Things We Learned to Live Without in 2020 — And How We Adapted

Concert At Bayerische Staatsoper In Munich

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Concert At Bayerische Staatsoper In Munich
Alexander Hassenstein / Staff / Getty Images Entertainment / Getty Images Europe / Getty Images CC

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A lot changed for Americans in 2020, whether we liked it or not. But with many challenges of COVID-19 and the ensuing quarantines, there were as many or more creative solutions to help us get used to and even thrive in a new normal. With one of the most tumultuous years of recent history drawing to a close, we're taking stock of some of the biggest changes to daily life, and how we've been able to respond.

Related: Iconic Activities Canceled by COVID-19 in Every State

Crowded Bar

What We Lost: Bars

Of all businesses, bars and nightclubs have been among the most affected by quarantine restrictions on social gatherings. They topped the list  in a COVID-19 risk scale for common activities by the Texas Medical Association, yet ranked last among activities people missed in a survey by USC's Center for the Digital Future. To make matters even bleaker for local watering holes, many official guidelines went harder on alcohol-dependent businesses than ones that serve primarily food.

Related: 30 Historic Dive Bars Across the Country

A view of a to-go dinner and cocktail at SpeakEasy Bar & Grill on May 09, 2020 in Newport, Rhode Island
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How We Adapted: Closings and To-Go Services

Many establishments weren't able to adapt. Some owners fought against government shutdown orders, but that hasn't stopped many bars from closing permanently amid a lack of revenue and ongoing maintenance costs. Those bars that have survived can seem like a shell of their former selves, relying on pickup windows or premade cocktail kits to serve customers. If there's any bright side, at least drinking outdoors has become somewhat less taboo, even despite of laws prohibiting public consumption.

Related: Boozy Gifts That Don Draper Would Endorse

View through the window of staff and customers inside Buns and Buns restaurant in Covent Garden Market, one of the most popular tourist sites in London, UK.
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A Mexican restaurant adapts to the Covid-19 lockdown

How We Adapted: Outdoor Seating and Online Ordering

Many restaurants have reopened with limited seating options or had to rely increasingly on their online presence and delivery options. In one survey by the delivery service Upserve, nearly half of restaurants reported their biggest challenge was transitioning to online ordering, compared with just 20% citing the lack of income to pay bills. As for the customers, eating at home has increasingly had to suffice, and many have come to rely on delivery and pickup options or honed their home-cooking skills.

Related: Copycat Recipes You Can Now Make at Home

A closed Sears retail store
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How We Adapted: Contactless Shopping

Retailers have had to alter their business strategies, mainly to focus more on ecommerce, curbside pickups, and other contactless shopping options. Customs such as free samples and fitting rooms are, at least for now, relics, and automated checkout has accelerated. Some businesses have seen sales plummet while others do better than ever due to the nature of their products and customers: Target, Walmart, and (especially) Amazon fared well by supplying many kinds of products in one stop, but mall-based retailers such JCPenney and J. Crew have filed for bankruptcy. From 30% to 49% of Americans expect to do more shopping online even after the pandemic, according to a McKinsey survey.

Related: Companies That Have Filed for Bankruptcy Since the Pandemic Began — and Which Ones Could Be Next

Little Free Library box full of books for borrowing by local residents, Middle Neck Road, Great Neck, New York, March 17, 2020
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How We Adapted: Ebooks and Little Free Libraries

Readers have found other ways to get their literature, and many libraries have gotten more creative in providing it. According to the International Federation of Library Associations, many libraries unable to stay open turned to book deliveries for vulnerable populations, sometimes partnering with taxi companies and the U.S. Postal Service. All types of libraries have either emphasized digital content or introduced new forms of it, migrating more of their catalogs and literacy programs online. In addition, Little Free Libraries — an international nonprofit offering volunteer-led "take a book, leave a book" boxes — have taken on added significance in areas they serve.

Related: Clever and Creative Gifts for Book Lovers

What We Lost: Movie Theaters
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What We Lost: Movie Theaters

By September 2019, the domestic box office for the United States and Canada was $11.4 billion in annual ticket sales. By the same time this year, that figure was only $2.05 billion. Movie theaters were one of many businesses forced to shut down starting in March, with most major studios shelving scheduled releases. Despite cautious reopenings from the summer onward, there's no sign that chains such as AMC and Cinemark will return to pre-pandemic revenue levels anytime soon.

