not to mention community efforts to save local food institutions by organizing food for healthcare workers.

Up until now, you might not have even been aware of who your neighbor was. But that might change after the lockdown.

Written by

Healthcare-focused UX designer and researcher. Creator of two online courses on design communication and UX research planning:

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