I’ve been thinking about this COVID-19 pandemic. Indeed, it’s become difficult to think about anything else. Everything on the Internet, TV, and radio is either about COVID-19 or the anarchy that’s taking over many of our liberal-run cities.
I believe CIVID-19 is going to accomplish what Obama, Biden, and their socialist cronies couldn’t—it’s going to fundamentally change the way we live. History may prove me wrong, but I’ll be surprised if the world we live in a year from isn’t different from the world we lived in a year ago. It may be vastly different or just a little different, but I believe it will be noticeably different.
Let me begin by addressing something many of you have probably encountered—the argument that COVID-19 is a hoax. Some people believe it was perpetrated by the Republicans, some by the Democrats. Some say it was China, or Russia. Some believe it’s some sort of international conspiracy (Jack London’s Oligarchy, perhaps?).
I find all of those theories illogical. If it was a hoax, the entire world had to be in on it. Not just government officials all over the world, but healthcare workers, hospital employees, funeral home employees, firemen and policemen. In other words, everybody in the world except you and me.
So let’s start with the assumption that COVID-19 is real. It’s a pandemic. Thousands of people have died from it. People are dying today. And it’s necessarily going to change the way we live.
I believe those changes will come in several broad categories. The area in which we’ll see the greatest change, I believe, will be. . .
THE WORK ENVIRONMENT
In our modern digital age, with the prevalence of computers and computer networks, there’s really little need for people to gather in an office environment any more. We simply do it because “that’s the way it’s always been done.”
Oh, some people will still have to go to their workplace. They can’t make pizzas, or fill prescriptions, or sell houses, from their homes. But many of us have learned during this pandemic that our job can be done as well at home as in an office.
In fact, it may be done better, because of the convenience factor. You can take the kids to school if they miss their bus. You can take a short nap after lunch, if you’re so inclined. You can work in your pajamas, or forego shaving.
On the other hand, you can work until eight or nine p.m. to finish something up, if you need to. Most of us couldn’t do that when we worked in an office that was locked up at six or seven p.m.
With modern networking systems, employees of a company can stay in touch via text, and the phone is always available if something needs to be discussed. Interactive group meetings can be held by means of audio-visual software like Zoom.
Yes, I know there are some problems that will have to be solved before “working at home” functions smoothly. I’ve had employers who didn’t care if I did anything during my eight-hour day, but they made sure I was there the full eight hours—not a minute less.
That’s probably going to be the biggest hurdle to working at home. Federal wage-hour laws have strict rules governing who can be paid a salary, conditions under which employees must be paid overtime, that sort of thing.
Most of the time, the arrangement can be a friendly understanding. Your employer pays you for working forty hours a week. Some weeks you work a little less than forty hours, some weeks you work a little more. Over time, it will balance out.
Maybe we’ll get away from an “hours worked” model entirely. Instead, maybe your employer will give you an assignment and tell you it needs to be finished by next Monday. You’ll work whatever hours are needed to finish it on schedule.
But what about those times when your boss calls you Wednesday morning and says, “I know this project is a week’s work, but we need it finished by noon on Friday.” What happens then? Does your employer pay you for whatever hours you say you worked? Do you agree to do the project for a fixed dollar amount? Those arrangements have to be worked out, and they may vary from employer to employer.
The Congress may have to revise some of the laws governing pay. Unions may have to accept some amendments to union contracts. But everything can be worked out.
Work-at-home arrangements will be beneficial for employers, too. A company with a hundred employees that used to rent 5,000 square feet of office space may find that they now only need offices for three or four top executives, a kitchen, and a conference room. Seven or eight hundred square feet, maximum.
Our cities will benefit, too, with less traffic on the freeways and less pollution in the air.
There are problems to be worked out, but I hope this pandemic will be the incentive for working them out. A year from now I wouldn’t be surprised if fifty percent of the workforce isn’t working from home.
As the work environment changes for moms and dads, I anticipate the school environment will change for their children.
I’m probably going to irritate some of my regular readers by saying this, but I sincerely believe it to be true. It’s my opinion that today, in the year 2020, the public school system has devolved into little more than a taxpayer-funded daycare service.
