Are we aiming for a “hybrid future” as virtual services lose their appeal after COVID?

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Many Americans do not expect to rely on digital services that have become commonplace during the pandemic Once COVID-19 subsides, even though many believe it’s a good thing, these options remain available going forward, according to a new survey.

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About half or more of American adults say they are unlikely to attend virtual events, get virtual medical care, deliver groceries, or use pickup after the coronavirus pandemic is over, according to a survey from Associated Press-NORC Public Affairs Research Center. Less than 3 out of 10 say they are most likely to use any of these options at least occasionally.

However, nearly half also say it would be good if virtual opportunities for health care, community gatherings, and activities such as fitness classes or religious services were maintained post-pandemic.

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“Instead of either-or, I think we are more likely to face a hybrid future,” said Donna Hoffman, director of the Center for Connected Consumers at the George Washington School of Business. “People have found comfort in some of these virtual options that just make sense and they don’t necessarily have anything to do with keeping you safe or a pandemic, for example, even if they came of age during a pandemic.”

Many people say that virtual opportunities for medical care, community events, fitness classes or religious services should be available post-COVID.

The digital daily routine became the standard in 2020 as the country responded to a rapidly spreading virus that led to lockdowns, school and business closures. Some replacements, such as online shopping and video conferencing, already existed. Others have been reimagined or popularized during the pandemic.

In any case, according to Hoffman, there has been a “rapid” deployment and adoption of virtual services. It was the question, “How are we going to make this work?” she said.

Cornelius Hairston said his family has been taking precautions throughout the pandemic because his wife is a health first responder.

“We tried to stay home as much as we could and only went out when necessary,” said Hairston, 40, who recently moved to Roanoke, Virginia.

Hairston joked that his 4-year-old twin boys are “COVID babies” who haven’t even gone to the grocery store for most of their young lives. The family almost always used delivery services to avoid crowded stores. But in the future, he expects to use them only “from time to time.”

For Angie Lowe, the convenience of telemedicine and the time saved was reason enough to do it again, even though she and her husband had returned to public action over a year ago.

Lowe had her first visit to telemedicine at the start of the pandemic, when feelings of “loneliness” and “stuck at home” prevented her from sleeping well. She was able to talk to the doctor without being distracted from work by traveling to and waiting at the medical center.

“This was my first telemedicine session, but it won’t be my last,” said Lowe, 48, from Sterling, Illinois. “If I can do it, I will.”

However, for many, the disadvantages outweigh the benefits of using digital services in the future. Adults aged 50 and over are particularly likely to say they don’t plan to use the virtual experiences surveyed in the future, although many were introduced during the pandemic to protect at-risk groups.

Despite worries about COVID-19 and infection rates in Phoenix, Tony DiGiovane, 71, said he thinks curbside pickups at grocery stores and restaurants are more trouble than they’re worth.

“By the time I picked up the groceries, I needed more groceries,” he said of his groceries orders, and “there’s always something missing or wrong” on takeout orders.

Karen Stewart, 63, recognizes the benefits of video calls but also sees them as limiting. Such is the case in her work organizing afterschool programming for children. In addition, she now visits some of her doctors online, one of whom provides almost exclusively virtual assistance, while the other uses virtual assistance between office visits.

She loves that she doesn’t have to drive, but that means a doctor or nurse can’t take her vitals or be “hands” in her care. It was “scary,” she said, for example, when all of her pre-op appointments were online.

“When I do this, they cannot measure my blood pressure, my pulse. There are things a doctor can find that they can’t see online,” said Stewart of Perris, Calif.

The pandemic has created an opportunity to balance in-person and virtual services to support the physical and mental health of older adults, said Alicia Bain, NORC chief scientist.

It “may be especially helpful for older people with a variety of health issues, mobility restrictions, people who lack transportation, people who don’t have or live close to reliable social networks like family and friends to lean on,” – she said.

However, limitations remain with access to technology, broadband and digital literacy, which Bain says may help explain why the survey found older people are less likely to use digital services post-pandemic.

Despite the age difference in service use, a roughly equal percentage of adults of all ages say that virtual opportunities for health care, community events and meetings, and to continue post-pandemic activities are a good thing.

“They recognize the benefits of virtual services, but are also willing to return to their pre-pandemic cases,” she said. “The good thing, of course, is that these services are now available.”


The survey of 1,001 adults was conducted May 12-16 using a sample drawn from the AmeriSpeak NORC probability panel, which is designed to represent the US population. The sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4 percentage points.


Rico reported from Atlanta.

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