If the future realities of life mandate distancing, many institutions in America will need to restructure their physical space. This essay will discuss some significant examples.
The ultimate purpose of distancing is to decrease the transmission of disease, especially in a pandemic. The closer we are to each other, the more likely that disease will spread. Generally, experts say that about six feet of separation is a safe distance. This is not always the case. It’s dependent upon the characteristics of the disease being battled. For instance, coronavirus spreads by air and direct contact, supposedly. Other diseases might spread by blood and other bodily excrement exposure.
To this point, when greeting others in this day and age, some type of contact usually occurs. In a formal setting, it might be a handshake. In more personal encounters it could include a kiss or a hug. Frankly, these might be some of the most dangerous things to do if coronavirus is prevalent. For instance, it implies that family situations, where contact is pervasive, needs to be reconsidered.
Distancing is more of an issue in crowded places than sparsely populated areas. For instance, an airborne disease would likely spread more rapidly in New York City then in Fargo ND. The current pandemic has proven without a doubt that places with dense populations are more at risk than rural areas. In New York City, our apartment buildings, office spaces, restaurants, schools and bars are usually crowded. It will always be a challenge to maintain distance in these high density places. Could this inspire a change in location by some people from urban to rural locations for health reasons? Possibly, especially if the current pandemic is followed by another.
More specifically, the distancing issue becomes problematic in urban neighborhoods where many people go to restaurants for breakfast, lunch and/or dinner. There are hundreds of small places to eat in every big city. Virtually all of them are congested and would need significant redesign to offset distancing risks. Some say that outdoor restaurants could be the answer. In New York City, this strategy would not be effective from November to April when the weather is colder.
In urban areas, a plethora of office buildings are commonplace. Skyscrapers represent the biggest challenge. Thousands of people enter and exit these places each day. At a minimum, they arrive and depart by elevators. Many people lunch outside the building resulting in more close proximity. The movement of scores of workers in crammed elevators is one of the significant issues relating to distancing. Exacerbating the situation is the proximity of workers to each other while working in open office space.
It seems that the nature of real estate will change over time to deal with distancing. All the facilities where people work closely together will need to change radically. This may necessitate huge expenditures that will tax the resources of many companies. Even in large companies with blue collar workers on an assembly line, problems pervade.
Millions of people look for entertainment outside the home, a major challenge for those that encourage distancing. Whether it be drinking at a bar, dancing at a nightclub or watching a baseball game, close proximity of attendees is afoot. These are fertile places to build a pandemic. What will happen to these activities in the future is anybody’s guess.
For the time being, we could have a minor reprieve as the warmer months are upon on us. Children are also out of school now. People will flock to the oceans, lakes and other open areas. Restaurants can serve meals outside to possibly meet recommended distancing minimums. But how concert halls, sporting contests and such accommodate risks is a mystery at this point, other than to schedule events without any fans.
And perhaps, the likely scenario is that people will not worry about distancing as the pandemic subsides. A recurrence, or an entirely new disease may then cause us to regret that decision.