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Edelman: Society has had to adapt because of COVID-19 and that will continue into the new year | COMMENTARY

Most of us will be more than happy to welcome 2021 and finally say goodbye to 2020. As with most of you, I’m eager to visit a few favorite restaurants, my friends, and my family scattered across the country. Being of an age that puts me at elevated risk of serious complications should I contract COVID-19, I’ve lived most of this year limiting outside contacts to the grocery, picking up meals to go, and consults with my doctors.

Even those medical events have changed — Zoom conferences have replaced routine office visits. Online shopping and alternate work schedules are now normal for many of us; even in schools where virtual learning isn’t part of our children’s schooling, social distancing and restricted athletics have great impact on our children. Mostly, we have adapted to the personal changes the pandemic has imposed on us.

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To be sure, some have rejected the social contract and pride themselves on exercising reckless personal liberty in public places, but most of us follow the sensible advice to wear face masks in public and to stay in our bubbles. But society as a whole has also had to adapt, and the foreseeable future will not likely resemble pre-COVID-19 days.

Those having the kind of job that can be done outside of the office find themselves telecommuting: high-speed broadband allows us to do virtually all of our work online. Apps like Zoom and Webex enable meetings to be conducted online. Secure networks allow workers to access data from a corporate database. People enjoy not having to face the morning and evening commute, and corporations enjoy not having the costs of maintaining cubicle farms. Work-at-home has been growing for years. If there is a silver lining to the dark cloud that is COVID-19, it might be to make this the model for the office of the future. Alas, this may be the only positive impact we see from this accursed disease. Even as some workers get a break, many find that the pandemic has created an economic disaster for them and their families.

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Lower- and middle-income citizens have been affected in ways that surpass cruelty. A survey conducted in October by the Commonwealth Fund found that more than one-third of all adults in the United States reported increased stress, anxiety, and sadness; only one in three were able to get professional help to deal with those feelings. More than three in 10 experience negative economic impacts — job loss, inability to pay for basic necessities like food, heat or rent. These people were also the ones most likely to report having difficulties coping with stress. Not surprisingly, increased rates of domestic violence have also been reported. Moving forward into 2021 and beyond, all levels of government will have to respond to this group’s increased needs for assistance.

Late Sunday night, President Trump finally signed into law a bill that extends two programs that were part of the CARES act; The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation Program will continue for 11 more weeks. The relief package also extends eviction protection through January and provides rental assistance. After the Biden Administration takes office on January 20, a more comprehensive relief package is sure to be passed in the House and sent to the Senate, where Republicans will suddenly become deficit hawks. Some things just will not change, I guess.

Getting money to change hands is essential to economic recovery. Spending in 2020 is expected to be more than $500 billion less than in 2019. According to the Brookings Institute, it will take until around 2023 for the economy to reach the same level of per-capita spending as in 2019. Priming the economic pump requires a cash infusion. In the coming year, we should see that relief package targeted to increase spending by consumers, manufacturers, and businesses.

We will also see a change for the better in 2021 with a return to normalcy in Washington. We can all stand not to see the Sturm und Drang that marked the last four years.

Social and economic change will be the hallmarks of the coming year. How we work, how we spend our money and our leisure time, and how we socialize with one another will change. However you respond to the impact of the virus, and no matter how you view the incoming Biden Administration, I wish you a happy and especially, a healthy New Year 2021.

Mitch Edelman, vice chairperson of the Carroll County Democratic Central Committee, writes from Finksburg. His column appears every other Tuesday. Email him at mjemath@gmail.com.

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