A Future of Seasonal Social-Distancing, to Be Concurrent with COVID-19 and Flu Season

Flu Season

The challenge of penning something about Tomorrow first brought ideas about futuristic Hall & Oates Revivals for a Demolition Man-esque society. But that all took a back-burner as the realities of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) drew more media attention. COVID-19’s headlines are showcasing a fundamental shift internationally in the conduct of day-to-day life. I thereby predict a future of seasonal social-distancing, with many working via telecommute and remaining housebound whenever future flu seasons – especially COVID-19 seasons – roll around. And, along with that future of seasonal social-distancing, wouldn’t it also be apropos if there were a new tech product or device developed that would cleanse things before entering the house to minimize germs, like that of COVID-19?

Ever since COVID-19 made headlines, global supply chains have been disrupted, conferences and large-scale events have been cancelled. In the film industry, for instance, Business Insider reported that opening dates for major movie blockbuster premieres were pushed back, as in the cases of the action adventure adaptation of Mulan and the new James Bond film. And, movie productions have been halted as well, evidenced by the latest Mission: Impossible film adjusting its production plan to avoid on-site filming in Italy.

Blue chip tech companies have advised employees to work from home. For example, Facebook temporarily shuttered its London branch to deep-clean offices after an employee was diagnosed with coronavirus. Even Twitter just announced, “We are strongly encouraging all employees globally to work from home… Our goal is to lower the probability of the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus for us – and the world around us.”

And, as the spread of novel coronavirus deepens, repercussions are being felt throughout society. Hand sanitizers, bottled water, safety masks, and all manner of supplies have been flying off shelves, including those typically stockpiled at Costco and certain prepper business sectors. Numerous public relations emails and notifications have likewise been sent and received surrounding hygiene and health guidelines. Travel advisories are heavily publicizing alerts, warning everyone about the ongoing worldwide outbreak of COVID-19. And nations across the globe have proclaimed this novel coronavirus as an urgent public health emergency.

All these suggest that a new future is already being forged, one anchored to the safety and health concerns about the transmission of this virulent new ailment. And, just as society now prepares for flu season, it stands to reason that should COVID-19 have a season of its own that coincides with flu season, then there will be more impetus for society to implement social-distancing programs.

If the term social-distancing is unfamiliar, it is defined by the CDC as a protective intervention measure that includes voluntary home isolation and voluntary home quarantine. At the community level, social-distancing measures include “school closures and dismissals, social-distancing in workplaces, and postponing or cancelling of mass gatherings.”

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, although COVID-19 and the flu are two distinct illnesses, caused by entirely different viruses, they are still incredibly similar in two important regards. Firstly, “Influenza ‘the flu’ and COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus, are both infectious respiratory illnesses.” Moreover, COVID-19 is transmitted just like the flu, via “respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs,” says the CDC.

For COVID-19 to be just like the flu in terms of certain symptoms and transmission vectors, then for the flu to have a season could also mean COVID-19 will have a season, too. And, this is just what certain epidemiologists speculate about, as reported by NPR.

But why is there such a thing as flu season? Harvard University explains, “The flu season in the U.S. can begin as early as October, but usually does not get into full swing until December. The season generally reaches its peak in February and ends in March. In the southern hemisphere, however, where winter comes during our summer months, the flu season falls between June and September. In other words, wherever there is winter, there is flu. In fact, even its name, ‘influenza’ may be a reference to its original Italian name, influenza di freddo, meaning ‘influence of the cold’… Therefore, we can conclude that, at least in regions that have a winter season, the influenza virus survives longer in cold, dry air, so it has a greater chance of infecting another person. Although other factors probably contribute as well, the main reason we have a flu season may simply be that the influenza virus is happier in cold, dry weather and thus better able to invade our bodies. So, as the temperature and humidity keep dropping, your best bet for warding off this nasty bug is to… stay warm and invest in a humidifier.”

