A Silver Lining To The Pandemic

It has been hard to be optimistic as the coronavirus outbreak has devastated many families. We have been forced to change our ways of living in a hurry. Job losses are high and haven’t finished climbing. Small businesses are struggling or having to close. Difficulties vary by socioeconomic class with those of modest means hit the hardest. The gaps in broadband connectivity have become more apparent during the pandemic.

Yet, there may be a silver lining for us whether as individuals or society. In any disaster, silver linings may emerge from the gloom and doom. Find the brightest part of your day even during this crisis. We found 8 positive aspects that may have lasting benefits:

1. Saving Money

Many Americans have reduced their discretionary spending habits as our lifestyle has adapted to the coronavirus outbreak. We stopped going to restaurants, reduced our impulse shopping, and deferred purchases. Many people have paused gym memberships, canceled vacations, used far less gas, and saved on tolls. By not traveling to work daily, I have realized about $1,500 in savings just by working from home.

Lower Discretionary Spending

Retail sales in the US have dropped 16.4% in April. With lower retail sales, US credit card spending fell 40% during March and early April according to JP Morgan. These numbers are not a surprise. On the other hand, spending on essentials is up 20%. This coincides with our experience. By staying home, we probably saved about $1,500 exclusivity on r meals. I have cooked virtually every day for our family of four. Normally, we tend to eat out with friends or family several times a week. Naturally, our grocery bills are higher than during normal times. Overall, we spent less.  I know we are not alone in saving money. According to a Fidelity Market Sentiment study, Americans have lowered discretionary spending by 48% during COVID-19.

The CARES Act Has Provided More Benefits

The CARES Act and other government programs have provided more money for those experiencing financial hardships. For those who lost jobs, there were higher unemployment benefits and stimulus checks. The Act is allowing pauses on student debt and mortgage loans for a few months. Landlords and credit card providers have been more amenable to deferring or modifying their charges. With reduced driving, try to negotiate lower rates on car insurance. You may be able to get to reasonable discounts on other services.

Now maybe a golden opportunity to reset your financial priorities. Try to use some of the savings from reduced spending, added benefits, and pauses in debt for emergency purposes. Put some of these savings to work to reduce your debt. This pandemic took us all by surprise. Build up your emergency fund if you can. A large number (44%) of Americans are boosting their emergency funds.

2. Distance Learning Became More Widespread

The Covid-19 pandemic has proven to be a boon for distance learning as schools of every level were forced to close.  Over one-third of post-secondary students took at least one online class pre-pandemic according to NCES during 2018-2019. Roughly 65% of higher education students, including graduate levels, had not enrolled in any distance education. However, as students were sent home from campuses, online learning platforms were available in a variety of formats. Faculty took the lead in instituting technology to mirror the traditional classroom.

These platforms require two-way communications, content delivery, and permit instructors to assess student work. Formats such as Blackboard Collaborate, Zoom, and Webex supported those needs. Distance learning was a hasty move for many but a great alternative to losing the opportunity for education. As a professor at our community college, I prefer the traditional classroom. However, I was encouraged and motivated by my students’ adaptability to the situation. As a result, I wanted to help them as much as possible given the circumstances.

A Good Experience Given The Circumstances

I found some notable benefits using the online learning environment. The platform was flexible, providing for sharing materials like power points, videos, and other learning materials. Student interactivity would vary but even the shy spoke up more than previously. Learning online requires students to be more self-disciplined. Most students rose to the occasion. More students came on time and chatted more in class discussions. The experience can only improve with better planning for remote learning. With more time, faculty can develop more content conducive to the online platform.

Related Post: The Virtues of Online Learning: A Personal View

Our class met online synchronously. We didn’t have a choice when the coronavirus disrupted our traditional classroom. Synchronous learning means that online classes meet in real-time at a set time. A popular alternative to this is asynchronous online classes which do not occur at the same time. For undergraduate students, I prefer the synchronous mode which provides some structure like the meeting time

Expand Broadband Connectivity

It was easy to empathize with all college students. The abrupt departure from campuses during the middle of the term was frustrating. Many lost their work-study programs,  potential internships, and job interviews. That’s not all. Many students headed to homes lacking broadband connectivity and computers. Lacking the ability to connect to others exists for parts of our student population–Native Americans, rural and poor communities. Previously they depended on schools for their Internet and computer needs. However, even libraries were also closed when they returned home.

To expand connectivity to more people, the FCC has created “Keep Americans Connected.” Hundreds of major broadband providers, companies, and organizations have signed a pledge until June 30th to offset the coronavirus impact on Americans. They will:

  • waive any late fees incurred by residential or small business customers;
  • not terminate service to these customers because of their inability to pay bills due to the pandemic; and
  • open its Wi-Fi hotspots to anyone who needs them.

This will only be a short term measure to fill the broadband gaps that exist for many American communities.

3. Remote Working Became Essential

Prior to the pandemic, there was a lot of employer resistance to allowing employees to work from home. Like distance learning, the need to keep organizations running resulted in more people working from home. The latest Gallup poll reported that 62% of employed Americans say they have worked from home. This is a doubling of the previous rate since mid-March. Of those surveyed, nearly three out of five employees want to continue to do work remotely as lockdowns are removed. However, 41% prefer to return to their workplace.

Both employers and employees have found benefits, such as flexibility, independence, and better engagement. Remote work boosts productivity with employees being 35-40% more productive than at the office. Cost and time savings for the employees and organizations have been realized. Employers will want to continue some of the huge savings from reduced travel, hotels, conferences, car rentals, and meals out with clients. Employees may feel the same way about the inordinate amounts of time spent traveling away from home. Video conferencing appears to have worked well. Fewer face-to-face meetings may be the new normal.

