Are we changed forever by the pandemic?

WHAT IF our lives are never the same again?

It took a blunt cabinet secretary at a dry state budget hearing to voice the fears of millions.

For Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack, the issue was, unsurprisingly, transportation. “The COVID pandemic may well have changed travel and transportation forever,” Pollack said at a hearing before the Legislature’s Ways and Means Committees on Wednesday.

Working from home, online shopping, and remote learning, Pollack said, have reshaped the needs of travelers. She said state officials have “begun to plan for a post-COVID world where some of the changes in travel remain long after the pandemic has been vanquished.”

For Pollack, the changes mean a need to reconsider the nitty-gritty of state transportation budgeting. With less traffic, revenue from tolls is expected to drop from $621.7 million in fiscal 2019 to $449.6 in fiscal 2021. The MBTA is now serving 330,000 trips on an average weekday, down from 1.26 million in September 2019, leading to talk about service cuts or service adjustments. As Pollack noted, even with social distancing accommodations, it doesn’t make sense to run near-empty trains.

A slide show Pollack presented envisioned three possible scenarios: a gradual return to pre-COVID conditions with a slight increase in telework; an economic recovery paired with a shift in travel patterns that takes advantage of new e-commerce and remote meeting technology; and lasting economic impacts leading to depressed travel and increased telecommuting.

All the scenarios include, for better or for worse, some impact on residents forever.

And transit is hardly the only area where experts are asking long-term questions. Already, urban planners are questioning whether the coronavirus will lead to the demise of cities.

The Boston Globe recently ran a story headlined “Is pandemic isolation destroying our social skills?” While the story was somewhat facetious, the question is serious: How will a prolonged lack of social interaction affect our personalities?

Experts exploring the issue of women leaving the workforce during the pandemic note that after Hurricane Katrina shut down schools, it took years for women to regain their position in the workforce. And anyone forced to leave the workforce for an extended period of time could see the effects all the way through their retirement, in the form of lower Social Security payments.

The Globe recently reported that enrollment in graduate and undergraduate programs is way down. State House News Service reported that enrollment in public colleges, particularly community colleges, is also down. If some of these students forego higher education altogether, what will the impact be on their lifelong wages?

It goes without saying that for some, the impacts of COVID-19 are unquestionably forever. The dead cannot be brought back. Their families have lost a loved one. We don’t yet know how long COVID-19 “long-haulers” will continue to suffer ill health.

But Pollack’s comment resonates. Even for those of us lucky enough to survive the pandemic with our health intact, will there be impacts that last forever?

SHIRA SCHOENBERG

 

FROM COMMONWEALTH

Baker administration officials report a surge in MassHealth enrollment and worry about a fiscal cliff approaching in the next fiscal year.

Warner Bros. Television shares details of its $58 million in spending on the first season of Castle Rock, which generated $14.6 million in Massachusetts film tax credits. The economic impact of the TV series is being hailed by supporters of the tax credit as they push for elimination of a 2022 sunset provision in the current law.

Salem is BOOting visitors out for Halloween to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Measures include closing parking garages, shutting restaurants and businesses early, and canceling commuter rail stops at the city.

US Postal inspectors are investigating a bizarre summertime incident involving Governor’s Councilor Marilyn Devaney, who was caught on a security camera looking in the mailbox at a neighbor’s home.

Opinion: Andy Metzger, a former reporter at CommonWealth, explains his transition from a neutral observer to a Trump-battling political partisan in the battleground state of Pennsylvania.

FROM AROUND THE WEB             

 

BEACON HILL

Gov. Charlie Baker will announce today new economic aid help, including $50 million for small businesses utilizing an earlier round of federal pandemic-related funding. (Boston Globe)

Administration budget officials say they hope to avoid state layoffs this year and next. (State House News Service)

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey says she plans to fight an $8 billion settlement reached Wednesday between OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma and the federal government, after the company pleaded guilty in a criminal investigation to its role in the opioid epidemic. (GBH)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Lauren Baker, wife of Gov. Charlie Baker, went to court seeking an order to keep a Boston activist from dumping used needles outside their house — a privilege Globe columnist Joan Vennochi says Domingos DaRosa doesn’t have in Boston neighborhoods plagued by discarded needles. (Boston Globe)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

US health officials redefine what close contact means with someone who has COVID-19. Instead of 15 minutes within 6 feet of the person, it’s now 15 minutes or more over the course of a day. (Associated Press)