Interestingly, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) conducted a flu pandemic study that revealed social-distancing as an effective measure at reducing influenza transmission rates and as an effective tool in fighting future influenza pandemics. As the NIH documented, “Pandemic flu comes rarely – only 3 times in the 20th century – but can be devastating. It’s caused by a sudden major shift in circulating flu viruses, such as when a virus jumps from an animal to humans. Most people have no immunity to such new viruses… With components from flu viruses known to affect pigs, birds and humans, it rapidly spreads across the world to become pandemic. Social distancing measures can be implemented during unusual infectious diseases outbreaks. These interventions include closing schools, movie theaters and restaurants, and cancelling large public gatherings… The results suggest that school closure and other measures could help to mitigate future influenza pandemics.”

In essence, if COVID-19 is like the flu, and if there will be a COVID-19 season like there is a flu season, then social-distancing programs could likely be put into effect. Social distancing could become obligatory or mandated to counteract COVID-19’s future spread.

If social-distancing were to become a societal norm, what would that entail? Telecommuting and working from home would become de rigueur. Schools will be conducted online. Stay-at-home parenting would be possible while still earning from regular jobs conducted online.

No longer will movie theaters or stage plays be popular. Rather, the streaming of movies and performances would be in higher demand. Thus, Netflix and Amazon Prime would strengthen, while cinema chains would lose revenues. Could animation productions outnumber other types of films or TV shows because in-person productions would dwindle?

Restaurants will conceivably close down as will Mom-and-Pop establishments because people will stay indoors rather than gather around publicly. Small businesses might suffer considerably, whereas corporations would grow. Ordering microwaveable meals from Costco, Whole Foods, Amazon, and Thrive Market would become customary. Fresh produce could become an enigma. Diets and nutrition would be affected as food sources and food supply logistics change.

Sports and games would give way to e-sports and online gaming. There won’t be a Winter Olympics or winter sports because the Summer Olympics and warmer weather sports will have more following. People will either have to learn to get fit at home or lead sedentary lives.

And maybe even robots would replace the human workforce so that food would be processed and packaged by automation and delivered by drones or self-driving vehicles. One new tech product might even be a device that would cleanse things before entering the house to minimize germs, like COVID-19.

Perhaps all the concern about texting and emailing will fade away into a reluctant acceptance as face-to-face encounters only occur during summertime or warm weather. Dating won’t be the same. There won’t be jokes about mononucleosis being transmitted from kisses but even more sarcastic ones about COVID-19 transmission. Wedding ceremonies will only take place exclusively during warm months. Wedding ceremony invitations will only be via emails.

Snail mail will be just about obsolete. All the bureaucratic papers mailed out to people will peter out, which would be a good thing for conserving timber and cutting back on logging.

Printing of business promotional materials will be curtailed. The shaking of hands will be frowned upon even in the business context, perhaps giving way to immediate hygiene practices of washing hands or rubbing sanitizer fluid between hands. Or, maybe Spock’s “Live Long and Prosper” gesture will be accepted over a fist bump, just to avoid skin contact.

Probably there would be an exodus to warmer states in the USA and warmer countries close to the equator. Would folks no longer make the pilgrimage to see Punxsutawney Phil make predictions about winter weather? Tourism to cold countries would diminish, which would lower various countries’ GDPs.

Litter would change substantially – there would probably be less litter outside because people won’t be roaming around. But collection of litter would perhaps be automated.

Energy consumption might be different. Consider how the possible reduction in folks commuting could, in turn, decrease overall carbon emissions. That would alter global temperatures and affect climate change, too.

We’ll just have to wait and see how the COVID-19 novel coronavirus plays out in the next few months, to ascertain if it will indeed taper during warm months and thereby have a season or not. And, I’m still holding out for that new “future tech” product or device that would cleanse things before entering the house, just to help minimize the spread of novel coronavirus germs during social-distancing season.