I believe we’re seeing evidence of that today. Parents of school-age children are demanding that schools reopen in August, so they—the parents—can go back to work.
Don’t misinterpret what I’m saying. Many of our public-school teachers are very good. They love teaching, and they’re very good at it. Their students hold them in high regard. In my extended family there are four retired teachers and three still teaching.
The problem is with the parents. The stay-at-home parent is pretty much a thing of the past. In order for both parents to work, they have to have somewhere for the children to be taken care of. In our current society, there are four choices: public schools, charter schools, private schools, and daycare centers.
The daycare centers are essentially babysitting services for preschool-aged children, with meals provided—but for a price. After paying the daycare costs, especially for two or more children, one of the parents is essentially working for free.
Private schools also charge for their services. Most private schools in the U.S. are parochial—that is, affiliated with a specific church denomination. Generally speaking, parents who aren’t members of that denomination aren’t inclined to send their children there.
Some charter schools charge a small fee, most are free to attend. There are significant differences between charter schools and public schools. If enough of my readers express an interest I may do a Commentary one of these days on the public school vs charter school controversy. I’ll warn you in advance, though: it will be heavily biased.
Once a child reaches school age (six years old in most states), they are required by law to be in school. The most obvious choice is to send them to public school, since that’s where most (or all) of their friends will be going.
There are currently about sixty million children of legal school age (six to fourteen years old in most states) in the U.S. About six million of those attend private schools. About two million attend charter schools. Another two million are homeschooled. That leaves about fifty million students attending public schools.
Homeschooling is legal in all fifty states and the District of Columbia. The problem with homeschooling, of course, is that it requires one of the parents to stay home with the child or children.
That’s where we are in mid-July of 2020. What changes do I anticipate in the predictable future?
First of all, as more and more parents start working from home (per the previous section), I expect homeschooling to take a quantum leap. As I stated in the previous section, about two million (3.3 percent of) American students are currently being homeschooled.
I’ve read estimates that as many as forty percent of American students may be homeschooled by the 2021-2022 school year. I think that number is too high (or maybe the date is too soon), but if even half that number turns out to be accurate, it would represent a huge increase.
Along with the increase in homeschooling, I expect to see an increase in online learning programs. The reason is simple. Of those two million children who are currently being homeschooled, most are in the primary grades. Their parents have no trouble coaching them in basic reading, writing, and math skills.
But when they get to the middle- or high-school level, the parents realize they’ve gone as far as they’re qualified to. Even if the parents took subjects like algebra, chemistry, and physics when they were in school, it was twenty or thirty years ago. They’ve forgotten most of what they learned, and they realize they aren’t qualified to teach it to their kids. So the kids are sent to the public schools.
Online learning programs have been around for years. Colleges and universities have been using them to teach basic freshman classes, the kind of courses that used to be taught by grad-student teaching assistants because the professors didn’t want to be bothered with them.
As of today, though, there are very few online courses designed for middle-school and high-school students. I expect that to change rapidly.
Another change I expect to see is in the area of laboratory experiments. Let’s be realistic—science experiments at the middle-school and high-school level are very basic. It’s nice to have fancy lab equipment like Bunsen burners, test tubes, and a rack of chemicals, but the vast majority of those experiments can be done with equipment and materials available in the average home. The online courses will exploit that fact.
A school district here in the Houston area has anticipated the development of online math and science programs for middle- and high-school students and is trying to get ahead of the curve. They’ve developed a program whereby middle- and high-school students in the district who are being homeschooled can attend a nearby public school two days a week and take math and science classes, including laboratories.
I don’t know if it’s happening nationally or if it’s just a local phenomenon, but school districts in the Houston metro area (there are probably eight or ten separate school districts) are giving parents a choice. They can send their children to school, where they will attend traditional classes, or they can keep their children home and let them take “virtual” classes.
I’m not sure what they mean by “virtual” classes. I’m assuming they’re planning to use some interactive software like Zoom, that will allow the students to ask questions and get answers during the lecture.
A friend of mine who teaches at a local high school says the schools anticipate that most parents will choose to send their children to school, since taking the virtual classes would usually require one parent to stay home with the kids. That reinforces my belief that most parents see the public school system as nothing more than a daycare service.
