CityWatch: The Great Pandemic is really the Great Accelerator

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“Coronavirus Changes Everything,” and everyone knows it.

Hardly a day goes by anymore that some version of that headline doesn’t spring to life again, declaring the end of the Old Normal, the start of the New Normal and good luck to anyone who dares to stand between the two.

If you think that’s a wild exaggeration, get a load of these:

Politico: “Coronavirus Will Change the World Permanently. Here’s How.”

Forbes: “COVID-19 Will Permanently Change The Way Every Generation Lives.”

The Los Angeles Times even put it in past tense, suggesting the deal is already done: “Coronavirus changed everything, including common language.”

And don’t worry, MarketWatch was right there, too. “The coronavirus changes everything in New York: Let us count the ways.” And what media-mob columnist would dish up such flagrant unoriginality?

OK. Guilty as charged.

But that last one appeared April 24, nearly four months ago, and everyone has learned so much about the deadly virus since then, especially in New York, the American city where the disease had its first crashing wave and also its first big reversal.

And New York is first again, this time in discovering that the Great Pandemic of 2020 doesn’t so much change everything as it speeds everything up. After all we’ve been through, we can put a finer point on it now: The Great Pandemic is really the Great Accelerator. 

Pick a topic, any topic, that the coronavirus has supposedly changed forever. Almost without exception, that change was happening even before the virus came around.

The utter irrelevance of national political conventions. Happening already.

The rise of crime and homelessness in New York City: Happening already.

The shift toward online retailing and telemedicine: Definitely happening already.

But thanks to the virus, every single one of those trends just got a five-year leap forward. No, nothing is actually new in the age of COVID-19. There’s just a whole lot more of it than ever before.

Take yoga pants and sweatsuits. Pre-COVID-19, they were already making inroads as a legitimate fashion category. They even had a category name. Athleisure wear! Now look: Fuzzy, soft-fitting garments, often in gooey pastels, are almost a workplace uniform, ever since “workplace” became another word for “at home.” And there will be no turning back whenever it is that people return to their Midtown Manhattan offices. We already had dress-down Friday. Now every day will be Lululemon LULU, +1.49% Day. And don’t count out the rapid spread of jammie bottoms, not as long as the Zoom ZM, +2.78% camera stays where it’s supposed to.

People were already questioning the return on high-price private colleges. Now, at $60,000 a year for the right to stare at a computer screen, students and their parents everywhere are demanding to know: “What exactly am we buying here?”

Telemedicine was already inching its way up Bedpan Alley, that swath of hospitals and doctors’ offices on Manhattan’s East Side. Now, the inching is a mad dash. The medical accountants love the idea, whether the patients love it or not. The online visits haven’t fully taken over in the emergency room or the neurosurgery suite. But good luck getting an in-person shrink appointment after the August diaspora. Really, your couch is just as good as her couch, as your therapist is sure to remind you!

The decline of cash and plastic. The rise of Venmo, Apple AAPL, +0.90% Pay and the other digital currencies. All of it already happening. All of it happening more.

DoorDash, Seamless, Grubhub GRUB, +0.87% , Postmates, Caviar, Uber Eats UBER, +0.59% and Blue Apron APRN, -0.96% . Same story.

The move away from packed, sweaty gyms. On Monday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo promised an imminent reopening. Are you ready to return? A lot of people aren’t.

The abandonment of packed, pulsating nightclubs, already being replaced by intimate lounges and speakeasies.

New hostility to cars on city streets. New love for bikes and sidewalk dining.

Videoconferences over face-to-face meetings. Wi-Fi happy hours instead of the real kind. Kids chained to computers all day. Netflix NFLX, +2.01% over movie theaters. Alcohol deliveries. Soaring rosé sales in the Hamptons. Waves of entitled Karens moving to Westchester and Connecticut. Not one of those trends was quiet before. But now with the virus, they’re all turned up to 11.

Just like the puerile sniping between Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio. Here in COVID-time, they have so much more to fight about.

The Great Accelerator didn’t light any of those fires, but it sure poured on the gasoline.

Ellis Henican is an author based in New York City and a former newspaper columnist.