Silver linings are sometimes impossible to find, especially when the subject is the isolation, trauma and morbidity caused by the coronavirus.
And yet with all that darkness, there are some random moments that even if they don’t meet silver-lining standards, do give us another angle. Consider for example these small snapshots:
— My 74-year-old sister has had to learn Zoom to participate in her synagogue board meetings and feels grateful for the experience technology has enabled.
— A grandparent friend of mine has been helping home-school her grandchildren to spell the fatigue of her daughter, and she writes, “They are eager and cute, but it is so difficult. I have new appreciation for teachers.”
— My children have taken over managing my husband and me with limits that include they do the grocery shopping. We initially pushed back, then accepted their edict and now realize that a certain maturation process has occurred that we hadn’t taken note of — until now.
— Kindness and cruelty get extra pop and are not forgotten. The person in Pennsylvania who deliberately coughed on a store full of produce just to pull a prank, or the Boston Bruins ownership who offered the skinniest of relief packages to their employees while their family holdings are in excess of $3 billion, make us crave an omnipresent moral compass.
— My noble neighbor (Sunny) is an emergency department physician who like many other healthcare providers puts himself at risk every day. When Sunny comes home from his shift, he goes straight to the mudroom to strip, turn his clothes inside out, and race to the washing machine. The next day he does a “rinse and repeat.”
Beyond these small snapshots, there are interesting longer-term behaviors that could redefine our world:
— Zoom may become the preferred tool of connection, outpacing other social media platforms. While not quite the underdog that Gallahadion was when he won the Kentucky Derby in 1940 at 35-to-1 odds, most of us never saw Zoom coming, let alone winning.
— Elbow swipes may become the new handshake, and greetings with a kiss will be used sparingly and with extreme consciousness.
— Hand washing will remain a near 20-second act, and please, someone discover a new formula that can soothe our very dry skin.
— Science as a discipline will attract more of the Gen-Z crowd who are in search of a meaningful direction and may have found one after witnessing the importance of disease management at a micro and macro level.
A profound effect of the coronavirus is use of technology to expand access in both education and medicine. The change in education delivery has long been underway.
In 2016, one in six students was studying exclusively online, and one in three students took at least one course online (National Center for Education Statistics). Today, educators are forced to teach online because there is no other option.
As wallets continue to tighten, and educators’ e-teaching skills grow, the number of distance learners will grow, too.
What this does to the face of higher education is anyone’s guess. An institution’s value proposition, staffing, delivery platform, and course catalogue will all be affected. I hope on-premise learning will still feature prominently, but to what degree?
If it feels like Pandora’s box has just been opened, consider some positive aspects enabled by distance learning: affordability, scalability and a more self-directed learning model that will better match the preferences of many Gen-Z and millennial students.
A similar tele-phenomenon has been happening in medicine. The AMA reports that in 2016-2017, tele-health skyrocketed 53 percent, suggesting the wheels have long been in motion.
Tele-health has grown in scope from preventive care and remote monitoring to diagnosis and treatment. Originally adopted by the military and academic centers, telemedicine has since been rolled out to private hospitals and group practices.
In the last month, many healthcare providers have had to put their hands on the tele-wheel for the first time. My physician friends tell me that they are discovering how much patient care can actually be delivered from a distance.
In-person visits are still preferred when not in fear of a lethal virus, but these practitioners are learning new care skills. As their skepticism of telemedicine wanes, new fuel will be added to the telemedicine boom.
A silver lining might very well then be that just as we hope to “flatten the curve” as relates to the coronavirus, we have also lowered the bar as relates to access to education and healthcare.
We will, of course, have to look at the products and their continual improvement, but our collective view has shifted.
Silver lining? Maybe not. Maybe we’ve just made lemonade out of too many lemons.