Rashid: Do We Have to Bring Back All Pre-COVID Norms?

By Qasim Rashid

January 4, 2021

Maybe some of the changes caused by COVID-19 have been positive, Rashid argues.

Happy 2021! As we make our New Year’s resolutions and hope for a brighter year ahead than what was behind us, here’s a question: What’s a pre-COVID social norm that doesn’t need reviving post-COVID? I recently asked this question on social media and the response was overwhelming—and informative. More than a mere social experiment, I wanted to see how 2020 has changed the views of Americans as it relates to our core accepted notions of identity and interaction. The simple question garnered over 2000 comments, many of which would have seemed alien just a year ago.

Let’s start with the simple concept of mask wearing, a now ubiquitous and required piece of attire virtually unseen pre-pandemic. Many argued that even after COVID-19 is no longer the deadly pandemic it is, mask wearing should remain. In particular, anyone with a cold should wear a mask, anyone traveling through airports should wear a mask, and everyone during flu season should wear a mask. Given that 12,000 to 62,000 Americans a year annually die from the flu, this idea makes a lot of sense.

RELATED: Rashid: Leadership Matters. Justice in Leadership Matters More.

What About Handshakes?

What about handshakes? Experts advise that handwashing is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of sickness and disease. And given the disturbing reality that 40% of Americans don’t wash hands after using the facilities, we have work to do. And speaking of physical touch, many advocated a cessation to hugging, kissing people you don’t know on the cheek as a greeting, and men touching women at all, for any reason.

People were split over whether buffets should remain but nearly unanimously rejected blowing out birthday candles and spreading spit over the cake everyone was about to eat. Unsurprisingly, many also advocated a continuation of the 6-foot-rule, i.e. standing at least 6 feet apart while waiting to check out of a grocery store. I’m a huge proponent of personal autonomy and personal space, so I wholly agree with respecting people’s right to not be touched without consent. But beyond that, many commentators advocated for removing the social stigma of not wanting to be touched, whether it’s a handshake, hung, or kiss on the cheek.

Building on individual behaviors, many advocated for societal structural changes to how we educate and work. Some teachers suggested dropping the 5 day in person school week. Instead, allowing teachers and students alike to teach and learn remotely a few days a week would cut down on stress, costs, and save time.

Of course, for this to be practical, America would need to make a massive investment in broadband Internet—which I argue should be a utility. Likewise, working Americans repeated the mantra that the 5 day work week should be a thing of the past. Requiring people to commute to an office to perform work they could perform just as easily at home is both inefficient, harmful for the environment, and a waste of time.

COVID Requests Are Honest, Not Lazy

Indeed, 2020 proved once more that when disabled people asked for basic travel or remote working accommodations they were being honest—not lazy. Meanwhile, the corporations and society who denied those requests for accommodations were being lazy and even malicious. After all, just look at how quickly society adjusted for COVID-19 remote working accommodations.

What about working while sick? America is the only developed nation on earth that doesn’t require employers to provide paid sick leave. And we are worse off for it. Right now Americans who are sick are forced with the dystopian decision of working while sick to put food on the table, or staying home for their personal health and the health of others. It’s a cruel choice to force upon people, further exacerbated by Mitch McConnell’s move to protect corporations from having to pay workers for taking time off due to COVID19.

Whether we’ll adopt these changes is a question we ultimately control. Undoubtedly, these changed habits can amount to a society that practices better hygiene and better looks out for one another. Such changes can demonstrably amount to lives saved, economies saved, and an overall well being to our mental and physical health.

And that’s a New Year’s resolution worth embracing.


Qasim Rashid is an attorney, author, and former candidate for US Congress. He resides in Stafford, VA. Follow him on Twitter @QasimRashid.

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