COVID-19’s silver linings

COVID-19 has changed all of our lives, and not always for the better. But there are a few upsides.

SCREENSHOT FROM Full-Body Flow by Yoga with Adriene (pictured with dog Benji, a fan favorite). (photo credit: YOUTUBE)
SCREENSHOT FROM Full-Body Flow by Yoga with Adriene (pictured with dog Benji, a fan favorite).
(photo credit: YOUTUBE)
COVID-19 has changed all of our lives, not necessarily for the better. But beyond the risk entailed by simply stepping out of the house, there have been a few silver linings. In addition to what are by now almost clichés (“more time for reflection,” “working from home cuts the commute”), here are eight surprising benefits.
1. Yoga with Adriene. At the beginning of the first lockdown, with extra time and anxiety addling my brain, I decided to add yoga to my morning routine. I couldn’t go to a physical class, of course. That’s where Adriene Mishler comes in.
Search “yoga” on Google, and Adriene comes up first on the video search results – and for good reason. With hundreds of free sessions, there’s always something fresh to watch from the popular Austin, Texas-based YouTuber who bears a fair resemblance to another flexible star, Israel’s Wonder Woman, Gal Gadot.
My wife Jody was already working out with Adriene videos; now we laugh together at her corny jokes during downward dog.
2. A safer outdoors. In March and April, the Internet was awash in images of skies suddenly free of pollution. A picture of New Delhi’s India Gate, now strikingly visible, went viral. CO2 emissions in New Zealand and San Francisco dropped about 80%.
These trends were unfortunately short-lived; when the lockdowns lifted, air quality jumped back to pre-pandemic levels.
But one area of outdoor improvement seems to have stuck: a reduction in road accidents. Jerusalem, for example, saw a drop in road casualties in April of 54%, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics. When the closure lifted, injuries shot up, but there was still a decrease of 27% in May and 21% in June compared to the previous year.
3. Less non-COVID illnesses. It was at some point in August that Jody and I realized neither of us had gotten sick with summer colds. In southern hemisphere countries, the incidence of winter flu was way down, too: In July and August 2019, Australia recorded more than 131,000 cases of influenza. This year: 315.
Credit that to masks, social distancing, handwashing and restrictions on large events. Perhaps the flu + COVID-19 doubleheader dreaded for this winter may not come to pass.
The flipside: We could be protecting ourselves too much. Exposure to pathogens (the less virulent ones, at least) helps build overall immunity.
4. No more invitation pressure. The constant back-and-forth of social invitations, whether that’s for a Shabbat meal or a coffee date, can be stressful. Who do you want to reach out to that you’ve never had over before? To whom do you “owe” a reciprocal invitation? Is the ball in someone else’s court now? With corona, there are no invitations, so no worries.
That’s a glass-half-full way of looking at things, because no invitations also means more loneliness and isolation.
A weird bonus that I’ve come to appreciate: The doorbell rarely rings anymore, since no one just “stops over,” so I don’t have to pause what I’m doing to see who’s there.
5. Reduced FOMO. Before corona, Jody and I were out a lot: concerts, classes, Kabbalot Shabbat. While I miss the cultural richness, sometimes it seemed the fear of missing out was driving our decisions more than desire. It was exhausting.
Do I prefer watching Michael and Shimrit Greilsammer perform on Facebook Live, even if I can replay the concert later? Not really. But I don’t miss the crowds, the pushing, the cellphones ringing and the whispering (or outright talking) in public spaces. I had long ago stopped going to the movies; I’d rather stay at home where it’s quiet and I’m in control of the remote. Now I can.
6. Reservations at nature reserves. Fifty-nine percent of Israelis surveyed in Shmuel Rosner’s book #IsraeliJudaism: Portrait of a Cultural Revolution say they may go hiking or to the beach on Shabbat and holidays. Accordingly, national parks are overflowing on weekends. Even though being outdoors is safer than gathering indoors when it comes to virus transmission, an overabundance of picnickers is still a concern. So, when national parks reopened after the first lockdown, they required visitors to preregister online.
The approach seemed too radical. “Israelis are spontaneous; they will never abide by such rules.” But it’s working. And park-goers report they’ve never enjoyed a visit to the nature reserves as much as they have in recent months.
7. That Zoom Seder. We weren’t looking forward to spending Passover alone. Plus, this year, the grandparents had planned to join us in Israel. Therefore, I welcomed the ruling by Rabbi Eliyahu Abergel and other municipal rabbis who decreed that videoconferencing could be used for the holiday, as long as the video was turned on beforehand. In addition to conferencing in our kids in Sderot, we also included the family in California. Sure, it was morning there, but it made for one of our most memorable Seders. The ruling was formally for “times of emergency,” but I suspect it may become a new Passover tradition.
8. Road-tripping. With overseas travel effectively canceled for now, Jody and I have been exploring what’s right here. Instead of one two-week-long vacation blowout, we’ve been taking half-day midweek excursions to outdoor hot spots we’ve heard about for years but never visited: the Apollonia and Hof Hasharon national parks; Jerusalem’s Ha’arazim Valley, between Ramot and Motza; the Hula Valley, to watch the bird migration. It took only a pandemic to prompt us to check out what’s in our own backyard.
The writer’s book, Totaled: The Billion-Dollar Crash of the Startup that Took on Big Auto, Big Oil and the World, is available on Amazon and other online booksellers.