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Keep These COVID Changes, Ditch the Rest 

JON WILCOX
  • JON WILCOX

Over the course of a few days in late February, I watched through my windows as workers emptied out my neighbor's house, filling one industrial dumpster and then another with the contents.

A sweet older couple had lived there since long before I arrived in the neighborhood. I didn't know them well, but we would wave and say hello. As my son grew old enough to toddle around my front yard, the husband would beeline over to coo at him like an adopted grandfather.

We kept our distance after the pandemic began but still waved. And then one day, an ambulance arrived and took the wife away. The husband left not long after. They never came back. I later heard that the wife had contracted COVID-19. She had survived, but in their weakened state, they had moved out of state to be closer to family.

The clean-out crew arrived shortly after and began piling what I imagine were decades-old belongings in the dumpsters. At night, I saw the silhouettes of scavengers in the giant metal bin, the beams of their flashlights sweeping over old chairs and metal shelves as they made rapid-fire judgments about what pieces of my neighbors' old life still had value and what would be left on the literal trash heap.

If you drove down my street, you wouldn't notice anything is different, but my neighbors' exit is one of a million ways the pandemic has changed our lives. This month marks a year since Americans at large began to wrestle with the incoming plague. Everyone had a moment or day it became real. I remember learning the St. Patrick's Day celebrations had been canceled and thinking, "Wow!" It seemed like the right move, but it still felt surprising to see big events put on hold.

In those early days, we believed that the shutdowns and cancelations would be short-lived, and we'd pick up where we left off. Now, it's clear that we are forever changed. We will do things we used to do again. We'll go to restaurants without masks and pack shoulder to shoulder in concert halls, travel to see relatives and go to the grocery store on a whim. But after twelve months of living more contained lives, we've had some time to think about how we want our new world to work. Did you spend more time in the park? Check in on your friends more? Are you entirely sick of Zoom? As we headed into this pandemic anniversary with vaccines rolling out (so slowly in St. Louis), we wanted to consider not just what's happened, but what our future will look like. Some of it is out of our control, but we managed to survive this year by figuring out what is important to us. We're not going back to our old lives, but we can figure what we want to keep and what to leave behind.

Doyle Murphy

Keep

Respecting the Restaurant Employees, Delivery Drivers and Grocery Store Workers Who Kept Us Fed and Soothingly Drunk

For a while there, we as a society flirted with the idea of finally treating delivery drivers, grocery store workers, servers and the like as the unsung heroes they truly are. Employers were handing out hazard pay, employees were cashing in bonuses for working in wildly uncertain circumstances, and those customers with any decency were tipping anyone they could like their money was on fire. It'd be nice if we could say it lasted, but soon things seemed to slide back to where they were at the start of all this, and those good people were left to fend for themselves financially and otherwise. This cannot stand! It's time we recognize all those who help to ensure that our bellies are full of sustenance. We're talking keys to the city, back hazard pay from when employers got back to their greedy default status, tips of at least 25 percent, but why not 50 to 100 percent — everything. If not for those who were willing to charge into the COVID-19 breach and ensure that the masses were not hungry, we'd be in far worse shape today. It's well beyond time we show our appreciation.

—Daniel Hill

Keep

Working Remotely

Now that we've proved that people can work from home, there's no reason to rush to get back to offices. If the job can be done at home, there's no reason why doing the job at home shouldn't be an option. While under great psychological and financial pressure, most of the country was able to transition to remote working with little to no warning. Working from home used to be considered a luxury situation, but now that we know that it works it should be the standard if at all possible. And if an employee fails at home, there are plenty of people out there looking for a job who would be happy to take their place. Having remote access also unlocks a whole world of employment for disabled and remotely located people, opening up positions to be filled by truly the most qualified, not just whoever can show up to an office.

—Jaime Lees

Leave Behind

Zoom Happy Hours

In the beginning of the pandemic, Zoom happy hours were a huge thing across the land. In order to be in style during those first terrifying weeks, one had to watch Tiger King, try to bake sourdough bread and engage in many Zoom happy hours. These online meetings were mostly just an excuse to get shifaced together because the world was ending. But now that we're a whole year into this mess, we don't need any excuse to get shitfaced. Who needs an audience to drink? This is not something that will continue into the After Times. In the After Times, we will drink to celebrate surviving, however broken.

—Jaime Lees

Leave Behind

Washing Our Hands, and All That Comes with It

For months, doctors were stumped as to why I was bleeding all the time.

I was just a kid, in middle school, and the backs of my hands seemed to be in a constant state of scaliness, red and bumpy and cracking frequently at the knuckles. At first, my pediatrician suspected eczema, then allergies. Over the course of several attempts to get to the bottom of the matter, we tried just about everything. We switched detergents, I stopped eating grains, I was told I could no longer pick dandelions and blow the seeds off of them, and on and on.

