The transformation — some might say destruction — of our old, pre-pandemic world is continuing apace, as we all watch and wonder how this is all going to turn out.
From schools to movie theaters, from music venues to bars and restaurants, we have seen and felt the changes. Mass layoffs come almost weekly in the airline and travel industries, including hotels and theme parks.
We are warned that the coming winter could be the bleakest in our lifetime. We have almost reached the point where we fear we shall never return to what we used to think of as “normal.”
This week in Frederick, we saw the announcement that the Regal Westview movie theater was closing again, just weeks after it had reopened for the first time since March. The chain’s owners blamed a shortage of blockbuster films needed to draw the huge crowds that make theaters profitable. Around the world, 45,000 people were laid off.
The question is whether movie theaters as we know them will ever return. Many observers say no. People are buying larger and larger flat-screen televisions and the home viewing experience is getting closer to the theater experience. The habit of theater-going could wane.
The Frederick County Board of Education this week rejected bringing children back into classrooms, at least for the current semester. The system might go to hybrid learning in the spring semester, but even that is not a given.
Most business offices remain closed or extremely limited with — everyone who is able — continuing to work from home. And owners and managers are grappling with what happens when an employee contracts COVID-19. They are trying to figure out what the protocol is for isolating, quarantining and cleaning.
The presidential election, which is now underway in Maryland and several other states, is also undergoing a radical change. In previous years, the Frederick County Board of Elections would receive perhaps 6,000 requests for absentee, mail-in ballots. This year, it has so far received 10 times that number, 58,916 as of Wednesday. And many more are expected.
Stuart Harvey, the elections director, said the requests have come primarily from registered Democrats, with 33,023 Dems asking for mail ballots. That is almost half of the 72,097 who are registered.
Republican voters, who have been told without evidence by President Trump that mail-in ballots are more susceptible to fraud, are requesting them in much smaller numbers, just 13,323 of the 68,475 registered Republicans so far. But that is almost 20 percent of the GOP registrants.
Harvey said 8,584 people have already returned their completed ballots, and amazingly 6,248 were dropped off in the county’s drop boxes rather than entrusted to the Postal Service. The USPS has been mired in controversy over service cuts that critics claim were designed to suppress voting.
Harvey said he wonders what will happen to voting patterns in future elections, but he expects many voters will not return to voting in person. Of one thing he is more certain.
“The drop box is here to stay,” he said. “People like knowing that their ballot will be in our hands the next day.”
In a side note, Harvey also wanted to remind voters living in Maryland but registered in other states to make certain to send their ballots through the mail rather than putting in into the county’s drop box. He said two out-of-state ballots have already turned up, and his staff has sent them on to the correct state.
Certainly, from education to amusements to voting, we are seeing changes that will have an impact far into the future.
Fareed Zakaria, a columnist for the Washington Post, has just released a book called “Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World.”
In it he argues for an optimistic view, one which we share:
“It is a dangerous moment. But it is also in times like these that we can shape and alter such trends … People can choose which direction they want to push themselves, their societies and their world … Things are already changing and, in that atmosphere, further change becomes easier than ever.”
It is true for societies as well as for communities, for our country and for our county.