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The virus.

How Might COVID-19 Change Us?

“Some of my best times have been at large gatherings like concerts and festivals. I really enjoy public spaces, busy downtowns, crowded squares and public transit. Further, I'm from Boston, not an area known for hugging and PDAs, but I live among huggers and have become fully acclimated. Further, about a third of US households are one-person households, many of whom don't currently get enough human contact. When the COVID 19 tsunami passes, let’s be sure we return to, and build on, our humanity and not dive further into isolation and technological solitude.”

Many things changed following 9/11: security ramped up in Class A office buildings, technology pushed airline transactions online, actual tickets disappeared and became linked to individuals. Tech dove through that new opening as our lives went online with our smartphones as the portal. We lost privacy, and to this day, we’re unsure about that. Since there wasn’t much of value online pre-9/11, today’s routine data breaches were rare. Other tech, like toll road transponders arrived.

After a short break, flying resumed, theme parks and other landmarks reopened and generally, American life returned to pre-9/11 operations – but with a new layer of security.

The Great Recession changed lives too: careers were lost or changed, the housing market collapsed and many lost their homes and more. Americans cut back on travel leading to “staycations”. We re-discovered our hometowns, and ones we could drive to. The markets recovered and tech continued to penetrate our lives. We splurged on smart TVs and amped up on game systems which led to esports. Alexa, Google assistant, and Next, Ring and similar entered our lives.

Now we’re back in disaster mode. When over, where will the Covid-19 tsunami leave us on the beach?

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Everyone in the public attraction, meetings, concert and events industries, from theaters to theme and water parks is worried as more people stay home and discover that digital life, including gaming remotely with distant friends in real time, keeps getting better and maybe, there are fewer reasons to leave home. Over time, I’ve avoided getting a vacation home because I’d feel obligated to use it a lot and wouldn’t discover other interesting places. Will my investment in digital life, including streaming services, keep me home now?

Tele-medicine is already getting a boost as is associated tech, including the watches and other devices that collect performance data on our bodily functions. People who can’t get to a doctor or want to avoid contagions will really see the benefit of tele-medicine. Insurance is increasingly supporting it. This might be teletherapy’s moment. It’ll be increasingly needed as times like these exacerbate existing conditions. If we can get rural 5G, this might be a solution for a shortage of rural diagnosis services.

In business, it’s not tele-medicine, it’s video conferencing. Like pre-9/11, the tech is already there for us to use. If you haven’t used it much, you likely will in the next few weeks and once you learn it, you might like it and continue using it. One catch is that in real life meetings, there are asides, networking and other social interplay that video conferencing really doesn’t support. If you’re concerned about catching something, you’ll really like video conferencing – all to the dismay of the travel industry.

In other tech applications, Taiwan catches people entering the country with fevers at airports. Video screens displayed people with high temps catching them like toll roads catch our passing transponders or license plates. Will these show up at concerts and other places where we congregate too.

Thus, the next privacy barrier to fall might be medical privacy.

The new cleanliness is about things that can’t be seen, and can’t easily be proven. Avis/Budget. Amtrak and others are already sending emails promising that their cars and trains are now more rigorously cleaned. Costco wipes the handles of shopping carts with disinfectants before passing them to you.

What a challenge! How do we keep places that rely on high throughput - from destination restaurants and cinema to theme and water parks not just clean but germ free? Some places, like Starbucks and Dunkin will adjust and do fine. People need their coffee. Food delivery, already on the rise, whether prepared or the DIY box, might seem safer to many than going to a restaurant. Buffets might be in trouble. Panera’s “clean” food branding seems prescient.

This might be a great moment for Peloton, as people rethink gyms. Wearing gloves in gyms might be acceptable.

Same question for air and train travel, decreased volume (and revenues) will incentivize airlines to improve cleanliness and perceived air quality.

Not sure what will get people back on cruise ships. There are far too many unanswered questions about how to keep them clean. There are hidden issues like crew housing. They’re packed in tightly with bunkbeds – creating living petri dishes.

Will the American personal bubble or comfort zone, get even bigger? In Milan people in cafes are required to keep a distance of a meter between one another these days – there goes romance. It’s given rise to a new mantra “social distancing.”

Back in the realm of business, will we be rethinking shared workspaces, another blow to WeWork. In some cities, like Hong Kong, people have been working from home for weeks. HR and other departments have been working overtime to update and create new policies while the IT dept is adding portal capacity and fielding questions from newbies or those that haven’t worked remotely in awhile.

Bringing travel back, to resorts or VRBOs is a two-step process. People will want to be clean getting there. Some 80 to 85% of all US leisure trips are already by car, maybe airplane avoidance will drive this already high figure higher. If so, New Jersey’s already ahead of the curve. It’s the only state that hasn’t allowed self-service gas stations. However, with the Jersey Shore the state’s main destination, it’s a cruel twist that climate change is wiping out half the world’s beaches by the turn of the next century. The climate change crisis is wiping out so many coastal beaches in the coming decades might make some reinvestment questionable.

My OCD friends have won the battle for cleanliness. Will we see ratings systems for cleanliness developed for places across our lives? A culture that bathes itself in Purell, damages the environment and I am not sure who’ll win that argument.

Some among us have been itching to rid us of cash - already controversial in some cities and states where the idea has been embraced and legislated against. Cash apparently carries untold microbes; this might be that moment; other countries have done it. A grand experiment is going on in education with whole systems around the world doing online. Hong Kong is among the most intense at the primary level (five-weeks online thus far) and many colleges are trying it too. Will this lead to changes in education? Especially at the collegiate level where the costs of going to traditional colleges and universities has gotten out of hand.

Lastly, let’s examine seniors. Those aging boomers and all those over sixty with underlying conditions (frankly, most of them) are a special target for Covid-19. Long life expectations have crashed many expectations for old age – including working into their 70’s (increasingly out of need). With young people, especially children, less vulnerable, will expectations and the treatment of seniors’ change?

Not sure if these musings will come to pass. What do you think, so we can prep for the future? Please critique and add your expectations in the comments section of this post.

Dan Martin is the Managing Principal of Market & Feasibility Advisors, LLC. Thanks to Karen Martin for her insights on this piece. Share your thoughts: 312.933.7898 or Dan.Martin@MFALLC.com