It would take those bloody knuckles being coupled with my mom coming home late from work one day — and the resulting full-tilt panicked meltdown I had before her eventual arrival, convinced something terrible must have happened — for us to figure out what was actually wrong: I had obsessive compulsive disorder. The skin on my hands was cracking because I was washing them compulsively. My meltdown came because I was obsessively worried about my loved ones' well-being.

Over years of therapy that, for a while, included the use of medication, I was able to get a handle on my OCD. That's not to say I was cured — I'm not certain such a thing is possible, really — but I was able to live for at least a decade with it serving as little more than background noise.

But then, along came COVID-19.

Suddenly, I was told that compulsively washing my hands was one of the most important things I could do to protect myself from the virus. Suddenly, worrying obsessively about my loved ones not only seemed far less irrational than it had been, it was downright sensible. Suddenly, I was thrust by global circumstance to face down the full wrath of my anxiety disorder once again. When I look at the cracked and broken skin on my hands now, I can't help but think about how mentally scarred so many of us are going to be from this COVID nightmare. We're not out of the woods yet, and there will be plenty of time to survey the damage and pick up the pieces once it becomes naught but an ugly memory, but it's important to recognize that these past twelve months have been nothing short of traumatic.

I hope that the sky-high rates of anxiety and depression brought on by the pandemic fade. I hope that the people who are suffering from some form of PTSD after all of this find the strength to reach out and get help. For my part, I hope that I'm able to shove my OCD back into the closet again when this is all over. I would love for it to be relegated to mere background noise once more. And I really, really hope I can stop washing my bloody hands so damn much.

—Daniel Hill

JON WILCOX
  • JON WILCOX

Keep

Adopting Lots of Pets

The equation is simple. Animals at shelters need permanent homes, we are all inside for the time being, and we even have more time on our hands to train a new pet. For those who are able to, it's the perfect time to welcome an animal into our homes. The so-called "pandemic puppies" may be the best thing to come out of this lockdown — while life has changed immensely for each of us, at least we're clearing out local shelters in the meantime.

And if you're considering adopting a pet, why not adopt a farm animal from Long Meadow Rescue Ranch? Imagine showing off your new goat to all your friends that just got a standard pandemic puppy. You can one-up your loved ones, and get a pet goat out of it.

That said, don't let the Sarah McLachlan song playing over the photos of sad puppies fool you — if you are not ready to care for another being besides yourself, do not adopt a pet. The outcome of the pandemic puppy surge is yet to come. You could always just adopt a plant instead.

—Riley Mack

Leave Behind

Livestreamed Music

If there was ever a case for the life-changing power of live music, it's all the livestreamed sessions that have happened during the pandemic. While valiant efforts and a good show of spirit, even the best livestreams couldn't touch the feeling you get from standing in front of a band or sitting in front of an orchestra and having your soul baptized with music. Future concerts are going to be epic, even if they're shit. If your band is crappy, get out there as soon as you can before everyone remembers that live music can suck, too. —Jaime Lees

Keep

Walking Alone in Your Neighborhood

When we had busy lives and were always rushing somewhere, some of us used our homes as little more than a place to sleep and a place to keep our stuff. But the slowed-down life (combined with a feeling of being absolutely trapped) surprised us with simple joys like walking in circles around our neighborhoods. In addition to being a nice way to get in a little exercise and burn off some stress, neighborhood walks are thrilling in many unexpected ways. Walkers get to literally see the seasons change, covertly spy on their neighbors and see all of the ways that nature makes sexually suggestive plant life. Highly recommended. —Jaime Lees

Keep

Making Government Meetings Accessible

The Pandemic Year started differently for everyone, from canceled vacations and lost jobs to the creeping, encompassing sensation that this was the end of things as we knew them. For Andre Holman, the station manager for STL-TV, St. Louis City's public access channel, the moment came when health authorities clamped down on gatherings of more than ten people — a category that included the very government meetings his crews had been filming for decades.

"It made us really have to pivot and think about how we do everything," Holman says. "The Board of Aldermen was the number-one thing we had to make sure we kept moving."

STL-TV has been filming the board's meetings since 1991, but in a matter of weeks, Holman and his staff worked with the city's IT department to set up multiple Zoom accounts for officials and parallel livestreams broadcast on YouTube or Facebook.

The process wasn't always easy. Between slow internet connections, echoing rooms and various human errors — in addition to at least one attempted "Zoom bombing" from a disruptive troll — the crews had to cover as many as ten committee meetings and a handful of mayoral press conferences every week.

"We were able to make sure residents didn't miss a beat," Holman says proudly. "If anything was taking place in city government, people had access to that information."

