Life after COVID-19: Changes we might see after quarantine

KSN Digital Extra

According to a recent New York Times article Mitre, a nonprofit health care researcher, estimated coronavirus cases are doubling faster in the United States than in any other country it examined, including Italy and Iran.

If this is true, as we try to flatten the curve similarly to South Korea or China, which announced Thursday that no new domestic transmissions of COVID-19 have occurred in Hubei, the Chinese province where the outbreak began, many Americans can expect a life of social distancing and quarantine for an undetermined amount of time.

Because of this, the daily lifestyles of Americans are shifting to an even more technological platform to keep society moving forward through the physical distance. In the immediate, the outlook can appear bleak. But there will be many learning experiences and, perhaps, unintended positive outcomes in the world following quarantine.

Many ask how some of those changes might appear. Could there be a baby boom prompted by couples spending more time together, not only living but working from home? Will air quality improve from reduced manufacturing and less vehicle traffic? Will managers and employees gain new perspectives on working remotely as opposed to traditional views on the workplace? Will shifting education to offer more online classes for grades K-12, as well as Higher Education help educators, parents, and students discover the efficacy of curriculum? Here is what some experts are saying.

Google searches for “coronavirus baby boom” rose significantly in the first half of March, months following the highly infectious Covid-19 outbreak that began in China and quickly moved to Europe, and now the United States. Data source: Google Trends.

Will there be a baby boom?

Many have posed the idea of a significant “baby boom” as couples will be spending more time together at home. Though the conversation has merit, Jeremy Hill, director of the Center for Economic Development and Business Research at Wichita State, says there is likely to be a rise in births, but not like those the US has seen before. During World War II, from 1941-1964 the number of annual births exceeded 2 per 100 women, resulting in an estimated 78.3 million Americans born during this time period.

“First, my inclination was saying, ‘Yeah sure. People are at home. That’s definitely a thing,'” said Jeremy Hill. “So we went back and checked. Most people refer to the New York Blackout in 1965. There was lots of commentary saying ‘Yes, there is a whole increase in the number of babies because of the blackout and being closed in.’ And sure enough, when we went back and looked at it and there wasn’t an actual real increase in numbers of babies in that period of time.”

Though the Blackout myth proved to be just that, the researchers did find some rare cases in certain areas following hurricanes, characterizing a rise in births following the weather event. “A hurricane sometimes does that, but not always,” Hill concluded.

Hill said it is less likely that couples who have already started a family will have a significant rise in births following coronavirus quarantine. The single population, with limited interaction through social distancing, is also less likely to be the providers of a birthing boom. Hill said it is more probable that those already in domestic partnerships who have been putting off having children are more likely to move forward in creating little additions to their family unit sooner than planned.

“Those were the ones, that when they’re close together, now might be the time to do it. It may not be an overall increase, but depending on how long we have on this quarantine; if it’s shorter we might just see a short uptick on this 9-months later.” Jeremy said. “If it tends to be a lot longer, and it could easily be a lot longer, we might see more and more people that are pre-existing couples doing it.”

Even though single people and those outside long-term relationships are unlikely to add numbers to the proposed boom, these people will still be looking for someone to love, if only remotely. Google Trends, which gathers user search data, saw a spike in queries for dating apps leading into the call for social distancing and self-quarantine.

The search for “dating apps 2020” ebbed and flowed since the end of December 2019, having a significant peak following New Year’s Eve, and decline and resurgence around Valentines. However, an increase in searches can be seen at the beginning of March as more Americans began practicing social distance and self-quarantine. Data source: Google Trends.

Might there be an improvement in air quality to follow?

As the way we work and spend our leisure time begins to change, the world we work in is expected to do so as well. With more people working from home and commuting less, a drop in vehicle emissions is expected to have a significant impact in many states, especially those that have developed clean energy resources. When more people work from home, parents and children included, more household utility usage can be expected.

In-home cooking, use of heat and air, digital streaming and use of electronics are expected to increase, but for states with cleaner energy resources, the increase should have little effect on emissions from power and energy companies.

“Think about families who have kids at home during the day, not just in summer but all the time,” said Dorothy Barnett, Executive Director, Climate+Energy Project. “They’re streaming, they’re having lights on, they’re opening and closing the refrigerator door.”

Kansas, unlike most states, has 50-percent of its power delivered by clean energy sources like solar panels and wind farms. Barnett said other states who depend on fossil fuels may see different results.

“Where you might see more states dependent on fossil fuels, like Missouri versus Kansas, you might see their carbon emission and pollution increase,” said Barnett. “Whereas in Kansas, yes, there will be more electricity use, but because we have so much power that comes from the wind, it’s likely to have a lesser impact on pollution and emissions than a state that doesn’t already use a lot of renewable resources.”

“One of the things we’re seeing globally is, as countries are more quarantined and completely shut down, we’re seeing clear water and less pollution,” said Barnett. “One of the examples I read about today was in Venice. The canals were beginning to look clearer. You could actually see fish below the water. In China or countries that have virtually been on lockdown, they’ve seen a decrease in pollution and carbon emissions.”

There is more data to support the idea of improved air quality. Stanford Environmental Economist, Marshall Burke pointed to China and the 2008 Summer Olympics as an example on his recent appearance on the podcast “Freakonomics Radio.”

These maps show concentrations of nitrogen dioxide, a noxious gas emitted by motor vehicles, power plants, and industrial facilities. The  NO2 values across China from January 1-20, 2020 (before the quarantine) and February 10-25 (during the quarantine). The data were collected by the Tropospheric Monitoring Instrument (TROPOMI) on ESA’s Sentinel-5 satellite. A related sensor, the Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI) on NASA’s Aura satellite, has been making similar measurements.
Recent satellite images from NASA show a dramatic decline in pollution levels over China, which the space agency attributed, at least in part, to economic slowdown prompted by the coronavirus. The NO2 values illustrated across China from January 1-20, 2020 (before the quarantine) and February 10-25 (during the quarantine). Courtesy: NASA

In 2007, Chinese officials, concerned over the notoriously poor air quality of the polluted region, wanted to spruce up the city and used drastic measures to do so. Bejing increased gas prices, prohibited certain vehicles from being on roads, and also reduced, closed, or moved some manufacturing facilities. During this time, air quality around the city improved by one-third in just a few months. Researchers we also able to see a reduction of infant and old-age mortality among residents following the event.

Similarly, new photos from NASA show a marked decrease in air pollution just one month after the coronavirus epidemic gained critical mass in January before becoming a worldwide pandemic. Satellite images taken from February 10 through 25 show a drastic reduction in emissions and pollution in multiple regions of China.

There are still many unknowns when it comes to the Covid-19 pandemic. When, if at all, will the virus mutate itself to being less infectious or lethal as theorized by some epidemiologists? When will a vaccine be readily available for all? Some wrestle with the larger unknowns about life after the pandemic ends.

The hopeful wonder if this worldwide occurrence affecting humans regardless of gender, race, religion, and other man-made divisors will inadvertently create a cleaner, nicer, and an even more technologically resourceful society.

Only time can inform us what is in store, but in the meanwhile some things are certain. All that we have now is time and one another.

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