Apr 26, 2020 - Health

The changes that will outlast the crisis

Illustration of the hand of the statue of liberty wearing a medical glove

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The coronavirus pandemic is already changing American life in ways that will far outlast the pandemic itself, for better and for worse.

Why it matters: Eventually this pandemic will end. But it will leave an indelible mark on the economy, the health care system and our day-to-day routines. We’ll be adapting to a new normal, not returning to the pre-coronavirus world we once knew.

Our economy will take a long time to recover, Axios markets editor Dion Rabouin writes.

  • Many companies, large and small, simply will not survive.
  • History shows that when employees are laid off in large numbers, they come back in stages, rather than all at once. That will be doubly true for this recession. Customers will be slow to return, which will mean companies will be slow to bring back workers.

Our health care system will have to adapt on several levels.

  • Insurers and the federal government have stepped in to cover coronavirus-related medical bills, but a slow economic recovery will leave millions of people uninsured while their financial situation remains precarious.
  • Medicaid will cover many of them, but that will strain state budgets at a time when they are most precarious.
  • If we do things right, we’ll start building up bigger, better stockpiles of the things we need in a pandemic, including masks and other protective gear for hospital workers.

Our cities will be reeling from these twin health and fiscal crises for a long time, Axios cities editor Kim Hart notes.

  • Tax revenues have cratered, and they will come back slowly and unevenly. Some local governments will furlough or lay off their workers and cut public services including police or K-12 education. They may need to raise taxes to make ends meet.

Our politics will have a new center of gravity.

  • The coronavirus has almost killed more Americans than the Vietnam War. It will likely eliminate more jobs than the Great Recession. Washington has shoveled trillions of dollars out the door in record time, with little oversight.
  • We haven’t even scratched the surface of the political fallout, and this is the kind of all-encompassing crisis that can not only affect an election or two, but alter the focus of politics for years.
  • Voting by mail will be the next big battleground over voting rights.

Our information ecosystem is already in a state of upheaval, Axios’ Sara Fischer writes.

  • Local news, already hanging by a thread, has been devastated in this crisis. Tens of thousands of journalism jobs have been lost just in the past month.
  • The virus has weakened the growth of partisan publishers. They’ll probably rebound, but for now, it's pushed people toward higher-quality news — habits they make take with them after the pandemic.

Between the lines: Some of these adaptations could be good for us, in the long run, if we stick with them.

  • Some Asian countries were more prepared to swing into action when the novel coronavirus hit because of their recent experience with other outbreaks. If we start getting our flu shots and keep washing our hands, then our new normal will have some improvements.

Our everyday rhythms will change, too, in ways big and small.

  • This nationwide work-from-home experiment will almost surely accelerate the trend toward more remote work in white-collar professions.
  • We’ll likely need at least some form of social distancing until there’s a vaccine, so it’ll be a long time before we get back to sitting in crowded restaurants and packed sporting events. Many public health experts would be perfectly happy if we never shake hands again.

The bottom line: The pandemic itself is a long way from over, and its impact on our daily lives will last even longer.

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