To say that 2020 was a year unlike any other would be putting it mildly. The COVID-19 pandemic left few parts of daily life unscathed. From forcing legions of children to attend school via Zoom to revising how we work, travel, and shop for food, here’s a look at some of the most notable ways life changed in 2020.
With urban hubs like New York City making headlines for being COVID-19 hotspots, the suburbs have never been quite so appealing. A variety of studies have found that Americans of all demographics began adopting suburban life during 2020. In particular, the moving resources and information company MyMove conducted a study of change of address data from the U.S. Postal Service and found that more than 15.9 million people moved during coronavirus. The MyMove report notes that “people are leaving big, densely populated areas like Manhattan, Brooklyn and Chicago and spreading out to suburbs or smaller communities across the country.”
COVID-19 also triggered a massive shift in how we work. At the onset of the pandemic, countless Americans created home offices overnight in order to adapt to the new normal. And while it seemed initially that the shift would be temporary, more than a few of America’s most well-known employers have since announced long-term work from home plans and policies. In fact, Flexjobs has said working remotely may very well be the way of the future, pandemic or not, with some companies even deciding to let employees work from home permanently, including Coinbase, Infosys, Lambda School, Nationwide Insurance, and Nielsen.
Students of all ages have seen their worlds altered dramatically. Remote learning has become the norm for all ages, from elementary school through college. As 2020 draws to a close, the remote learning continues for many, with many school districts around the country — from San Diego to Chicago and Boston — pushing back any plans to return to in-person education as the pandemic rages. Zoom classes, it seems, are here to stay for a while longer.
School and work aren’t the only parts of life that have moved almost entirely online. More Americans than ever are grocery shopping online, we’re holding virtual happy hours, and even taking part in Zoom doctors’ appointments more routinely. Computers have likely never played a more central role in our lives. An article from MyMove calls it the “telepresence boom” noting that entire families are now performing basic functions from their homes via a computer and an internet connection. And many of those changes are not likely to ease any time soon.
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Ah, the good old days when we attended big concerts without a second thought, as well as weddings, festivals or sporting events. The year 2020 significantly altered this part of life with social distancing and lockdowns being the rule. As an article in Physician Sense notes, all of these things will be back at some point, but even after the pandemic has subsided, large gatherings are likely to be forever altered in some ways.
The pandemic of course, changed our eating habits, a topic worthy of an entire article of its own. But let’s start with the renewed or increased focus on beans. This humble, protein-filled staple has taken on new importance amid COVID-19. The New York Times reported in March a huge boom in bean sales, which makes sense, right? Beans are filling, nutritious, and inexpensive.
The past year has been stressful, unnerving, boredom-filled, and more. So, it’s no surprise that we’re reaching for comfort food more regularly. A poll released in September found that two out of three people are eating more comfort food. This includes an increase in the consumption of pizza (55 percent), hamburgers (48 percent), ice cream (46 percent), and more.
While we’re seeking out the comfort food, we’re ditching the healthy stuff. Forbes found Google Trends data suggesting that searches for terms like “salads” and “veggies” were lower in 2020 than at the same time in 2019.
With restrictions on dining inside restaurants in 2020 thanks to social-distancing guidelines, drive-thru became the next best thing for many people. Restaurants far and wide responded by redesigning their customer experience to include many adding drive-thru lanes or creating spaces for curbside pickup — even if they already had drive-thru lanes. What’s more, a recent article from Forbes says that curbside pickup is here to stay, even after the pandemic ends. The publication reported that Starbucks CFO Pat Grismer says curbside service is part of the chain’s plans for longer-term recovery.
Before COVID-19 altered our world, about 20 percent of Americans shopped for food more than three times each week. A study by consulting firm McKinsey, however, found that number was down to 10 percent by June 2020. Meanwhile, Supermarket News reported that online grocery sales skyrocketed, rising from $1.2 billion in August 2019 to $7.2 billion in June 2020.
