Almost as soon as the coronavirus pandemic reached these shores, people started predicting what would happen after it was over.

It’s human nature to abhor uncertainty, whether it’s the outcome of the next election, on one end of the scale, to whether we can survive global warming, on the other. Even so, some predictions were eye-opening.

We’ll no longer go to the grocery store for food, but have everything delivered, as Amazon dominates yet another retail sector. Business meetings will no longer take place, since some of them helped spread the virus across the globe.

And — my favorite — people will stop shaking hands, or hugging each other in public, for fear of contagion.

Some structural changes will, and should, occur. Never again will even an authoritarian government like China’s try to suppress all information about an outbreak, allowing it to spread unchecked and quickly enter the global biosphere; China’s ambition to be the leading power of the 21st century lies in tatters.

And never again — one hopes — will an American president disband pandemic response teams and emergency planning under the guise of “budget priorities.” In fact, the long-neglected field of public health should get a huge boost in interest, and funding, since it’s clearly vital to human survival.

Other changes will be more subtle, and unfold only over time.

Although Zoom encounters are about the only version going on now, our enforced isolation from each other is likely to create a hunger for seeing friends, family and acquaintances, now that we realize what we’ve lost.

Humans, even solitary ones, are social creatures, who thrive on contact, on touch, on presence. Even Thoreau regularly had Sunday dinner at the Emersons while limning the natural world at Walden Pond, and when he went to the wilds of Maine, he always had a guide.

Perhaps — none too soon — we will begin assessing the extreme alienation that results from having contact only through “virtual reality.”

The negative effects of excessive “social media” have been evident for some time — on politics, on news, on community and family relationships — yet we haven’t really taken in how toxic they are.

Other than our own choices, there’s no reason why we can’t share a printed newspaper over coffee or a beer, instead of staring at a screen, or why we seem to care more about money raised than what’s in a candidate’s head, and heart.

And it’s not too soon to re-examine the effects of our responses to previous crises that unsettled us, but which we tried to resolve through exclusively technological, rather than human, means.

Ever since the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was bombed in 1995, we’ve had guards and security screenings at every such building, though many Americans now alive don’t remember what happened on that terrible April day.

Closer to home, we added security screenings to the State House in Augusta in 2011, at the behest of then-Gov. Paul LePage, whose office is on the second floor, and who enjoyed similar security at the Blaine House.

The State House screenings seemed almost absurd. The same people who inhabit the Capitol are constantly present at the Cross Building across the way, without screening.

If anyone of evil intent was hatching plots, they’d be just as apt to strike elsewhere in the State House complex. Yet so far, no one in authority has publicly declared these screenings may be inessential services.

Perhaps we could try now. Airport security, of course, presents more complex issues, but in that instance, improved technology, some already available, could immensely streamline the struggle to get passengers onto planes.

Having people stand for hours in long lines in places with connections around the globe is hardly an ideal environment in the new world we inhabit.

For if there’s anything we now know, it’s that viruses present a much greater danger to us all than terrorists ever will. After the high of a $2 trillion stimulus package from Congress — more than twice what we mustered after the 2008 financial collapse — we’ll face hard budget choices in the years ahead.

We’ve pretended we don’t have to decide between, say, funding another destroyer at Bath Iron Works, or creating a viable public health nursing system for Maine. Weapons of war aren’t cheap, even if they do fuel the economy, and human survival — from changing climate to changing microorganisms — may not allow business as usual.

These may seem like hard choices, but maybe they’re not. A pandemic can have many outcomes, but providing clarity in our collective thinking might be an unlooked-for boon.

Douglas Rooks, a Maine editor, opinion writer and author for 35 years, has published books about George Mitchell, and the Maine Democratic Party. He welcomes comment at: [email protected]


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