(Image courtesy of Ryan Flaherty)
Orange County School of the Arts

Opinion: COVID-19 has changed our culture permanently

I’ve never lived through anything even remotely similar to a pandemic, and everything seemed to change very quickly. I used to try and get out of going to grocery stores because it was boring, now I’m my family’s designated shopper because I’m least susceptible to get symptoms of the virus.

I used to complain about having to commute every morning to school, and now I would give anything for the chance to wake up at 5 am and go to school for one more day.

I watched “Contagion” and I watched “Outbreak,” which both document the mass hysteria and fear for two hours and ends promptly when a vaccine is found.

That’s how I’ve been thinking about it, that when the virus is found we go back to where we were before this. And I really, truly, honestly wish that was the case.

There are about a million different ways that the world will be different after this virus, starting with the way we operate. I’m sure you’ve seen the fear in people’s eyes at the grocery store when they come around the corner of the aisle and see you only a few feet away.

That doesn’t just disappear when we’re allowed to go out into the world again. We’re going to be more cognizant of our space, what we touch and how long we wash our hands.

We’re also going to remember who posted about breaking quarantine, taking note of which of our friends didn’t make the right choice.

The incredible healthcare workers who are putting themselves on the front lines of this aren’t only risking their health, but also a lifetime of post-traumatic stress.

When they’re able to return home again, this virus stays with them. It’s no accident that we’re using war as a metaphor for what they’re going through- this is going to have the same effect.

When the world reopens, the restaurants, festivals, movie theaters and businesses may not. Staying alive without months of business is a difficult feat, and for some simply isn’t possible. In a few months, when you open your front door and take a walk for a nonessential reason, the streets will look different.

Not everything is going to magically reopen, and the storefronts won’t be the same as they were when you saw them last.

However, there will also be unexpected effects. Maybe you’ll start sending your friends more physical mail or stay more connected with your friends through Zoom. Or when you do see your people again, you’ll be thankful for the time that much more.

Decades from now, we’re going to be remembered in history for what kind of people we were. If we stayed inside, if we stood too close to someone or if we helped others when they needed it.

And I really hope that in twenty years seventh-grade history textbooks will explain how we banded together as a planet to take precautions and protect each other. I don’t want to have to explain the alternative.

At the end of this, most importantly, the world isn’t going to be what we left it. This pandemic isn’t something we just get through and make it out the other side. We’re going to experience a permanent change in our culture, and how we see everything around us.