Related Post: Coronavirus: A Tipping Point For Rising Flexible Work Options

4. Telehealth Usage Rises

Telemedicine has been viewed as a technology tool to provide greater health care access to vulnerable populations. However, usage has grown at a slow pace with only 9.6% of consumers using telehealth. Remote consultation is in lieu of a doctor’s office, urgent care, or emergency room according to a JD Power report in 2019. Younger people ages 18-to-24  have used telehealth the most (13.1%). On the other hand, seniors (5.3%) are the least likely to use the service than any other age group. Slow adoption was likely due to a lack of awareness and urgency.

That was then. Things changed dramatically with COVID-19. The health crisis has created not just an awareness but an urgency for patients to turn to telemedicine. Remote consultation has been encouraged by medical professionals who themselves want to remain healthy. Hospitals and urgent care facilities have been overwhelmed and their health care workers have been spread thin by the crisis.

The American Medical Association has updated guidelines for telemedicine in practice to help physicians swiftly ramp up their capabilities to care for patients. During this crisis, states have allowed more flexibility and discretion related to HIPAA Privacy rules.

Those who provide telehealth services report that growth has skyrocketed. There is no doubt that the coronavirus produced a boon for the services given greater awareness and need. People who have non-coronavirus ailments have increasingly used video consultations with doctors rather than going to medical facilities. This growth trend is likely to continue beyond the crisis.

5. Virtual Living Provides Greater Inclusivity

With all of these remote offerings–distance learning, work-at-home, and telehealth–virtual living may provide more inclusivity. Vulnerable populations, such as the poor, ill, disabled, and senior communities, may be able to participate as never before. For many, physical attendance at colleges, work, churches, religious, and cultural institutions may be nearly impossible. On the other hand, increased virtual offerings will make cultural events and facilities more accessible and affordable to an expanded population. These offerings can be limited only by our imagination and include Shakespeare, theatre, dance, museums, opera, and concerts.

The disabled population often needs greater accommodation in the workplace. Increased remote working may provide more opportunities for those who can more easily work from home as technology platforms improve and expand. Virtual living will require better broadband connectivity for all.

6. Finding Environmental Benefits

As a result of the dramatic drop in train, plane, and automobile traveling (my favorite movie!), environmental benefits have been reported globally. An unprecedented decline in emissions has been reported due to reduced oil demand. For the first time in history, US crude prices per barrel dropped to below zero. Oil producers actually paid others to take their barrels away because they did not have enough storage available. Improvements in our environment with reduced pollution have been cited. National Resources Defense Council pointed to some people in India being able to actually see the Himalayas from afar due to less pollution.

As more people stayed home, noise pollution has been lessened. Appreciating nature and wildlife has been a benefit for humanity. The big question is how long will an improved environment remain? It should be for all time as some of us may be experiencing these beauties for the first time. Even China, among the most polluted countries, saw improvements. As a direct effect of coronavirus and the reduced driving and fewer factories in operation, China’s skies became clearer.  Levels of nitrogen dioxide, a pollutant caused by burning fossil fuels, were down as much as 30% over China according to NASA. It remains to be seen if these benefits last as economies open up globally and cars return to the road.

7. FDA’s Accelerated Time For Drug And Testing Approvals

The US Food and Drug Administration  (FDA) has been expediting its review process of diagnostic and antiviral drugs since the COVID-19 pandemic. It has been providing more flexibility to develop and offer tests to combat coronavirus. The FDA’s timeline has shortened as it works with test developers and laboratories. They are using a relaxed standard, Emergency Use Authority (EUA). The EUA allows tests to be made available based on less data.

The FDA has accelerated its drug approval process over the past four decades. Using the “Accelerated Approval” pathway established in 1992, drugs for serious or life-threatening conditions can get a green light from the FDA with less evidence. To some, this may mean weaker evidence and more risk.

However, not all drugs are going on the fast track. The coronavirus event is a perfect example of why the FDA’s accelerated approval process is needed. A 2018 MIT study reported that nearly 14% of all drugs in clinical trial eventually win approval from the FDA. If you ever had a loved one with metastasized cancer, you would know the importance of the faster process providing access to a new treatment to slow tumor growth.

8. Express Gratitude To Your Communities

This coronavirus pandemic has been a difficult event. It is not over yet. Staying home with our families within our town has shined a light on the importance of being part of the community. We recently moved from Manhattan to a small community. During the outbreak, I felt like I had one foot in two different communities. From the 7 pm daily banging of pots and pans for health care workers in NYC to the outpouring of communal concern for shuttered shopkeepers and restaurants, we all are expressing our gratitude for others in our lives.

Expressing gratitude has a number of benefits, all healthy. It certainly beats anger and frustration. Hopefully, this pandemic is a one-time event worthy of sharing with your children and grandchildren.

Final Thoughts

The coronavirus outbreak has been a hardship. However, silver linings can sometimes emerge out of such crises.  As a society, we were forced to go online for learning, work, and health care. The digital divide among certain communities have become more apparent. We need more broadband connectivity to level playing fields across the country. By staying home, we may have realized some savings that can be used to reduce debt and/or be put aside for emergency purposes. Due to the coronavirus, our environment appears to have improved at least temporarily. Finally, let us share our gratitude with so many who paid a higher price to keep us safe.

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