Those days are gone forever. I should just let them go…
—Don Henley

Irrevocable changes are here and more are to come. COVID-19 will change small things as well as large.

We might finally be seeing the end of currency. Bills and coins are some of the dirtiest things we encounter in the course of our daily lives. Gone for good, likely, is the handshake, possibly the casual greeting kiss or hug. I vote for the bow to replace these conventions—elegant and regal, safe and sanitary.

Big things will change, too. Social distancing and reduced capacities for indoor businesses, restaurants, bars, concert halls and movie theaters are likely to stick in some form. The same is true for public transportation and ride services. Masks? The nonsensical controversy there looks like it too, will continue for years, not months.

Distance learning for schools and remote working for businesses—already established by some institutions, pre-COVID, likely will continue to develop.

As scientists struggle to learn more about the virus amid a hostile political environment, solid answers on how to slow its spread and treat its ravages remain elusive.
Much hope is being pinned on finding a vaccine. If one is developed, would enough people vaccinate to slow or stop the virus? Would anti-vaxxers (who have joined forces with those disregarding COVID precautions) grow in numbers and make “herd immunity” impossible? Would the vaccine be effective? HIV has been around for more than 40 years, and still no vaccine.

It’s hard to specifically forecast the lasting effects of COVID-19, but the path could resemble that of changes in air travel after 9/11 or the eradication of indoor smoking or mandatory seatbelt laws.

Despite the current politicized cultural battle over mask wearing, lasting public health guidelines must emerge from this crisis. While the last great worldwide pandemic occurred more than a century ago, the threat of such events has lingered and spurred predictions in recent years that governments and societies would face such a threat in the near future.

The world is an increasingly crowded and connected place. The debatable effects of climate change are in play.

Further, the current pandemic has taken place in the midst of societal norms that were already moving quickly toward practices that should slow disease transmission. Ubiquitous bottles of hand sanitizer, distance learning and remote working, social media as a replacement for in-person interaction. COVID-19 penetrated this developing web of protection.

The biggest challenge here almost undoubtedly will be understanding that there is no clear endpoint. The threat of resurgence matched with the threat of an entirely new virus looms. As we head forth into a world changed, we are destined to balance the protective knowledge of science with the often reckless force of human nature.