When we think of the coronavirus pandemic, we don’t often think of the things that we’ve learned as a result of this global catastrophe. The truth is, the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us a lot about the world, about ourselves as flawed human beings, and about how we had a major hand in causing it.
So, with no clear end in sight as of now, let us reflect on our current situation and examine what this pandemic has taught us.
1. The meat industry has almost singlehandedly caused this pandemic
Perhaps the most important thing we’ve learned, or at least the gravest revelation we realized, is that humanity caused this pandemic, and that it could have been avoided.
While the exact origin of the virus is still highly debated, we know that it originated in the wet markets of the Chinese city of Wuhan, where live animals are slaughtered and traded as food and for other purposes.
A recent study of COVID-19’s (officially SARS-CoV-2) genetic sequence indicates it most probably originated in bats, and that it was likely transmitted to humans through a scaled mammal called a pangolin. Pangolins are highly traded in China despite being deemed illegal, and a notable Chinese study “found that samples from coronavirus patients were 99% identical to samples of the virus taken from wild pangolins,” China’s official Xinhua news agency reported earlier this year.
While no conclusive evidence has been presented yet, the fact remains that it’s highly likely that COVID-19 is a zoonotic disease, meaning it was transferred to humans from animals, like the H1N1 and Ebola (suspected but not confirmed) viruses.
It is time governments put more thought into regulating the meat industry and into researching the threats that we expose ourselves to by trading in meat.
2. Nature can recover from our destructive efforts
In the early days of the pandemic, when countries were shutting down and enforcing lockdowns in a panic, we began noticing that nature was actively reclaiming the planet.
“As cities have shut down around the world, the world has seen coyotes on the streets of San Francisco, peacocks dancing in Mumbai, wild boar roaming in Barcelona, a resurgence of bees and rare wildflowers in the UK, other animals reclaiming human spaces and a report that suggests that within 30 years much of the ocean could be restored to full health,” Nishan Degnarain, Development Economist, writes for Forbes.
This realization is simultaneously optimistic and condemning. Essentially, nature has always been on the cusp of recovery, but our unrestrained attempts at stripping the planet bare of its resources are constantly holding off this recuperation.
3. Employees can in fact from work from home
For years, we’ve seen employee requests to work from home denied, for many reasons, most of which are backed by paper-thin excuses from managers.
“The real reason you’re not allowed to work from home (WFH) is that managers at all levels are fearful of change and especially fearful of change that requires them to step out of their comfort zone,” HR expert Liz Ryan writes for Forbes. “Leaders who cannot trust themselves enough to hire people they can trust will always revert to power and control mechanisms, including forcing people to drive a car or take a train to work every day so that their supervisors can keep an eye on them.”
COVID-19, whether these managers and companies like it or not, finally catalyzed change in the workspace. And lo and behold, the business world did not break down. In fact, many employees report being happier and more productive at home.
If there are a few positive outcomes from this pandemic, this is one of them.
4. Humans are social creatures first and foremost
Despite being blessed with the internet to keep us connected, we realized that even swathes of friends across Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and WhatsApp are not enough to keep us from feeling isolated and lonely during a lockdown. Even as restrictions have eased, COVID-19 cases are not decreasing, and social distancing regulations are still in effect, meaning we are still encouraged to avoid being around each other. Concerts, cinemas and sports events are still a no go, and most schools and universities are still closed. Even cafes and restaurants that are operating at limited capacity are a sight for sore eyes, with many either empty or looking that way because of the limited amount of people allowed in at any one time.
“The current scale of SD (social distancing) is unprecedented and may lead to significant and lasting negative psychological effects,” writes Dr. Katie Lewis. These symptoms include anxiety, depression, loneliness, feelings of frustration, and even anger.
Add to that human touch deprivation and you’ve truly got a recipe for disaster on your hands.
“Touch deprivation” can impact people on a psychological and even physical level, Dacher Keltner, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, tells TIME magazine. “Big parts of our brains are devoted to making sense of touch and our skin has billions of cells that process information about it,” he says. “The right type of friendly touch—like hugging your partner or linking arms with a dear friend—calms your stress response down. [Positive] touch activates a big bundle of nerves in your body that improves your immune system, regulates digestion and helps you sleep well. It also activates parts of your brain that help you empathize.”
This could be why many people that live alone, especially during the pandemic, value having cats or dogs they can pet and embrace.
Indeed, the pandemic has reminded us of the importance of human communication and contact.
5. Personal hygiene could make or break societies
It is a bit unfair to indiscriminately accuse people of bad hygiene for transmitting the coronavirus. After all, no one can be faulted for rubbing their eyes or touching their nose in a public environment after shaking hands or being in someone’s presence. In normal circumstances, there would no issues with this, except maybe in flu season, but even then it’s not often a big deal.
However, in a world terrorized by the invisible threat that is coronavirus, those simple gestures can be the difference between life and death, and routine hand washing has to be more rigorous to put a curb on the virus. Masks today are mandatory (and should be if they’re not yet). In fact, a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) found that requiring people to wear masks in epicenters of new coronavirus cases may have prevented tens of thousands of infections from the virus, as cited by Advisory Board.
There’s no denying the science. It’s time to put that hand sanitizer to use, and to be more aware of the surfaces we touch and to be careful when interacting with others. Perhaps, we can emerge form this pandemic as a world with better hygiene habits.
These are just 5 lessons we’ve learned from COVID-19. We’ve certainly got a lot more to learn.