James Hunt, Jr., the longtime head of the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers — a job he has held for 41 years — will retire in December and hand the reins to the organization’s deputy CEO and general counsel, Michael Curry. (Boston Globe)

Two volunteer Meals on Wheels drivers in Haverhill and Lawrence test positive for COVID-19, leading to changes in the program. (Eagle-Tribune)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

President Trump has had repeated conversations with aides about firing FBI director Christopher Wray after the election because he’s frustrated that Wray and Attorney General William Barr have not announced investigations of Joe Biden and his son. (Washington Post)

The Senate Judiciary Committee plans to vote today to send Judge Amy Coney Barrett nomination to the full Senate for confirmation in a meeting Democratic members plan to boycott. (New York Times)

The parents of 545 children separated from their families at the US-Mexico border cannot be located. (New York Times)

ELECTIONS

President Trump and Joe Biden meet tonight in their final debate, with pressure on Trump to turn the tide of the race. (Boston Globe)

The Telegram & Gazette profiles the race between Fitchburg City Council president Michael Kushmerek, a Democrat, and retired police Lt. Glenn Fossa, a Republican, to fill the 3rd Worcester District seat vacated by outgoing Rep. Stephen Hay. The paper also looks at the challenges faced by incumbent senators Dean Tran and Anne Gobi.

Millions of dollars are continuing to pour in on both sides of the Right to Repair ballot question. (MassLive) A Daily Hampshire Gazette editorial urges yes votes on Question 1 (right to repair) and Question 2 (ranked choice voting). The Globe features dueling op-eds in favor and opposed to the question.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

One financial silver lining to the pandemic: revenue from beach parking rose, at least in Gloucester. (Gloucester Daily Times)

As Washington is slow to act, small business owners are looking to Beacon Hill to pass some form of financial relief. (Eagle-Tribune)

EDUCATION

The Boston School Committee voted to scrap use of a standardized test to determine entry next fall to the city’s three selective-admission exam schools and rely solely on grades and zip codes in allotting seats. (Boston Globe)

An assistant principal at Haverhill’s Consentino Middle School visits the home of a student learning remotely — and gets assaulted. (Eagle-Tribune)

Boston pulls back to all-remote instruction in its schools after the city positive test rate for coronavirus jumped from 4.4 percent to 5.7 percent last week. (Boston Globe)

More than 3,000 people sign an online petition criticizing Assumption College in Worcester for sharing a Catholic church document with students that condemns gay marriage as an evil act. The controversy comes as Pope Francis becomes the first pope to publicly endorse same-sex civil unions. (Telegram & Gazette)

Boston University reports a worrisome rise in COVID-19 cases. (Boston Herald)

ARTS/CULTURE

It might be time to binge watch the documentary series “Run This City” on former Fall River mayor Jasiel Correia II, as Quibi, the service that hosts the show, is shutting down. (Herald News)

TRANSPORTATION

Worcester Regional Airport, which spent years building up its commercial flights, is devastated by the coronavirus pandemic. (MassLive)

The number of structurally deficient bridges, including one in Randolph, may stay at more than 460 without more money being infused into the state transportation system. (Patriot Ledger)

Construction on South Coast Rail New Bedford stations is expected to start this winter. (Standard-Times)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

A judge finds the former head of the Boston Grand Prix, who was charged with taking the event’s money for himself, liable for $2 million. (The Salem News)

The Supreme Judicial Court will take up the appeal of a marijuana company that was passed over by Salem to get a host community agreement, in a case that has potentially wide-reaching consequences for the relationships between municipalities and marijuana businesses. (The Salem News)

The former director of constituent services for Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu is sentenced to federal prison for selling cocaine and fentanyl. Witnesses said Gary “Jamal” Webster also sold marijuana, as he was handling appeals for companies seeking marijuana licenses. (MassLive)

Former prosecutor Linda Champion says it’s time to end the “blue wall of silence” that keeps police officers from reporting misconduct by fellow cops. (Boston Herald)

Attorney General Maura Healey filed a lawsuit against national addiction treatment chain CleanSlate Centers, alleging that the company submitted millions of dollars in false claims to MassHealth for urine drug tests that were unnecessary. (Cape Cod Times)

PASSINGS

Miguel “Mike” Rivas, a military veteran, coach, and longtime activist on behalf of the Latino community in Springfield, who spent many years working in city government, dies at 66. (MassLive)