But with vaccine distribution steadily advancing across the state, we're approaching the day when "normal" no longer needs hypothetical quotation marks — and that's the day when local governments will be faced with decisions about what to do with the systems for remote participation they've honed over the past year.

For reporters and civic watchdogs, the remote systems made covering government vastly more efficient while also opening the door to anyone who wanted to watch two hours of aldermanic debate from the comfort of their home. Before COVID-19's shutdowns, few regional governments did more than upload meetings to YouTube at a later date; now, people who may have never had the opportunity, time or mobility to attend in-person meetings can follow proceedings live and, in some cases, submit questions beforehand or through chat functions.

Before the pandemic, St. Louis County made video recordings of its council meetings available on YouTube, but "there was no interactivity," says county IT director Chuck Henderson.

"If you wanted to interact with the council, you had to be in the room," he adds. "That's where we were a year ago."

Since then, Henderson says the county has moved to host its meetings through Webex, allowing administrators to balance interaction between officials and viewers while "controlling the flow" so the meetings don't devolve into crosstalk. (The meetings are still being streamed through social media platforms, though viewers there won't be able to participate.)

The improved access showed up in viewership, and Henderson says that the latest meetings have consistently attracted more than 150 participants — a number larger than the usual attendance at in-person meetings in the county's Clayton headquarters.

No decisions have been made about the future of these systems, but Henderson believes there's good reason to maintain them even after the pandemic restrictions are lifted. "We are recommending that they do keep it in place," he says. "It enables that hybrid environment so that if you have a council person who is out of state, they can still participate. You also have a greater outreach with people, and more people are viewing this content."

Of course, the return to physical meetings raises additional complications, and the decisions about how to balance remote viewing, online participation and in-person attendees will fall to the individual boards and committees in the city and county.

The upside, though, is clear. The pandemic showed just how crucial government action can be when the world is falling apart around us, and, someday, when the world settles just a bit, it would be worse than wasteful to close the now-opened windows to democracy in action. Let the people see — and stream.

Danny Wicentowski

Keep

Friendship

Ah, friends. Don't you miss them?

I had a friend once. His name was Caleb. Caleb and I were playing Hot Wheels one time in his backyard when a car jumped off the slide and hit me in the eye. His mom ran out and put a bandage on it. Another time we had a sleepover, and I couldn't find the bathroom so I peed my pants on accident.

Friends are great. I do miss them.

—Jack Killeen

Leave Behind

Sharing Bowls of Food with Our Hands

Everybody loves snacking on tortillas at a Mexican restaurant while their orders are being prepared, but it's going to feel really weird to do that after the pandemic passes. Why? Because it's dirty. We always knew that it was dirty, but now we have proof. There's no reason to spread germs like that. We can all still eat tortillas, but let's eat them out of our own small bowls instead of one big bowl. That's nasty. —Jaime Lees

Keep

Checking on Your Friends' Mental Health

We're only beginning to address the mental health crisis that happened to literally all of us over the past year. While our friends in health care are obviously exhausted beyond belief, tons of other people in our lives should be afforded some extra emotional care from loved ones in the future as well. It's going to be a long time before anyone is back to any kind of "normal" mental health, so continue to check in on your friends in the future. Just because the pandemic is (hopefully) coming to an end doesn't mean that the stress from the pandemic is ending, too.

—Jaime Lees

JON WILCOX
  • JON WILCOX

Keep

Dressing for Yourself

Zoom meetings and remote teleconferencing may be inferior to in-person communication in innumerable ways, but one manner in which it has been a damn blessing is when it comes to our wardrobes. Suddenly all of the rules for sartorial success were thrown out the window, and comfort became the only law of the land. As the old saying goes, "No one knows you're naked on a conference call," [EDITOR'S NOTE: IS THAT A SAYING?] and boy have we proven that timeless adage to be true again and again over the last twelve months. [WHAT?!] Working from home in nothing but a towel, coming up with new and exciting parts of the body to pull socks over, learning that a long-sleeve shirt can function just as well covering the lower half of your body as the top (better in some bathroom-related ways, even) — it's been a wild, wild ride. Heading into post-pandemic life, we should definitely keep that energy up. I mean, who knew it was possible to go a full year without wearing pants? [CALL ME WHEN YOU SEE THIS, DANIEL, WE NEED TO TALK.]

— Daniel Hill

Keep

Wearing Masks If We Might Be Sick

Flu numbers were way down this season, and that's because most of the country was keeping their ugly, germy faces covered. The best way to cut down on cooties of any kind is to strap some cloth to your face hole. Now that we all have masks, if you have to go out in public in the future while you have the sniffles, do everyone a favor and slap a mask on that thing.