Okay. . .education and the work environment. What else?
I’m old enough to remember a time (the Nineteen Forties and ‘Fifties) when many businesses delivered their goods to your door. Some grocery stores delivered. Most pharmacies delivered. Laundries would pick up your dry cleaning, clean it, and deliver it back to you. Dairies delivered milk, cream, and eggs to your door.
And doctors made house calls. But I guess that’s a topic for another day. For the last fifty years or so, about the only things you could get delivered were mail and pizza.
Then, about a year ago, several national grocery-store chains announced a program whereby customers could order groceries online and have them delivered, without going to the store.
At the time, I read that this grocery-delivery program grew out of the fact that the Baby Boomers were reaching their sunset years. For some of them, health and/or physical impairments made it difficult for them to go shopping. The delivery program was an effort to capture their business.
Then came the pandemic, and Boomers like me, who had no impairments but were in the over-seventy high-risk group, found ourselves ordering our groceries so we could stay quarantined.
Then the pharmacy we used offered to deliver our medications. A variety of delivery services offered to pick up meals from restaurants (anything from hamburgers to full-course steak dinners) and deliver them to us. Even our neighborhood hardware store started offering a delivery service
Hand-in-glove with these delivery services was the availability of “curbside pickup.” If we wanted to get out of the house without exposing ourselves to other people, we could order our groceries, medications, or even liquor from a store, then drive to that store. They brought our order out and put it in our trunk.
For several years we had been buying more and more from Amazon—everything from coffee to air-conditioner filters. It was as painless as buying “stuff” could ever be. Order online, pay with a credit card, and a few days later the items showed up at our door. We didn’t even have to walk to the mailbox.
Then the pandemic hit, and I’ve been amazed at the number of things we’ve found we could order from Amazon. Canned goods. Jelly. Repair parts for the bathroom faucet. Batteries. Quarantine supplies like paper towels, toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and N95 masks.
In fact, we’ve rarely looked for anything on Amazon that they didn’t sell.
I’m kicking myself for not anticipating that. Last March I could have bought Amazon stock for about $1650 a share. As I write this, less than four months later, the stock is selling for almost $3000 a share. Oh, well.
My point is that my wife and I are forming new habits, and I suspect a lot of other people are as well. We may make an occasional trip to the grocery store or the pharmacy, but much of what we buy in the future will be ordered online and delivered to our door.
The changes to our worship patterns will not come from “social distancing,” or wearing masks. Those things will enter into the mix, but the main impact will be fiscal.
Reduced to basics, a church is just a business. It has expenses, and it needs income to pay those expenses. If it can’t pay its expenses, it has to close the doors. Go out of business.
Our son is the pastor of a small non-denominational church in the western Houston suburbs. For the past three months we’ve held our services online, using Zoom, a popular A/V software package.
At the present time (mid-July) we can’t project a date when we might go back to meeting face-to-face. Our best guess at the moment is late August or early September.
Fortunately, our expenses are very low, because my son tells me that the church receipts have fallen to only about half of what they were when we were meeting face-to-face.
Of course, the entire nation is in the midst of an economic slowdown. Several of our members have been furloughed from their jobs. Several others, who own businesses, have seen their business fall off to almost nothing. We understand that, and we’re certainly not going to ask them to put the needs of the church ahead of their own family.
As I said, our expenses are low. We can survive on what we’re taking in. But that’s not the case with many churches. All across the nation there are churches whose weekly—not monthly or annual, but weekly—expenses run to thousands of dollars. They have all the expenses that any other business has—salaries, rent or mortgage, utilities, maintenance, office supplies, and more.
And let’s be realistic. For many people, going to church on Sunday is a habit. It’s what they do on Sunday morning. Get up, get dressed, go to church, go out somewhere to eat. It’s their routine.
Then the pandemic came along, and their church stopped meeting face-to-face. Now they’ve discovered there are other things to do on Sunday morning.
The whole family can sleep a little later. They don’t have to get dressed up—jeans, tee-shirts, and sandals work just fine. They can have a cup of coffee, a Coke, or a bowl of cereal during the sermon. Dad can get an earlier tee-time at the golf course.
