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Keep These COVID Changes, Ditch the Rest 

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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

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