Months now into the COVID–19 quarantine, we’re still probably some time away from a new normal, however that looks. But the forced quarantine and slowdown has given us time to see opportunities, reflect on what’s important and learn lessons worth carrying forward.
Family has taken on a new significance in all our lives. Moms and dads working from home while learning to homeschool and keep little ones entertained have strengthened bonds and allowed for new connections. Without the pressure of time schedules with appointments, meetings, school bells, lessons and sports practices, just spending time together has become a new normal that, without the rush and tension, we probably didn’t realize was affecting our relationships.
Slowing down with the ones we love, even if it’s through phone calls, FaceTime and group video chats have brought a new connectedness we didn’t know we were missing but now don’t want to live without. It’s a reminder that strong families are the backbone of a free society, and there’s no blessing quite like family.
Meaningful work to support ourselves and our families has new meaning. Hundreds of thousands of newly unemployed people, through no fault of their own, are thrown into a completely overwhelmed system for benefits that will only serve as a short–term solution. Small businesses are scrambling to apply for bridge loans, hoping it’s sufficient to keep their heads above water long enough to keep from losing everything. Larger businesses are moving assets around, cutting salaries, searching everywhere for efficiencies and cutting costs to hang on for as long as possible.
Jobs not only drive the economy, they give us purpose, confidence, and pride. We went from unemployment rates so low that everyone who wanted a job had a job, to record unemployment with hundreds of thousands of people out of work and many others in danger of losing their jobs. The economy has been devastated, and the devastation to the collective psyche of North Carolinians who are out of work is immeasurable. The answer to long unemployment lines, businesses closing, and the economy tanking is to get people back to work. Work is who we are, and meaningful work is the key to happiness and wellbeing.
Getting thrown into online learning has been jarring and rejuvenating. Teachers have had to adjust to new and different ways of engaging students, students hunker down over online assignments while missing personal interaction with classmates, parents are re-visiting long-forgotten lessons while also keeping up with work Zooms and conference calls. Administrators are finally evaluating standardized tests.
Meanwhile, kids are working through worksheets but also riding bikes, posting art shows in their driveways and drawing on sidewalks, cooking, taking nature walks, reading interesting stuff, and teaching relatives to use the internet — finding joy and fun in learning. Education is about learning, and learning happens in lots of environments. Forced homeschooling offers the opportunity to look at education in a different way, and to discover the joy of learning, whatever that means for each family and student.
The pandemic crisis has shone new light on American innovation and ingenuity. Telemedicine has exploded as an additional and effective way to deliver health care, preserve the doctor/patient relationship, and save time and money. Some restrictions had to be removed to make it work. But now that we see how well it works, restrictions seem silly and unnecessary, along with certificate of need laws, prohibiting a full range of practice for providers, and restricting lines of care across state lines.
Medical research, that usually takes years to work through the regulatory system, has been fast–tracked toward developing a coronavirus vaccine and finding medications to lessen the severity of symptoms of the illness. N.C.-based LabCorp has more than doubled the COVID-19 testing capacity across the nation. Duke University is testing a new drug to treat patients with significant symptoms of COVID-19. Wake Forest Baptist hospital is conducting antibody tests to better track the disease and provide real time data to national and state decision–makers.
Private companies have responded, too. Winston Salem’s Hanes Brands and Gastonia’s Parkdale Mills and Beverly Knits switched production of T-shirts and socks to masks — 100 million by the end of April. Raleigh’s Second Nature switched production from air filters to masks, making about 800,000 immediately and repurposing a manufacturing line to make two million a month. High Point–based Holt Marketing Environments, known for manufacturing trade–show setups, is now building — in less than a week — temporary screening stations, infection control kiosks and hygiene stations. North Carolina is once again ground zero for innovation and ingenuity.
We have had little control over a pandemic of this magnitude. We do, however have control over our new normal. If we use this time to learn lessons, reassess values, remember what’s important — family, work, joy of learning, innovation — we’re going to be just fine.