When the pandemic passes, will they start going to church again? Some will, some won’t.
So here’s my prediction for the post-pandemic future of our churches. Average church attendance will drop. Average church receipts will drop. Some churches—not all, but some—will be forced to cut back on some of their programs. And a few churches may be forced to shut their doors.
Live entertainment started moving away from Las Vegas and New York City’s Radio City Music Hall back in the Nineteen Fifties. People like Ray Charles and groups like The Kingston Trio started touring college campuses, performing for a few hundred students.
They grew larger and larger from there, expanding to venues that seated several thousand people. A few even went to baseball and football stadiums that seated tens of thousands. They started incorporating light shows and fireworks.
Then came the pandemic, and all those shows were cancelled. No more were planned. I believe people have developed an almost instinctive fear of being in large crowds.
Oh, there will be a few young people who think they’re immortal, and of course the people who think COVID-19 is a hoax. Concerts will draw a few hundred people, as they did back in the ‘Fifties. If they get huge again, though, I believe it will take at least fifty years, two generations, to get past the fear.
The movie industry was dying long before the pandemic came along. They’re suffering from a terminal case of lack of imagination.
Ninety-five percent of the movies they’ve made in the last forty years fall into one of three categories.
- Remakes of movies that are now considered classics. They’ve never figured out that the original movies became classics because the actors shared a chemistry, a magic, that could never be duplicated.
- Sequels to movies that were, if not hits, at least well-received. The only sequel that’s ever worked was The Godfather, Part Two. Everything else, from Ghostbusters 2 to Lethal Weapon 2, to Die Hard 2 thru what—14?, have been expensive flops.
- Movies ripped from comic books—Superman, Batman, Spiderman, and others of the same ilk. To make these movies even more ridiculous, the movie industry has tried to make them Politically Correct, like making Spiderman a gay Latino guy.
Do I think the pandemic will finally kill the movie industry? I wish I could say yes, but—no. They’ve got too much money invested in talent (?), sets, and properties. They won’t give up until they’ve spent—excuse me, wasted—the last dollar.
I wouldn’t want to own a movie theater nowadays, either. I doubt they’re ever going to get permission to operate at more than fifty percent capacity—every other seat occupied, in other words. To keep from losing money they’re going to have to raise ticket prices. Are you ready to pay thirty dollars to see Superman 8? I’m not, either.
SPORTS – SCHOOL AND PROFESSIONAL
Sporting events are going to suffer from the same fear of crowds that’s going to hurt the live entertainment industry. There will probably be a few people who will always buy season passes to their college alma mater or their favorite pro team, but their numbers will shrink.
Many others will realize they can get a better view of the game at home on their TV, and not have to fight the traffic, stand in line to go to the bathroom, or pay fifteen dollars for a cup of beer and a few nachos.
My wife and I have reached the age where we have a whole stable of doctors. I have an internist, a cardiologist, a neurologist, a dermatologist, an electro physiologist, and an ophthalmologist.
She has an internist, a cardiologist, a pulmonologist, a GI doc, an oncologist, a pain-management doc, a dermatologist, and a ophthalmologist.
But we’re both in the over-seventy high-risk group, so we haven’t been to a doctor’s office since the pandemic started. Instead, we’ve had “televisits.” Phone calls with the doctor, or with his Physician’s Assistant. They’re quick and easy.
Doc: “How are you doing?”
Doc: “Any problems I need to know about?”
Doc: “Good. See you—or talk to you—in six months.”
Me: “Okay, thanks.”
Or. . .
Doc: “How are you doing?”
Doc: “Any problems I need to know about?”
Me: “Yeah. My left knee is sore and swollen, and it will barely support my weight.”
Doc: “Take Tylenol, and I’ll send you some oral steroids. I’ll call in some lab work for you. Get to the lab as soon as you can.”
Me: “Okay, thanks.”
Doc: “If it’s not better in three days, I want to see you.”
I don’t know if my dentist will figure out how to clean my teeth while I’m wearing a mask, but I’m sure he’s working on it.