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Published April 21, 2020

THE VIEW FROM MY SEAT

Post pandemic lifestyle, business world may be a lot different

By Ernie Williamson / The Bulletin

Covid-19 has changed our lives, and there may be no turning back.

Some changes are minor and temporary. A survey found 95 percent of us report making lifestyle changes with 93 percent of us increasing hand washing, 89 percent avoiding social gatherings and nearly 74 percent stockpiling food.

The New York Times reports that Americans, stuck at home and wanting to hear other’s voices, are using their smartphones to make plain old voice calls. Verizon reports it is now handling an average of 800 million wireless calls a day, more than double the number made on Mother’s Day, historically one of the busiest call days of the year. I doubt that will last.

Other changes may be more fundamental and permanent.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, doesn’t think the United States will ever be the same, especially without a vaccine. The virus has drastically altered our lifestyles by amplifying existing trends and starting others.

Here’s a look:

YOUR FAVORITE STORE MIGHT NOT BE THERE: Many retailers were already struggling before Covid-19. Slowing foot traffic, changing shopping patterns and online competitors have created what experts were calling the “retail apocalypse.”

Retailers didn’t need the coronavirus, too. In mid-February, Macy’s had a market capitalization of $6 billion. It was $1.5 billion in April. Coresight Research expects a record 15,000 stores to close this year. I wonder who will be left standing besides Amazon, Walmart, Costco and Target?

COMING DISTRACTIONS: Film studios are certainly hoping theaters will reopen sooner rather than later, seeing as many of their major 2020 releases have been delayed because of the pandemic.
But a survey reported by Variety shows that 49 percent of those asked said it would take “a few months” to “possibly never” for them to return to movie theaters. And only 28 percent said they plan to attend a movie theater.

With theaters and other entertainment venues closed, we are watching TV in record numbers. Ratings are up across all forms of television, but we are streaming shows like never before. Binge watching - or viewing three or more episodes of a series - is up 25 percent.
Is the “Last Picture Show” about to become a reality?

PHONE FOR FOOD: The pandemic has forced consumers at grocery stores to embrace digital ordering not only by choice, but out of necessity.

During the week of March 2, even before some cities and states imposed “stay at home’ orders, Instacart, Amazon and Walmart grocery delivery sales all jumped by at least two-thirds from the previous year, according to Earnest Research. Instacart, a platform that partners with more than 25,000 stores in North America, says orders in more recent weeks have surged 150 percent.

There are signs the grocery changes could be permanent. Kroger, for example, is experimenting with running at least one of its locations as pickup only.

WHAT’S UP, DOC? Virtual house calls are increasingly common because of the pandemic and could be here to stay. A survey in northern California, hard hit by the virus, showed that video visits had increased 175 times since the onset of Covid-19.

Telemedicine advocates point out that regular doctor visits cost not only money but time. The travel and waiting time for a doctor’s appointment can take several hours, often disrupting work or school. On average, only 20 minutes of it is spent with the doctor, according to a study by the RAND Corp.
I don’t think we are ever going back to where we were,” said Craig Wargon, a physician at Kaiser Permanente.

HOME WORK: In 2005, 3.6 percent of the American workforce did their job remotely. By 2018, that had jumped to 5.3 percent. The pandemic should push that number higher as once-skeptical business owners have been forced to embrace telecommuting.

It is safe to say that never before has the working world changed so fast for so many … and it is stressing people out. Qualtrics, a firm that helps companies manage employee relations, found that 54 percent of people felt more stressed working from home as compared to 18 percent who felt less stressed.

And they are feeling lonely. When asked about the hardest part of working from home, the biggest reason was feelings of social isolation.

All these changes add up to a newer, new normal when we get the all-clear to venture out. And don’t forget to wear your mask.

(Ernie Williamson welcomes reader input. Please contact Ernie at williamsonernie@gmail.com. Or, send letters in care of The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton, TX. 77516)