Related: 14 Industries That Have Been Hit Hardest by the Pandemic

Wellfleet Drive In, Cape Cod

How We Adapted: Drive-Ins and Streaming Services

Streaming services had to step up like never before. Providers such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Disney+ experienced record surges in viewership and subscriptions, and U.S. households with at least one streaming subscription jumping by 2.5 million, or 74%. Media companies such as Disney pivoted to emphasize streaming content and Universal  changed release schedules to favor home video. While the conventional theater experience may be out the window until consumers feel safe in crowds again, socially distanced drive-ins have gained new relevance after decades of decline.

Related: Walmart Drive-In Theaters and Other Places to Catch a Movie Outdoors

office job senior woman

What We Lost: Working in the Office

Since the pandemic popularized the concept of "essential workers," nonessential ones have had to contend with often-downsized roles in a quarantined world. Many if not most businesses transitioned to telecommuting options, leaving employees to find a new rhythm in working from home rather than a crowded office.

Related: 25 Expert Tips for a Healthy Work-Life Balance While Working from Home

Close up of a young family using a laptop in the morning , while the father is talking on the phone

How We Adapted: Increasing Work from Home Options

According to a survey of 1,000 Americans by the Coronavirus Disruption Project, 42% of workers said the quarantine made them want to work from home more, expressing appreciation for the increased flexibility and lack of commute time. And companies surviving with online applications such as  Zoom and Slack will be hard pressed to argue against it. The shift hasn't been all positive; more than 40% of telecommuters in one global survey said their  mental health had declined since the outbreak. Reopening offices face challenges in policies for health screenings, staggered shifts, and desk placements and will have reason to reevaluate staffing for the digital age.

Related: Where to Relocate If You're Working Remote Full-Time

3.2 Million File Unemployment Claims As Economy Reels From COVID-19 Pandemic
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What We Lost: Job Security

In many ways, those who just had to work from home were the lucky ones. In an economic downturn inseparable from the outbreak, more than 14 million Americans lost their jobs; unemployment spiked to 13% from 3.8% in just three months, more than during two years of the Great Recession. What's more, the strains of unemployment disproportionately affected Black, Latino, indigenous, and immigrant households, as well as those with lower levels of education.

Related: 21 Ways to Cope With Long-Term Unemployment

Protesters Set Up A Barricade In Portland To Prevent Eviction
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How We Adapted: Welfare, Protests, Less Pollution

Government responded with relief measures — such as the $2.2 trillion CARES Act in March — often subject to criticism for favoring large corporations at the expense of more vulnerable populations and businesses. While many have struggled to afford food and rent, some have also been inspired to reduce their consumption, spend more time on fitness and family, and even devote themselves to social activism, helping this summer's anti-police brutality protests become likely the largest movement in U.S. history. City dwellers noticed improvements in air quality and increased wildlife presence, and satellite data confirmed a drop in atmospheric pollution over industrial centers across Europe and Asia as traffic lessened and factories closed, reducing annual global emissions by an estimated 8%.

Related: 12 Places Nature Is Thriving as Humans Retreat During the Lockdown

doctor's office equipment

What We Lost: In-Person Health Care

Health care systems and hospitals were pushed to their extreme — and sometimes beyond — in responding to COVID-19. Average citizens had even more reasons than usual to avoid seeking medical care, such as the shortage of resources, greater risk of infection, and economic hardship. In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found considerably increased symptoms of anxiety, depression, and suicidal thinking from April to June compared with 2019, particularly among young adults, racial and ethnic minorities, essential workers, and unpaid adult caregivers.

Related: How Will the Pandemic Affect My Health Insurance Costs?


How We Adapted: Telemedicine

Medical professionals and patients learned to rely more on email, online portals, and video conferencing for diagnoses and treatment; newly waived fees and Medicare allowances enabled the change. The Cleveland Clinic, for example, reported that demand for virtual visits rose more than 1,000% near the start of the outbreak. Reflecting this shift was the increase in profits and prominence of telehealth and online therapy. Given the benefits of reduced travel and wait times, use of these services are expected to stay high.

Related: 14 Telemedicine Services for Health Care at Home During the Pandemic

Cropped shot of a group of young friends toasting during a dinner party at a restaurant

What We Lost: In-Person Hangouts

Hanging out with friends and family in 2020 wasn't as simple and innocent a proposition as it used to be. Having dinner or spending time indoors with anyone outside a household would pose at least a moderate risk of COVID transmission, and could be fraught with guilt, social stigma, and weighty moral calculations.

