Let’s face it, COVID sucks. It’s destroyed the health and lives of millions, and disrupted nearly everyone’s life this year. For all of the terrible parts though, there are a few things that 2020 brought us that I hope we keep beyond the pandemic. The necessity of social distancing and staying outdoor has introduced several meaningful changes to our lives that I have enjoyed and want to keep.
I can’t complain entirely about 2020. While we did have to suffer through several months of trying to work with twin toddlers and a newborn at home, it also meant we had far more time together as a family then we ever will again. While the distractions during video calls and constant interruptions to productivity were painful in the moment, in the long term I’m incredibly thankful that we got that extra time as a family and already look back on it warmly. If it weren’t for COVID, we would have spent the year with far less time with our kids. We almost certainly would have had more fun family trips together, it’s all the weekends spent inside the house together I’ll most remember from 2020.
When we did leave the house, there were obviously some notable changes in the outside world. Tents popped up everywhere to encourage outdoor dining. Everyone seemed to be outside, especially in our parks hiking. Tons of people took up running and other outdoor activities and helped motivate me to get out more too. Shopping became a completely different experience, sometimes more convenient and sometimes incredibly anxiety inducing. The most visceral change I’ve noticed though is the reaction to wearing and seeing masks everywhere. Now, watching TV from the before times, it feels uncomfortable to see crowds unmasked, people hugging, and indoor events. The other day while watching a travel show taking place before the pandemic in Asia, one segment was on people wearing masks and rather than the odd reaction it was supposed to evoke, it just seemed completely normal. Our reactions and definition of normal can be so completely rewritten in just a few months.
Without a doubt the largest change that’s visible in the outside world in 2020 and likely far beyond is the wearing of face masks. While I still see a ton of people wearing the medical ones, custom and fashionable cloth ones are everywhere as well. I have actually come to enjoy it not only for the feeling of safety and separation with COVID, but for the same benefits in normal times as well. It’s not only masks, but all of the precautions taken this year haven’t only helped us stay COVID-free, but relatively cold and other sickness free as well. Last year in particular, with my commute through NYC and on a bus packed with sniffling commuters, I picked up a half dozen colds. The boys constantly brought home illnesses from daycare as well, the incubation dish of family colds. This year though, with masks and distancing, we’ve only had a single cold that made its way through our whole family, even with an infant in daycare too. I also just like having a mask in the winter in particular, partially for the warmth, partially just to not have to smell others. Let’s keep up mask wearing in 2021 and beyond to make cold and flu season more bearable.
Another huge shift in 2020 was working from home and a newfound appreciation for flexible work environments. While companies that already had remote options had an advantage and head start, most companies ended up finding some ways to shift to a remote workforce. On the downside, this means far more check in and status video calls, but it does also allow for more flexibility. On some days my wife and I can actually get out for a quick walk in the neighborhood at lunch. It also encourages greater equity and partnership at home. I can make lunch more often, take the boys to school every day when that used to fall just to my wife, and can contribute with chores between and sometimes while on calls. My schedule is also more flexible, and I can work late when I need to, but also take care of more things at home as needed. Rather than losing nearly three hours each day on the bus, I can make meaningful use of that time. While I do want to get back to the office eventually sometimes just to see my team members, I hope we continue to make use of virtual work solutions and encourage remote working.
One of my favorite things that 2020 brought was far more outdoor dining options. While it was a disastrous year for the restaurant industry in general, takeout and outdoor dining sprouted up in non-traditional places. While we honestly did not make much use of this, the times we did it was excellent. I generally prefer being outside in all but the worst conditions, so I always take the option for al fresco dining when possible. Now, far more places offer it, including breweries and bars where it never was before. I love being able to sit outside, separated from others, while sipping an IPA or enjoying a meal. It’s not only great during the nice weather of summer. In winter, tents and heaters now seem to be available in way more places, making outside dining an option then as well. I hope it keeps up because I love eating outside.
The surge of outdoor activity
Starting from the spring, it seemed like everyone was outside hiking, biking, and running. Our State Forest was so packed each weekend that park police were there controlling the flow and limiting parking. In a decade of living here, I’ve never once seen the park as busy as I saw it nearly every weekend in the spring and summer. And it wasn’t just our park either, across the country parks and green spaces saw a huge uptick in use as people got outside to escape the confines of their homes. This also meant a big increase in physical activity and the introduction of many new runners into the community and a ton of virtual races. This will be great even in the future with more support and demand for running events. I hope this also translates to improvements in green space infrastructure to provide more options for runners around here. The more people get out and enjoy the great outdoors here, the more likely we are to improve the space. I hope this ends up being a wakeup call to preserve more land for hiking and the other outdoor activities people have discovered during the pandemic.
Online ordering and reservations
One of the great paradoxes of COVID is that we have way more time to do things because there is nothing to do. While we can’t do many of the things we normally would because of safety concerns, there are more options becoming available as businesses discover ways to still provide services while staying safe. As a result, it’s actually becoming easier to plan things ahead of time than ever before. More and more activities are allowing for online reservations and bookings further ahead. Instead of adhoc visits to the zoo or to go ice skating outside, we’re now able to book weeks in advance and know that we will be allowed in even with crowd control. Restaurants too are providing online ordering way more often than before and we have far more options than just the two pizza places and Chinese delivery we had before. But my favorite change is that businesses that never allowed for online ordering and pickup now do, like breweries. I would love it if this continues after COVID so that we can better plan ahead and always know when we will be able to get something, whether it’s a trip to the zoo or picking up food. Along with this, I hope we keep the option for curbside pickup just about everywhere. For parents constantly in flight between chores, being able to have pickup ready and waiting and into the car without having to even hop out is a lifesaver.
Not everything related to COVID has been bad. Some of the changes we’ve made as a society have actually benefited us and I hope they continue. Many are great timesavers for parents and ones like remote work and the flexibility that has come with it help with equity at home. I hope these don’t disappear after the pandemic because they have genuinely made life better. There are many things we can collectively learn from lockdown life and I hope these improvements stick around.