How COVID-19 Changed Americans' Health Habits

Remember when it was big news when a politician, entertainment figure or sports hero contracted COVID-19? 

Now it's big news when we learn that a well-known person has still not gotten it. That's what happens when a pandemic sticks around long enough.

And that's what occurs when a virus continues to mutate to the point where it can avoid antibodies built up by previous infection. And escape protection vaccines are supposed to provide.

It can still be argued that coronavirus vaccines have been effective in keeping many people out of the hospital. And often limiting the illness to mild symptoms for a majority of individuals. 

But the virus itself is clearly not going away anytime soon. And it will be interesting to see what it has in store for us this fall and winter when folks spend much more time indoors.

Different Behaviors Becoming Normal

Regardless of where one stands on controversial issues surrounding the pandemic over the past 2½ years – school and business closings, travel restrictions, and mask and vaccine mandates – I think everyone agrees society has been fundamentally changed. 

Many things that were commonplace for most people are now more of a rarity. Such as commuting to work five days a week. And attending standing-room-only indoor concerts and games.

In-store shopping during peak hours has been reduced by an increase in delivery services. Routine, in-person doctor's appointments are more infrequent now that telehealth has become more available. Some now attend house of worship services via the Internet. 

Many people are getting back into traveling again after a couple of years off. But they're more likely to mask up and practice social distancing while traveling than in other public situations. 

Hands-on Protection

At the center of the changes we've made as a society since COVID-19 first made its presence felt in the U.S. is, of course, our health. 

Some of those changes have been as simple as increased hand washing. Most of us never thought about the handwashing process until the coronavirus reached our shores.

But then we started doing it more frequently. And for longer than we used to. I still catch myself starting to sing the Happy Birthday song sometimes while washing my hands. 

Many of us use disinfecting wipes more often than previously. Both for our hands when soap and water is not available and on frequently used surfaces including doorknobs.

Doing Our Home-Work

Another big change that may stay in place is working from home. Eliminating a commute and office distractions has allowed many to become more productive at their jobs.

Employers, some of whom were skeptical this system could work, have been pleasantly surprised. In-person meetings still have value, and some companies have established a hybrid policy in which employees spend 2-3 days in the office each week.

A recent Gallup poll reported that 45% of full-time U.S. employees now work from home all or some of the time. Prior to the pandemic, it was 17%. Two-thirds of white-collar employees now work from home either exclusively (41%) or sometimes (26%).

Ninety-one percent of those employees hope to continue working mostly remotely, as it allows them to better balance work and personal obligations. One-third say they would seek another job if remote work was eliminated.

Indoor Gatherings Still Sketchy

As far as indoor crowds are concerned, there has been a downturn since the pre-COVID days. Some people are hesitant to resume their seats at indoor stadiums, concert venues and theaters.

Outdoor events, on the other hand, seem to be as crowded as before. On any given day, major league baseball stadiums are filled, and we'll soon see the same at college and professional football arenas.

Benefiting from the concern about indoor entertainment venues have been online streaming services offering movies and TV shows.

More folks are opting for entertainment in their homes, which has negatively affected venues, restaurants and retail stores.        

Supply Chain Issues Still Prevalent

Another part of the "new normal" in American life that's been brought on by the pandemic has been supply chain issues.

It seems like just about everything takes longer than usual to be delivered. That situation isn't expected to end soon. Especially if the virus provides us with another surge soon.

The healthcare industry has seen its share of challenges over the past few years. It will be interesting to see if that important workforce stays in their jobs. 

Burnout and a dissatisfaction with safety protocols in workplaces have caused some healthcare workers to seek other employment.  

Vaccines Struggle With Latest Strain

And then there is the highly controversial topic of vaccinations. According to the CDC, roughly two-thirds of American adults have been "fully vaccinated" against COVID-19. 

But only about 50% have received at least one booster shot. Any protection afforded by the initial jab (Johnson & Johnson) or jabs (Pfizer and Moderna) has long since dissipated for most who did not get at least one booster.

Those who chose not to get vaccinated have long cited a concern about vaccines that were rushed to market. Including potential long-term side effects.

They have also pointed to the fact that vaccines caused flu-like symptoms in a number of people. And now they point to current vaccines' inability to prevent infection from the most dominant Omicron strain.

There is no question the pandemic has changed the way we live and how we view our health. It looks like the "new normal" is here to stay.

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