March 11, 2021
New Orleans 9/11 has been a date fixed on the mental calendar of Americans for what will be twenty years this September of 2021. It is worth wondering whether 3/11, the one-year anniversary of the pandemic shutdown in America, will also be an equally momentous date that we come back to annually in the future.
Some changes from 9/11 were permanent. Airport screening certainly counts as one, even though many still claim that this is as much for show as effectiveness in many cases. Bollards in front of federal buildings and many other public facilities is certainly another. As the Snowden trove revealed, US surveillance of friend and foe increased drastically under that threat. I’m currently reading This Is How They Tell Me the World Ends, a frightening book about our lack of cybersecurity, that also pretty much dates the acceleration of cyberwar to 9/11 as well.
As we mark one-year of the pandemic shutdown, it’s no secret that people are antsy. Texas and Mississippi have let the dogs out, ending masks, and any restricts on gatherings. Alabama says they will follow suit by April 1st, the fool’s day. Vaccines are becoming widely available. Lines are forming to get shots, and the polls indicate an increasing receptivity to immunization. All of this though is part of the transition to something to come, a new normal, but what will the lasting change after 3/11 be at all similar to what we have seen from 9/11?
Will the ranks of public health workers and public health screening become as common as TSA in airports? Will temperature checks be a standard part of sports events just as weapon screens are now? Who wants to join me in looking for the future?
Remote work and Zoom? Maybe in the tech world, but I would vote against remote work being standard operating procedure for most people and most jobs. This will be elite practice. Zoom will never substitute for direct meetings, but video calls have been here for some time, and having multiple party video calls will certainly still be a thing.
In my crystal ball I’m hoping that at least two things that the pandemic has underscored as essential become permanent: universal access to the internet and cash transfers to lower income families.
The stimulus bills have poured money into extending fiber optics the last mile into rural communities and reservations. The FCC announced a subsidy for families to access internet and $100 towards buying a tablet or computer. School closings have dramatized the divide and its inequity. There’s no going back.
One stimulus after another has proven that cash transfers work, which is little more than “welfare as we knew it,” except throwing a larger net that benefited more people. The cash transfers for children are huge. The larger subsidies to buy health insurance are critical and life-saving. Learning that the key ingredient to creating equity is moving more money to those left behind needs to be permanent.
The death of more than a half-million people and counting is not just an anniversary maker. This can’t be in vain. As 3/11s are noted in the future, we need to make sure the list of permanent changes is a long and enduring one.