Hana Fingerhut and RJ Rico
Many Americans don’t expect to rely on it Digital services that are becoming popular during the pandemic After COVID-19 recedes, according to a new survey, many even think it’s a good idea to have these options still available in the future.
Nearly half or more of US adults say they are less likely to attend virtual activities, receive virtual health care, distribute groceries or use curbside delivery after the coronavirus pandemic is over, according to a survey from Associated Press – NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Less than 3 in 10 say they are very likely to use any of these options at least some of the time.
However, nearly half also say it would be a good thing if default choices for health care, community events and activities such as fitness classes or religious services continue after the pandemic.
“Instead of this either — or, I think we’re probably going to have a hybrid future,” said Donna Hoffman, director of the Connected Consumer Center at the George Washington School of Business. “People have found comfort in some of these hypothetical choices that seem perfectly reasonable, and they don’t necessarily have anything to do with it like keeping you safe or the pandemic even though they came of age during the pandemic.”
Digital daily routine became the default in 2020 as the nation reacted to the fast-spreading virus, leading to closures, school closures and business closures. Some alternatives, such as online shopping and video conference calling, already exist. Others have been reimagined or popularized during the pandemic.
Either way, Hoffman said, there was a “rapid” spread and adoption of virtual services. The question was “How are we going to do this?” She said.
Cornelius Hairston said his family has taken precautions during the pandemic because his wife is the health care first responder.
“We tried to stay home as much as possible, only going out to get the essentials,” said Hairston, 40, who recently moved to Roanoke, Virginia.
Hairston joked that his 4-year-old twins are “COVID kids” who haven’t even been to the grocery store for most of their young lives. The family used delivery services almost exclusively to avoid going out to crowded stores. But from now on, it is only expected to be used “from time to time”.
For Angie Lowe, the convenience of telemedicine and the saving of time was reason enough to do it again even though she and her husband returned to do things in public over a year ago.
Lowe got her first telemedicine appointment early in the pandemic when her feelings of “loneness” and “stuck at home” were preventing her from sleeping well. She was able to talk to the doctor without having to take extra time off work to go by car and wait at the medical center.
“This was my first appointment with telemedicine, but it won’t be my last,” said Lowe, 48, of Sterling, Illinois. “If I can do it, I will do it.”
For many, the disadvantages outweigh the benefits of relying on digital services in the future. Adults 50 and older are particularly likely to say they do not plan to use the default options asked in the survey going forward, even though many of them were introduced during the pandemic to protect at-risk populations.
Although concerned about COVID-19 and infection rates in Phoenix, Tony DiGiovanni, 71, said he found a curbside pickup at grocery stores and restaurants more difficult than it’s worth.
“By the time I picked things up, I needed more stuff,” he said of his grocery orders, and “there’s always something missing or wrong” on rush orders.
Karen Stewart, 63, understands the benefits of video calling, but she’s also found it limiting. Such is the case in her job of organizing after-school programs for children. As you can now see some of her doctors are online, one of which provides virtual care almost exclusively and another that uses virtual care in between office visits.
She likes that she doesn’t have to drive, but that means the doctor or nurse can’t take her vitals or be under her care. She said it was “scary,” for example, when all of her pre-surgery appointments were online.
“When I do that they can’t measure my blood pressure and my pulse. There are things the doctor might pick up and he can’t see online,” said Stewart of Perez, California.
Alicia Payne, principal research scientist at NORC, said the pandemic has created an opportunity to balance in-person and virtual services to support the physical and mental health of older adults.
It “can be particularly beneficial for older adults with various health problems, movement limitations, people who lack transportation options, and people who do not have or live close to strong social networks such as family and friends to rely on,” she said.
However, there are still restrictions on access to technology, broadband access and digital literacy, which Payne said may help explain why the survey found that older adults are less likely to use digital services after the pandemic.
Despite the age gap in service use, similar percentages of adults across ages say it’s good for default choices for health care, for community events and meetings, and for activities that continue after the pandemic.
“They realize the benefits of virtual services, but they are also ready to start going back to their pre-pandemic routines,” she said. “The bright side, of course, is that these services are now available.”
The survey of 1,001 adults was conducted May 12-16 using a sample taken from NORC’s AmeriSpeak Probability-Based Panel, which is designed to be representative of the US population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Rico reported from Atlanta.