Our new series, Rebuilding America, sheds light on the many efforts to resume life and reopen in the aftermath of the deadly coronavirus pandemic USA TODAY
America will rebuild. But much like shopowners removing boards off windows in the wake of a natural disaster, Americans aren't quitesurewhat the aftermath of the deadly coronavirus pandemic will look like.
Will our economic engine need to change what it sells and how it sells it? Will the same consumer habits return? Can the familiar rhythms of the nation's unabashedly capitalist system resume?
The galvanic forces exerted by pandemics have always shaped global history, says Marina Gorbis, executive director at the Institute for the Future, a nonprofit think tank in Palo Alto, California.
Whether its the bubonic plague, the Spanish flu or coronavirus, pandemics inevitably are both health events and social events that cause transformations in society and politics, she says.
Leading indicators from soaring unemployment to looming bankruptcies suggest a rough re-start. As the nation opens, scientists continue afeverish search for a vaccine while health officials remain concerned that the coming fall and winter could bring a spike in new virus cases that require renewed quarantines.
But those possible obstacles aside, those who study the human march through history say it is vital to remember the nation'sfuture can be better than its past.
This isnt a snow day where youre waiting for the sun to shine and the world to return, because the world we have lived in for so long in many ways is never coming back, says Jamie Metzl, technology futurist and co-founder of OneShared.World, an online group that promotes a globally interconnected response to the pandemic.
This is an all-hands-on-deck moment for the country, the world and our species, says Metzl. Everyone has a role to play to build back something better than what is being destroyed.
From Maine to California,reconstruction has started, in most places with equal parts excitement and caution.
Kurt Smith wears a mask while helping a customer at the reopened Schnee's boot store on May 4, 2020 in Bozeman, Montana.(Photo: William Campbell, Getty Images)
In Roswell, Georgia, restaurant general manager Mikaela Cupp says "the communitys excited, theres this pent-up We want to get out of the house energy."
But in Atlanta, office worker Denita Jones fears bringing the virus home to her family since few coworkers wear masks.
I see people going back to pre-pandemic behavior like everythings OK in the world, and the rest of us are walking on eggshells, she says.
As this tenuous rebuilding phase unfolds, the USA TODAY Network took a deep dive intoa dozen societal sectors to get a sense of how things might look in the future for key facets of the economy.
The result is a portrait of a nation in the initial throes of a rebirth, one both painful and high-risk as the country continues to feel thetoll in human lives and economic livelihoods.Among ourglimpses into the future:
Health care:Despite its critical role in safeguarding the public during the pandemic, the virus has exposed the dire distress of those without healthcare, the financially tenuous nature of smaller hospitals, and the need to better secure nursing homes, whose residents and staff account for manyU.S. coronavirus deaths.
Education: School districts are facing massive shortfalls as state coffers get decimated by the coronavirus outbreak. That puts into jeopardy school feeding programs, teacher job security and online learning curriculum for students without at-home technology.
Visitors flocked to Utah's Sand Hollow State Park and barber shops in Georgia after some states reopened some public places.(Photo: AGENCIA EFE/ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Employment: The highest unemployment rate since the Great Depression, around 15%, is arguably the biggest threat to a robust recovery from the pandemic. Inevitably, sectors will face consolidation, new businesses will be created, and employees will be expected to develop new skills accordingly. The workplace environment also promises to be forever changed, with employees increasingly shifting to telecommuting.
Entertainment:Restaurants are in dire straits, with reservation service OpenTable recently predicting 25% of all restaurants might never re-open. Scripted TV shows will remain on hold until sets can be made safe.Movie theaters, when they come back, are likely to find patrons seated apart and the same film on multiple screens. Big concerts may well never return until there is an effective global vaccine.
Unmistakable in this emerging post-virus reality, experts say, are signs that human creativity will forge new approaches, new products and new social paradigms not only more adaptable to future global crises, but also more responsive to income inequality, climate change and other issues laid bare by coronavirus.
COVID-19 is a dress rehearsal for a more turbulent world, one that will require businesses to be more adaptable to a consumer that is forever changed, says James Allen, senior partner at global consulting firm Bain & Company and author of a recent blog post, The Great Retooling: Adapting for Coronavirus and Beyond.
Among a variety of coming trends, Allen sees a shift towardmore "values-based consumption, where consumers reward enterprises that are acting as good citizens during the epidemic."
Meanwhile, white-collar professions will combine lessons learned from remote working with the enduring need for some occasional high-touch experiencesat offices," he says. Andthose office spaces are likely to shrink, paving the way for a possible revitalization of urban cores as office buildings become condos.
1920 Tavern Owner Jenna Aronowitz takes the temperature of bartender Shane Goode before the Roswell restaurant opens for sit down meals in Brookhaven, Ga., Monday, April 27, 2020. (Photo: Steve Schaefer, Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)
Maria Bothwell, CEO of future-focused advisory firm Toffler Associates, a firm started by the late futurists Alvin and Heidi Toffler, authors of the seminal 1970 book, Future Shock," says the nation will reach a phase called "the novel normal" in three to five years.
Bothwell anticipates a long period of discomfort in public spaces with strangers, as a heightened sensitivity to the vulnerability of our health causes a reflexive recoiling at sneezes and coughs even after there is a vaccine.
In addition, no-touch paymentsystems will proliferate. Public places will temperature screen. And expect an exodus from crowded cities for those whose jobs promote telecommuting.
In the end, theres little debate that the America that emerges from the coronavirus pandemic will be a New America, not unlike the new nations that emerged from the forge of the Great Depression and World War II.
The former created a nation of frugal savers, the latter created a young post-war populace that fueledan unprecedented era of optimistic consumerism.
People enjoy the sun and sand at Lori Wilson Park in Cocoa Beach on May 2, 2020. Although spring break hotspot, restrictions continue at Cocoa Beach, allowing only groups of five or less. (Photo: Craig Bailey, FLORIDA TODAY)
If there is one thing futurists seem to agree on as America rebuilds, it is the hope that resides in those children and young adults whose lives have been indelibly stamped by thispandemic, a group that may well prove to be the next Greatest Generation.
Says Bothwell: In 10 years, well look back at todays graduates in amazement at what they did as a result of this event.
Follow USA TODAY national correspondent Marco della Cava: @marcodellacava
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