Remember when it seemed almost rude not to greet the individual who delivered food to your home? The days when we would meet him or her at the door and perhaps provide a cash tip. That’s a distant world, isn’t it? Now we practically cower inside our homes fearing human contact, requesting the delivery driver drop our food on the doorstep and be gone. Close contact with strangers became a health hazard in 2020 and we have adapted accordingly. Doordash, Seamless, and many smaller delivery services offer a contact-free option.
Outdoor dining used to be far more prevalent in Europe than the U.S., but with social distancing being the new normal and the fact that the hazards of COVID-19 are reduced in fresh-air environments, restaurants that never before considered al fresco offerings have scurried to set up tents and tables in parking lots, on sidewalks and in roadways. Some 67 miles of streets were closed to vehicular traffic in New York City, with more 2.6 miles dedicated to the city’s Open Restaurants program, which has been made permanent. Some restaurants are also making structural alterations, building patios and decks. As Architectural Digest reported: “Masked waiters, tables spaced six feet apart, plexiglass barriers, and even stuffed animals occupying seats — these are some of the changes you might encounter the next time you dine out.”
A Statista survey conducted during the earliest days of the pandemic revealed our personal hygiene habits had also begun to change significantly in 2020. Back in April, 79 percent of the Statista survey participants said they wash their hands more regularly. Not surprising under the circumstances. And the reality is that stepped-up hand washing is still a necessity as the pandemic rages on.
Headline-grabbing protesters aside, it seems the need for making face masks a part of our lives has begun to sink in as the year draws to a close. A HealthDay/Harris Poll found that “more than nine in 10 U.S. adults (93%) said they sometimes, often or always wear a mask or face covering when they leave their home and are unable to socially distance, including more than seven in 10 (72%) who said they always do so.” And until vaccines become more widely distributed, masks will continue to be an important part of life.
To say the travel experience changed in 2020 would be an understatement. This is a topic that has received immense coverage. Some of the most immediate impacts to our lives include the lack of travel altogether and the bans on Americans visiting many countries around the world because of the COVID-19 rates in this country. But travel has changed in more subtle ways as well, with some airlines blocking middle seats from being used to keep passengers from sitting too close together, and cruise lines practically ceasing operations, while hotels are redoubling efforts to provide clean, sanitized rooms when you check-in.
Meanwhile, more Americans are taking road trips and rediscovering America again. A survey conducted by Cooper Tires and reported by the New York Post earlier this year found that 43 percent of those surveyed had replaced canceled travel plans with a road trip of some sort.
Another sign of the times, public transportation has become a highly undesirable way to get from place to place. A Statista survey conducted in April found 38 percent of respondents said they had begun avoiding crowded modes of public transport. It’s a shift that’s not likely to reverse course any time soon.
The gym industry has also taken a beating this year as have the exercise habits of Americans in general, with many hesitant to spend extended periods of time in confined spaces with fellow exercisers who are sweating and breathing heavily.
As Time reported, sweeping and repeated lockdowns have made Americans more sedentary than ever before and the effects are likely long-lasting. One survey reported by Time revealed a 32 percent reduction in physical activity among U.S. adults who had previously been meeting recommended exercise guidelines. Meanwhile, many gyms and personal trainers began offering virtual exercise sessions in 2020 in order to stay afloat, bringing their services to our living rooms for a change. No more rushing to get to your gym in time for an exercise class.
While carrying cash was largely becoming a thing of the past prior to 2020, the COVID-19 outbreak has hastened this trend. It’s not unusual to walk into a store these days and see a sign that says “Credit cards preferred.” That April Statista survey found that cash is being used far less day-to-day by 36 percent of survey respondents. For those still not clear on the why behind this shift in daily life — a scientific study explains that “paper currency by its very nature is frequently transferred from one person to another and represents an important medium for human contact.” And as we all know so well now — human contact is the big no-no of 2020.
By: Mia Taylor
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