The uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 is, for me, the most unsettling part of the pandemic. We do not know when it will end, nor do we know what the world will look like when the crisis finally subsides. However, I am choosing to be optimistic, and I am looking at the possible positives of the world following the virus.
A major positive is that the pandemic could make loving our neighbors – you know, the biblical teaching we all seem to sometimes forget – the next big thing. Americans are known for their ability to unite in a crisis, and that unity is desperately needed in our polarized country. Instead of viewing ourselves as Republicans or Democrats, we could again view ourselves as Americans – especially as we realize we are all in this together, no matter the outcome.
Hopefully, the pandemic also causes us to realize we are global citizens and that policies like “America First” will not work in the long term. For the country to be successful, we must actively participate in global affairs, and we must care what happens to our neighbors beyond the borders of our country.
Another positive can be found in the amount of innovations that are happening in the midst of the pandemic. Dr. Rambod Rouhbakhsh of Forrest Health was recently asked for good news in the face of COVID-19. He said, “The thing that I’m most hopeful about is innovation – whether it is getting our groceries, medical care, education … this may really have some silver linings in terms of the way we do business and interact with one another. This could push us into the 21st century in ways we were crawling into it.”
In just a few short weeks, we have seen the power of technology at work. Classes are moving to a virtual format, and my gym is even offering online workouts. Our institutions – banks, churches, grocery stores, hospitals and more – are quickly and effectively adapting to what could be the new normal.
Telemedicine – or the practice of caring for a patient remotely – will be part of that new normal. The capability to electronically visit a physician is already there, and it has been allowable in the U.S. for years. In fact, I remember attending my first telemedicine session back in 2015. My then-health insurance provider offered an app that allowed you to virtually visit a physician, and I used it on an occasion when I had a severe sinus infection.
There are clear benefits to the telemedicine system. Convenience, of course, is at the top of the list, but virtual care also improves overall access to medicine and reduces costs associated with traveling to visit a physician. Some early studies also indicate that telemedicine improves the overall quality of care and reduces unnecessary emergency room visits.
The pandemic could also transform other systems, such as the way we vote – and it could be the end of the road for physical polling places. The rise of electronic voting is already on the way; in fact, it has been 10 years since Congress first passed laws requiring electronic balloting for military personnel and other citizens living abroad. Joe Brotherton, chairman of a startup firm that provides electronic ballots, believes the “adoption of more advanced technology – including secure, transparent, cost-effective voting from our mobile devices” is on the way, according to a Politico article.
Brotherton said a hybrid model – mobile-phone voting with paper ballots for tabulation – is already being implemented for the 2020 election cycle in “certain jurisdictions.” Meanwhile, voting by mail could also become an option because of the pandemic, with some states, such as Utah, Oregon and Washington, already allowing such an option, according to the article. These changes will make it easier for some to vote and could even encourage more civic participation at the ballot box.
What are some other things that could change?
- Health care staff, small business owners and employees, store clerks, truck drivers, utility workers … these soldiers on the front lines of the pandemic could finally get the respect they deserve.
- The health care system could get a major revamp, especially as the crisis continues to point out glaring holes in the system. Whether this is a public option or something else, expect this issue – already a major political talking point – to explode in importance.
- Introverts – and germaphobes – unite! The pandemic could end the handshake, the fist bump or the awkward hug. Personally, I am rooting for the Vulcan salute as our new universal greeting, but I understand that may meet a little resistance.
- That two-hour meeting Monday morning, the one filled with a lot of small talk … yeah, it could have been an email. The pandemic could end our obsession with meetings, and it could greatly streamline business while boosting productivity.
- Our sick world will get a respite. Studies are already showing how the skies are clearing in previously polluted areas, such as hugely populated cities in China. Could the virus make us understand the real challenges of climate change and make us treat our planet a little bit better? That remains to be seen, but I am hopeful.