Related: 20 Ways for Older Relatives to Stay Connected With Loved Ones While Social Distancing

How We Adapted: The Rise of Zoom and Teleparty

How We Adapted: The Rise of Zoom and Teleparty

When face-to-face contact wasn't an option, face-to-screen had to do. Platforms such as Zoom became essential for staying in touch, preserving our ability to connect even if sacrificing subtler levels of social engagement. Teleparty (formerly Netflix Party) offered another outlet to connect by streaming synced entertainment to groups. According to the Coronavirus Disruption Project, people reported their close relationships largely hadn't suffered from the pandemic. This suggests video conferencing may remain a more relevant way to connect going forward — though hopefully, not the main way.

Related: Products to Make Long-Distance Holiday Celebrations Easier


What We Lost: Handshakes and Hugs

With even the slightest amount of direct human contact potentially contributing to the spread of a virus, the standard etiquette of handshakes and hugs suddenly became taboo, at least for anyone outside immediate households or inner circles.

Related: 12 Things You Likely Won't See at the Next Wedding You Attend

New elbow greeting COVID-19 alternative handshakes
Concert Tickets

What We Lost: Spectator Events

Whether you're a fan of sports, music, comedy, or Q&A discussions, 2020 turned out to be a slow year for live entertainment. The pandemic forced musicians, lecturers, podcast hosts, and other entertainers to cancel planned tours and shows often at the last minute, while sports leagues could carry out seasons only under often bizarre and even flat-out dangerous new conditions. All the cancellations and postponements marked the biggest disruption to international sports since World War II.

Related: 15 Iconic Music Venues Across America

Livestream ballet concert in empty theater
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How We Adapted: Live Streaming

Events such as the Tokyo Olympics have been postponed, though sports have also tried other adaptations — basketball resumed the 2019-2020 season in the "NBA bubble,” a spectator-free isolation zone within Walt Disney World in Orlando. The music industry suffered the loss of millions of dollars in projected revenue, affecting not just artists and studio employees but the owners of now-shuttered venues. The biggest comfort for fans has been the proliferation of livestreaming performances and seminars, which became easier than ever to schedule, given that performers and lecturers were stuck at home just like everyone else.

Related: 10 Businesses Americans Will Avoid Even After They Reopen

More Accessibility

What We Lost: In-Classroom Learning

One of the biggest challenges of the pandemic was education. School closings to prevent the spread of disease uprooted the routines of children and parents, and pressures over when and how to reopen schools became one of the year's most controversial debates — which, in 2020, is really saying something.

Related: What a Teacher Wants You to Know About Homeschooling

 girl using laptop for online study during homeschooling

How We Adapted: Virtual Curriculum & Home Activities

When in-person schooling wasn't available, teachers and students migrated online. Virtual curriculum options such as Khan Academy, Coursera, and Byju became more widely integrated into lesson plans, and video conference-based instruction in general. The strain put on some families helped highlight the roles schools play in keeping society functioning normally, as well as the inequities of digital access between school districts and individual households. While the CDC worried that "in-person contacts provide opportunities to facilitate social-emotional development that are difficult, if not impossible, to replicate through distance learning," digital technologies still proved their merit at least as supplemental learning tools. There are many reasons to think some of these changes will endure.

Related: Where to Find Online Classes for Kids Home From School

Close up of two seniors at a train station

What We Lost: Travel

Cruises, jet-setting vacations, and even weekend road trips became more difficult to justify, and given how hard-hit the United States was by the pandemic, travelers with U.S. passports were prohibited from traveling to all but nine countries without restrictions. As a result, the U.S. Travel Association recently projected a 45% decline in industry revenues for the year, a $519 billion loss.

Related: 1 in 4 Avid Cruise Goers: 'I'll Never Go on a Cruise Again'

Woman packing suitcase for summer trip, including face masks and travel-sized antibacterial hand gels

How We Adapted: Staying Home & Stricter Precautions

The lack of traffic on major highways was good for would-be roadkill, reducing animal casualties the world over. Online cooking classes and other cultural experiences may have helped during a lull in leisure travel, but there's no question that having to stay home so long has whetted many people's appetites for a proper vacation. The industry might look different post-pandemic, though, with cleanliness and sanitation a much higher priority — contributing to higher costs — and self check-in kiosks and vacation rentals becoming more popular. Expect also to see fewer business travelers and more high-tech contact tracing protocols, raising discussions over privacy rights and the implications of international travel.

Related: Marriott and Other Major Hotels That Now Require Guests to Wear Masks

You Have Subway Blindness
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What We Lost: Mass Transit

City buses, subways, and train cars were another everyday setting that became practically horrifying. When commuters and other riders couldn't simply stay home, they had to cope with often drastic delays and other changes in services, particularly from reduced capacities. In July, Transit App recorded a 58% national reduction in use of transit from the prior year.

