The SARS-2 virus, responsible for COVID-19, has turned life upside down in nations all over the world. As I write, regions of the United States have been hit as hard as any other nation. This historic event makes everyone wonder, “Will life ever be the same?”
I am confident that the answer is no. Just like previous major disasters of the past century unalterably changed the way everyone lives, so will the COVID-19 pandemic. Consider, for example, World War I, the Great Depression, World War II, and 9/11. These catastrophic events changed the way governments, societies, cultures, and individuals operated.
As a recent example, the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, changed the way we all live. The aftermath of that fateful day changed air travel so dramatically that it not only impacted air travelers, it altered the world economy.
The degree to which the current viral outbreak will change the way we live and how the world operates depends on how much longer the pandemic lasts, how many people it kills, and how many of those who recover from COVID-19 have lasting physical consequences, such as lung damage and damage to other internal organs. Perhaps even more consequential for the millions who have been asymptomatic yet economically impacted, is how long until or even whether they can resume their livelihoods. Many others will be vulnerable to illnesses, mental health challenges, and addictions. At the date on which I completed this writing answers to these questions were still speculative. Nevertheless, certain changes to the way we live seem inevitable no matter how the pandemic ends.
Some are claiming that the social practices of physical touch such as handshakes, kissing, and hugging will disappear. Humans are social creatures. It is unrealistic to say that all forms of physical touch with people outside of our families will vanish. Can you imagine two business people closing a multi-million dollar deal with an elbow bump where their elbows are covered by two layers of clothing?
What is realistic is the proliferation of hand sanitizer dispensaries and people carrying personal hand sanitizers in their pockets, purses, and briefcases. Bleach wipes are even more effective against viruses than hand sanitizers. It would not surprise me to see airlines install bleach wipe dispensers in every seat.
Before COVID-19, I never got offended when someone brought out their bottle of hand sanitizer after I shook their hand. However, I saw many other people who did get offended at such an act. I anticipate that the use of a hand sanitizer after a handshake or hug will no longer be considered offensive.
On my past trips to Asian megacities I saw a high percentage of citizens routinely wearing face masks. After this scourge I expect that this practice will no longer be limited to cities like Tokyo, Shanghai, and Hong Kong. Anywhere where strangers are densely packed together I anticipate seeing a lot of face masks.
COVID-19 has taught us how much social interaction we can achieve through virtual meetings. We have a son and daughter-in-law about an hour’s drive away here in Southern California and a son in North Carolina. With the outbreak keeping all of us in our respective dwellings, we organized family get-togethers through Zoom. There we could visually show one another the different projects we were working on. We even got our pets involved. The travel times we saved enabled us to have more meetups.
Kathy and I also have had virtual dinners with friends. They could see the food we were eating and vice versa as we talked. Once the pandemic has passed, I imagine I will return to a busy travel schedule. However, I intend to keep a lot more of my regular social engagements through virtual media technology. I don’t think I will be alone.
Several pandemics of the past hundred years have had their origin in animal-human contact. After the SARS-1 outbreak two decades ago, wet markets in China were banned from holding, selling, and slaughtering live wild animals for retail customers. After COVID-19 (itself caused by SARS-2), I expect a worldwide ban on city markets holding, selling, and slaughtering live animals of any kind for retail customers.
Long before the current virus struck, we at Reasons to Believe were doing much of our speaking, training, and public interviews through such virtual media as Zoom, Skype, YouTube and Facebook livestreaming, and Google hangout. Such meetings are not as personal as face-to-face events but are much more economical and have the potential to reach much larger audiences.
COVID-19 has caused an evolution in virtual meetings. They have become more personal. For example, my home church, Christ Church Sierra Madre, has been livestreaming my Sunday Paradoxes class for the past eighteen months. Until now, we would take questions through the chat feature. Now, I can see the person who is asking the question and they can see me. Also, I now start the livestreaming a half hour before the class begins and let it run for another half hour after the class ends. Why? Participants wanted the opportunity for fellowship with one another.
The pandemic has taught us all how much transportation time we save through virtual meetings. Long after COVID-19 ceases to pose a risk I anticipate that the ratio of work done at home compared to the office or classroom will increase. Such a transition will enhance the world economy not only through saving workers’ time but also by relieving pressure on our transportation systems. However, since supervisors will no longer be able to closely monitor their employees, people increasingly will be paid by their work output rather than by the hour.
COVID-19 has impacted the clothing industry in an unexpected manner. Clothing stores have seen their sales of tops outstrip their sales of bottoms. Since a virtual workplace usually displays workers only from the waist up, there will be less need to invest in dress slacks, dresses, and skirts. Your fellow workers will not know if you are wearing sweat pants, shorts, or pajamas.
Everyone is expecting air travel to drop as virtual meetings, virtual entertainment events, virtual classrooms, and virtual conferences to some degree replace in-person events. I believe that kind of business travel indeed will drop. However, I anticipate that the cabin fever effect from increased virtual work and meetings will increase the demand for recreational air travel. National and state parks and wilderness areas likely will see an increased number of visitors. Families and social groups will want to get together more frequently.
One outcome I am praying will result from the outbreak is that many more people will appreciate and start following biblical principles that are relevant to preventing and mitigating pandemics. Not until the fourteenth century during the greatest pandemic of all time—the Black Death—did the practice of quarantining extend beyond Jews and Christians.
The principle of quarantining the sick to protect the healthy is taught in five books of the Old Testament. The most extensive instruction is in Leviticus 13–15. There we learn that people with symptoms of infectious diseases are to be isolated from the rest of the population until seven days after the disappearance of all symptoms. Furthermore, such people are not permitted to return from isolation until they have bathed and washed their clothes. Leviticus 13–15 also indicates that governing authorities are permitted to enforce quarantining laws.
Numbers 5:1–4 summarizes the quarantining and cleansing laws. Numbers 31:19–24 extends these laws to anyone who has had contact with a dead body. Deuteronomy 23:12–14 commanded the Jews to immediately bury their excrement. Today, we know that flushing a toilet with the lid up can allow microscopic particles to waft up through the immediate area (called toilet plume). Applying the principle taught in Deuteronomy 23 means that it would be wise, sick or not, to close the toilet lid before flushing.
What about animal markets? These passages (Deuteronomy 25:4, Proverbs 12:10, 27:23, Deuteronomy 22:10, and Luke 14:5) exhort us to look out for the welfare of our domesticated animals and to treat them humanely. When we overcrowd domesticated animals and subject them to stressful circumstances, such overcrowding and stress greatly enhance the probability that relatively benign viruses1 will mutate and become deadly. Likewise, when we overcrowd human beings and/or subject them to great stress, hardship, and fatigue, we create a situation where we enhance the mutation rate of viruses. Putting overcrowded and stressed-out humans into contact with overcrowded and stressed out animals increases the risk of viral mutation even more and, of course, the chance of animal to human transmission of deadly viruses.
A modern application of the biblical principle of quarantining might look like this: We would extend the quarantine beyond the infected to include reasonable social distancing, we would wash our hands, bodies, and clothes more frequently, and take steps to prevent fecal particles from getting into the air we breath. These measures would put humans at much less risk from both viral and bacterial pandemics.
To be sure, life after the pandemic will not be the same but it doesn’t necessarily mean life will be unbearable. Humans have always adjusted to changing circumstances—a trait that reminds us we are created in the image of God. By applying biblical wisdom, common sense, and love for our fellow humans, we can make life more than bearable for all. Believers in the God of the Bible can lead such efforts and point others to the ultimate assurance found in relationship with their Creator.