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What does our future look like after the pandemic? Experts provide reassurance based off history

While COVID-19’s impact has been profound, some experts say it won’t be a “forever” scenario.

How does the world cope with life-altering events? What impacts do they have on the world and what will COVID-19 change in the days, months or years to come?

While no person can predict the future, experts and historians across the country agree on one thing, there’s always a future awaiting us.

“You just do see societies re-knitting themselves,” said Catherine O’Donnell, professor of history at Arizona State University and co-founder of Journal of the Plague Year: An Archive of COVID-19 .

Over the past century, America has survived and thrived in the wake of great adversity. From the 1918 pandemic, which killed as many as 50 million people worldwide, to the Great Depression, the Holocaust and September 11, each enormous event taught us lessons that helped spark growth and change.

“We’re always looking over the next horizon. We’re forward-looking people,” said Mary Frances Berry, former chairwoman of the United States Commission on Civil Rights and Professor of American Law at the University of Pennsylvania.

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Since the beginning of the novel coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., there have been more than 1.5 million confirmed cases, deaths have reached over 90,000 and 36.5 million unemployment claims have been filed. It's a grim reality for most.

“Inevitably these big shocks - and especially the really big ones - do leave permanent marks. And it’s often hard to anticipate what form they’ll take,” Doug Noonan, professor of public and environmental affairs at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, said.

However, while COVID-19’s impacts have already been starkly profound, it's not likely to be a “forever” scenario, according to history professor Luis Martinez-Fernandez of University of Central Florida.

“I think the changes are going to be profound and they’re going to stay around for a while,” Martinez-Fernandez said.

“People think we’ll Zoom forever or that school will be remote forever,” explains professor of strategic foresight at the NYU Stern School of Business, Amy Webb. “It’s unlikely that that’s our future.”

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Others also agree, while looking back at our history as a nation for insight and the changes that came with it.

“Often, there’s sort of an infusion of cultural expression and art that comes out of a tragic period,” O’Donnell said.

“What followed the 1918 pandemic? The Roaring Twenties. It was like a big party on steroids,” American urban studies theorist and Professor Richard Florida points out.

“Usually these communities bounce back and they bounce back to remarkably similar forms than they were before,” Noonan said.

“After this pandemic is over, there will be people wanting to be around other people, not isolated from other people,” Berry said.

While there may be no way to truly predict the future, a new tomorrow and life as we know it awaits us.

“We’re in a slippery situation right now and we can’t slam our foot on the breaks. We have to be willing to steer into the slide,” Webb said.

“Historians should not predict the future other than to say there always is a future,” O'Donnell reiterated.

11Alive is focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the virus. We want to keep you informed about the latest developments while ensuring that we deliver confirmed, factual information.

We will track the most important coronavirus elements relating to Georgia on this page. Refresh often for new information. 

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