Related: 18 Cities Where You Can Live Car-Free

people wear surgical mask face protection and keep social distancing while waiting in line at metro or train station

How We Adapted: Less Transit

Mass transit services did their part to limit capacities and discourage nonessential trips, even at the expense of revenues. Demand remained highest in communities with concentrations of essential workers and vulnerable populations, and companies may increase their focus on servicing the economically disadvantaged and on equity initiatives. Still, that depends on overcoming budget crises — and likely adopting safety technologies such as temperature checks as well as spacing out passengers, which might help restore faith and ridership numbers faster.

Related: These Infrared Thermometers Can Check Temperatures Without Contact

Couple hugging and smiling

What We Lost: Seeing Each Other's Faces

If someone from the halcyon days of 2019 could time travel a year into the future, what would be the first difference they notice? The masks. Though already commonplace in some Asian nations and communities, masks meant to stem the spread of contagion have become ubiquitous and, in many cases, mandated throughout the Western world as well.

Related: Walmart, Gap, and These Other Major Retailers Now Require Masks

Face Masks

How We Adapted: Face Mask Fashion

Masks are almost certainly here to stay, though they probably won't remain as prevalent. No, we won't be required to wear face coverings once the threat of pandemic has died down, but they've still invaded our cultural consciousness, and it won't be bizarre to see people wearing them for some sense of security in crowded settings. Reusable masks are expected to grow to a $7.1 billion global market by 2027.

Related: Masks and Accessories to Make Covering Your Face More Comfortable

Man's hands wearing rubber gloves holding product in a supermarket during an epidemic of an infectious disease

What We Lost: Flour, Yeast, and Other Goods

Along with other dry and canned goods, there were widespread shortages on the bread making essentials of flour and particularly yeast early this year, as many turned to the domestic arts for a quarantine-friendly creative outlet. Supply chains were unprepared to handle this unprecedented spike in demand, up 410% from the prior year, namely because the busy season for baking commodities usually wouldn't occur until the winter holidays. Cleaning products such as Clorox and Lysol wipes remain hard to find, though the shortage most will remember is probably toilet paper.

Related: 11 Essential Things More Expensive Because of the Pandemic

Close-up of sourdough starter and flour in jars. Yeast is on kitchen counter. It is in glass container.

How We Adapted: Bread Starters and Bidets

When grocery stores failed to provide active dry yeast, bakers got collaborative and creative. Some restaurants and home cooks were able to commune and share their supply, while others just shared knowledge, offering handy DIY instructions for fermenting one's own yeast. Excitement over homemade sourdough starters briefly became a viral phenomenon, so hopefully many households can now enjoy better, fresher baked goods. The toilet paper shortage, meanwhile, brought people in another direction: America finally met the bidet.

Related: How to Prepare for Another Round of Stay-at-Home Orders  

Two strong young women exercising in the gym and lifting weights

What We Lost: Gyms and Salons

In-person businesses focused on exercising and beautifying the body were another casualty of spring shutdowns, since gyms and salons tend to be high-touch industries. In a sample of 2,000 international fitness businesses, the consultant Glofox found attendance and class bookings reached a low-point at the end of April, down 95% from early March. Similarly, the global beauty industry was expected to see a 15% decline, compared with a standard 4% to 5% annual growth. Salons often have razor-thin profit margins of 2% to 17%, so many were among the small businesses forced to shut their doors permanently.

Related: Essential Changes Non-Essential Businesses Are Making to Reopen

A father enjoys doing strength training with his children in their living room, following a video tutorial on the internet. Part of the regular routine or the new normal of COVID-19 / Coronavirus.

How We Adapted: Digital Fitness Classes and Cosmetic Sales

The transition to digital fitness kicked into overdrive when gyms could no longer provide in-person instruction. Large chains and standalone gyms alike started to rely more on online classes, setting the stage for a hybrid of fitness offerings in the future. Online adoption and returns to in-person fitness have been sluggish, however, compared with other nations. Similarly, ecommerce sales had to make up some of the difference for beauty salons and retailers' losses from the lack of in-store purchases and appointments. More creative solutions included outdoor seating like in restaurants, or use of shields, but customers have taken more personal control over their beauty and skin-care regimens that now have to account for largely covered faces. Still, salon demand is expected to rebound once pandemic-related hygiene fears abate.

Related: The Most Important Thing to Do When Cutting Your Own Hair