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Zirpoli: Lessons and new traditions born of the pandemic | COMMENTARY

We are all waiting for the day when we can receive a COVID-19 vaccination, move on with our lives, and get back to what we remembered as normal. But will things really be the same? As we approach 300,000 dead Americans from this virus, many families have forever lost their normal.

I wish them peace.

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For sure, some old traditions like big Thanksgiving dinners and holiday traveling will return. But I think some new traditions — those we associate with this pandemic — will remain.

On a more personal level, I realize more than ever how lucky I am.

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While we all took pay cuts, most of us at McDaniel College didn’t have to worry about losing our jobs. Classes were held, although virtually.

My nonprofit provides essential services to people with disabilities; we had to stay open and operational. Thus, I never had to worry about job security as so many Americans have during this difficult time.

Understanding my family’s good fortune, we will be more generous with holiday donations this season and I hope others will do the same.

Some innovations born of the pandemic will hopefully continue. For example, telemedicine has been a wonderful tool for the provision of health care for the sick, elderly, and disabled. It has worked for me, for my 93-year old mother, and for the clients with disabilities at Target Community & Educational Services, the agency where I also work.

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In universal design language, telemedicine is beneficial for all but essential for some. It has taught us that while in-person appointments are sometimes necessary, they are not necessary for minor medical concerns or questions.

Some new traditions born of the pandemic will likely continue. My family has enjoyed and come to appreciate the outdoors more than ever as the many parks and trails around Carroll County have offered us safe refuge. And we have enjoyed dining and meeting with family and friends on our front porch or yard — safely distanced. The porch is long and wide. While one couple sits on one side of the porch, we sit on the other.

Order out to support a local restaurant and dinner is served. We have enjoyed dozens of meals this way and they have been fun. As the weather has become colder, we purchased electric blankets to keep us warm. I’m sure that we will continue this new tradition after the pandemic.

Virtual meetings and gatherings will continue, I believe. We have enjoyed chatting with family and friends virtually on our computers.

Many of these folks live far away. We likely would not have seen them even if there wasn’t a pandemic. But virtual meeting opportunities have taught us that “meeting” with far-away family and friends can happen with the magic of the internet.

I think virtual meetings at work will also continue. Many businesses are operating at near capacity without using their expensive office space. I know many law firms in big cities who have not had in-house meetings for months. Yet, they continue to pay millions of dollars in rent for space they no longer use. I doubt things will return to normal for many of these businesses.

Working at home will continue for many people as many businesses have warmed to the idea that workers don’t need to be at the office 9 to 5 to do their jobs and do them well. If the pandemic has made the workplace more accommodating for parents with young children or elderly parents in their care, then that’s a positive outcome, for sure.

Unfortunately, the pandemic has also shown us the more negative side of some folks. I have no patience for family and friends who refuse to wear a mask, and I have discontinued relationships with people who believe that COVID-19 is “a hoax,” “overblown,” or “just like the flu.” Life is too short to waste it on such foolishness.

The pandemic has also taught us that we are responsible for our own actions. In the end, how we take care of our family members, neighbors, friends, and co-workers, is up to us. Deciding to protect them by wearing a mask, is up to us. Deciding to avoid gatherings, even during the holidays, is up to us.

The pandemic has taught us about the power and limitations of our local, state, and federal leaders. It has taught us the benefits of strong leadership and the dangers of misinformation and lies. And we learned that many Americans can’t seem to tell the difference.

Life will not be the same post-pandemic. If it were, we would have learned nothing.

Tom Zirpoli is the program coordinator of the Human Services Management graduate program at McDaniel College. He writes from Westminster. His column appears on Wednesdays. Email him at tzirpoli@mcdaniel.edu.

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