—Jaime Lees

Leave Behind

Squeezing and Pressing the Flesh of Your Hands with the Flesh of Other People's Hands

Picture this: You walk into a job interview, nerves are high and you begin to feel self-conscious about the weird way you set down your briefcase next to your chair. You lean over the desk to greet your interviewer, arm jolting out from your side to meet theirs. Here comes the most pivotal moment of the interview: a firm handshake with your potential employer, the handshake that will determine whether you deserve $50,000 a year plus health coverage and dental.

Your palms slap together, and you clench your hand around theirs tightly. You feel confident in your grip until that devastating moment arrives: The warm juices of your nervous inner palm are transferred to theirs. You meet their gaze with fear in your eyes, as they look in horror at their hand, now covered in the profuse secretions of your anxiety. You can kiss your hopes and dreams of casual Fridays and taco Tuesdays in the office goodbye. You will wake up in a cold sweat thinking about this moment for years to come.

Smacking the flesh of our hands against a stranger's hand is weird, no matter what illness is ravaging our society. The pandemic has fundamentally changed us all. I pray that it has changed our post-pandemic greetings in the same way. Let's leave our germy handshakes to the clueless versions of ourselves from 2020.

—Riley Mack

Keep

To-Go Cocktails (It's a Start)

To-go alcoholic beverages came to St. Louis at just the right time. Granted, we'd have been happy to see them come along at any point since it's been legal for us to drink — but right at the start of a global pandemic? We were really damn thirsty, and that timing was perfect. As COVID-19 begins to fade from our lives and things settle back down, why don't we take our new love of alcohol on the go to the next level? It's time for this city to embrace the NOLA concept of walkaround drinks. Imagine bar-hopping in the Grove or on Cherokee Street with full rein to bring your beverages with you from place to place. Imagine hitting the Loop for an afternoon of shopping, grabbing a cocktail from Three Kings and marching gleefully down the street with it. We at RFT have been saying for a while now that the one thing that could save the Loop Trolley would be to convert it into a rolling bar and phone-charging station — why don't we seize the day and finally make this a reality? The time is now. If not now, then when?

—Daniel Hill

Leave Behind

Tongue Kissing

Ew. Absolutely abhorrent. "Tongue?!" everyone should be saying. "No thank you. I learned my lesson about germs during that pandemic."

I'm not certain of the number of bacteria transmitted every year through French kissing, but I'm sure it's a lot. Think about all of the other ways you can tell someone you like them: a nice card, a pat on the back, an affirming smile at just the right moment. And none of those things makes someone whose girlfriend recently broke up with them uncomfortable if they're sitting behind you on the bus while you perform them.

Yes, French kissing is really unsafe and we should get rid of it. It will be like wearing a bike helmet, except it involves the lack of doing an activity — all the easier to achieve!

And if said person on the bus taps your shoulder and says, very softly, kindly, "Excuse me, could you not do that? I'm going through a hard time right now because my girlfriend just broke up with me and it's really been tough," well, you should also turn your attention to this grieving soul and comfort them, not rudely glare before re-starting your aggressive germ exchange. And then maybe when that person gets up and sits somewhere else on the bus, don't throw gum in his hair, because he's self-conscious about his hair and that makes him think you don't like it.

It's a public health crisis!

—Jack Killeen

Keep

Expanding Sidewalks, Devoting Less Space to Cars

It was two years ago on the sidewalks of Paris, as I lolloped along with a crepe in hand, that I realized the structural malpractice besetting our nation: Our roads are too big, and our sidewalks are too small (Paris seems to have found an equilibrium between the two).

I think of this problem especially in commercial districts. Take the Delmar Loop. Parking spots line nearly every section of road from Kingsbury to Skinker. Cars dispute with jaywalking pedestrians over the right of way. Restaurants reach the end of their sidewalk after a few tables and chairs.

With the pandemic, we've had a break from this. As anyone who's been to the Loop in the past year has seen, restaurants like Salt + Smoke have been allowed to advance their dining tables into the street, behind barriers, for the sake of safer dining. And it's really nice. Sitting there with a pint and a mask, things seem more committed to being rather than going.

The discussion of city planning and cars can continue ad nauseam (cars, cars, cars, cars), and while it deserves a thorough examination — especially in St. Louis, where public transit is laughable and the sight of Manchester Road, with its sprawling asphalt, endless cars and tree-less horizon, incites a tenacious depression — this is not the time or place. For now, let's hope that what's happened in the Loop shows the benefits of prioritizing pedestrians over traffic. After all, it doesn't take much math to realize that the economic gain from giving a restaurant two parking spots' worth of sidewalk outweighs that of reserving the space for cars. And, like I said, it's nice.

—Jack Killeen

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