Summer is officially over today. And as the US transitions into its first coronavirus fall and winter life will look far from normal for many Americans.
Over the next coming months, more time indoors will make the virus easier to spread. The celebration of holidays that are the hallmarks of the season will have to be altered to reduce the spread of the virus. For many annual winter vacations to warmer destinations will be called off.
Trick-or-treating and Thanksgiving are not cancelled, but life will likely be a lot more toned down over the next few months. Here is a peek at what this pandemic fall and winter will look like.
Covid-19 spreads far more effectively indoors than outdoors. As temperatures start to drop in many parts of the country over the next few months, people will seek shelter from the cold indoors.
This does not bode well for places like the north-east, which has seen a dramatic drop in cases over the summer as the weather started to warm and people headed outside more. Manufacturers of patios and hearths have reported unprecedented sales as people have sought to stay outside.
On the flip side, temperate winter weather across the sun belt could diminish spread of the virus in the region as people head outdoors after a summer of extreme temperatures.
Fall means the start of a new school year. But instead of new outfits and early mornings waiting for the school bus, nearly all American students will be doing some type of virtual learning for the foreseeable future.
The decision to reopen schools for in-person classes varies dramatically from district to district, but some of the largest school districts in the country have said they will be doing virtual-only. Others have opted for a “blended” model, having smaller groups of students alternate coming in for in-person classes and then staying home for online lessons.
In schools that have reopened, masks and barriers around individual students desks have become common. Schools are trying to clean and sanitize more than ever. But the possibility of a positive case in the school community looms large.
“When you speak to educators, it’ll be very clear to you that they’re thinking about two weeks out. That’s about as far out as they’re able to plan right now,” said Bob Farrace, director of public affairs for the National Association of Secondary School Principals.
In US colleges and universities, the future is similarly uncertain. Many campuses have recently started experimenting with reopening their campuses, and a handful are already seeing outbreaks of cases. Multiple universities have reported over a thousand active student cases as students arrived on campus.
Robert Kelchen, a professor of higher education at Seton Hall University, said now that students are back on campus, schools will have tough decisions about what to do if an outbreak occurs on campus.
“Colleges will have a hard time emptying out the residence halls and sending students home if there’s an outbreak, because that just spreads the virus everywhere,” Kelchen said.
For epidemiologists, nothing is more scary about Halloween this year than the idea of huge groups of people congregating in the same small area.
Costume parties thrown by adults come with big risks, but there is some hope for children looking to trick-or-treat this year.
“Trick-or-treating is something that can still go on and happen safely with just a few measures in place,” said Sandra Albrecht, assistant professor of epidemiology at Columbia University.
To mitigate potential spread, trick-or-treaters will have to stay in as small of groups as possible with fewer adults supervising than usual. Everyone giving and taking candy should be wearing masks that cover their nose and mouths.
Though health experts are less concerned about the virus spreading by the handling of candy, treat-givers should consider distributing goodies with tongs or grabbers, or even consider finding a creative way to toss candy at trick-or-treaters. One epidemiologist with Dear Pandemic, a Covid safety advice effort on social media, said she is planning on dressing up as a pageant queen, throwing candy off a home-made parade float in her yard
Traveling home for the holidays
Last Thanksgiving, over 55 million people traveled to visit family around the holiday. This year will have to be different in order to prevent the spread of the virus.
Albrecht said three things make the spread of the virus more likely during the holidays: the influx of traveling, big gatherings of people and indoor celebrations that involve lots of eating.
But that does not mean holiday celebrations should be cancelled. “[The holidays are] important for mental health, it’s part of life and enjoying life. We want to make sure that people are able to enjoy the holidays, but safely so that we’re not contributing to transmission of Covid,” Albrecht said.
The lowest risk holiday celebrations will be ones that take place over video conferencing, which may be ideal for people who are the highest risk of the worst effects of the virus. But families can evaluate the risks they are willing to take and brainstorm ways they can minimize potential spread.
People who will be traveling to spend time with elderly or other high-risk family members would want to consider wearing masks even while inside the house. Depending on the availability of tests in the coming months, families could also consider taking on an active testing strategy, having everyone in attendance get tested relatively close to the day of the holiday.
Traveling by car would be the least risky way to see family for the holidays, but for those who have to travel longer distances, air travel is not completely out of question.
When flying, masks and hand-washing are a must, and travelers may want to consider choosing air carriers that are taking more serious Covid-19 mitigation strategies, Albrecht said. Especially if a person will be spending time with high-risk family members, getting tested or quarantining for several days after they arrive at their destination could minimize risk of spreading the virus.
Black Friday is pretty much an official American holiday in itself, bringing in $7.2bn for retailers in 2019 and marking the start of the holiday shopping season.
Over the last few years, more people shopping on Black Friday have done so online than in typical brick-and-mortar stores. The pandemic will only exacerbate this trend, pushing nearly all shopping online around the day. Major stores like Walmart, Target and Best Buy all announced they will not open stores on Thanksgiving evening, as they have in the past, to discourage crowding from shoppers. “
There is going to be concerns about crowds, going into public areas that have lots of shoppers. More consumers are going to turn to e-commerce. What used to be Black Friday where the malls were packed, we’re going to see that volume and that traffic hitting the e-commerce platform,” said Natalie Kotlyar, head of retail and consumer products at consulting firm BDO.
Shopping centers that are open will likely have to continue operating at reduced capacity, open as spots to pick up online orders and for minimal in-person browsing. Pictures with Santa Claus at the mall are pretty much out of question.
Retailers whose brick-and-mortar stores cater to tourists will likely suffer the most this upcoming holiday season. In New York City, which is typically stuffed with tourists trying to see elaborate window displays during the holiday season, rent prices for businesses have dramatically dropped and luxury brands are suing to get out of their leases.
Ski resorts and warm weather destinations like Florida are reimagining their seasons and expecting fewer vacationers, with jobs hanging in the balance.
“What we know is this season isn’t going to look like our last several, it’s going to look different,” said Adrienne Isaac, spokesperson for the National Ski Area Association. Ski areas are a major economic driver in rural communities, employing 500,000 people, Isaac said.
Americans will already be familiar with the NSAA’s recommended best practices – require masks, physical distance, and limit indoor gatherings, including at the lodges and restaurants beloved at the end of a day on the mountain.
In another common winter destination, Florida, the state’s beaches and backwoods have become a breathing space for pandemic-weary residents. In 2019, the tourist season brought more than 133 million visitors to the state for winter getaways.
But recent surveys by the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association suggest only one-third of the state’s potential visitors feel comfortable traveling to Florida now after the state was one of the most high-profile examples of unbridled coronavirus spread this summer.
“We certainly expect demand to be a little softer than normal,” said Goeff Luebkemann, senior vice-president at the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association. “There is certainly lingering consumer confidence issues as we move from the summer seasons to the fall and winter seasons.”