It’s hard to ignore how much of our lives COVID-19 has changed. Right now, most people’s main concern is keeping themselves and others healthy, while other important issues have been put on the back burner. Before the global pandemic, the main natural disaster scientists warned against was climate change. People were advised to reduce the waste they produced and live sustainably to decrease impact on the environment. In some ways COVID-19 has benefited the environment, but at the same time, COVID has brought changes that are going to take a toll.

On the plus side, almost all airfare has been halted, most people are flying only in emergencies. The roads are much emptier and the skies much clearer with people only driving for essential purposes. Traffic has all but vanished, greatly reducing carbon emissions from cars. Many cities all over the world have closed miles of roads, opening them up for more pedestrians and cyclists. Telecommuting has become the new norm, and, with the rise of Zoom, it’s extremely convenient. This global pandemic has forced people to comply with positive changes that had previously been very slow in coming.

On the negative side, California has lifted the ban on plastic bags because shoppers are no longer allowed to bring their own into grocery stores. Coffee shops refuse to fill customers reusable mugs. Use of public transportation and ridesharing have decreased dramatically with concerns of safety. All this along with panic purchasing and a surge of online orders has increased trash production.

During the pandemic, it is expected that trash production will go up by 30 percent in the US. Many recyclers have ceased working due to health concerns. As well, there has been a surge of biomedical waste coming out of hospitals that must be properly packaged and incinerated in a hazardous waste facility. The amount of plastic produced for personal protective equipment (PPE) and other medical equipment has risen enormously, and the EPA has emphasized how important it is to properly dispose of PPE.

More importantly, companies in the US are currently allowed to violate pollution laws amid the pandemic. In this national emergency, US companies no longer need to report the amount of dangerous pollutants they release into the water or air. Because air pollution causes damage to the respiratory system, the same as COIVD-19, the effects of this policy by the Trump Administration could be devastating to low-income communities, often located near industrial factories.

Cynthia Giles, former head of EPA enforcement during the Obama Administration was shocked by the memo put out by President Trump: “I am not aware of any instance when EPA ever relinquished this fundamental authority as it does in this memo. This memo amounts to a nationwide moratorium on enforcing the nation’s environmental laws and is an abdication of EPA’s responsibility to protect the public.”

So while the devastation of this global pandemic has had some unexpected benefits, like clearing our skies and roads, we still might find ourselves dealing with massive amounts of toxic pollution, waste, and other consequences of the measures we’ve taken, either to protect public health, or in the name of public health.

Now, as the country starts to open up, we’ll start to see more details around how this pandemic has affected our environment and how that will affect how we’ll live our lives in the future. Currently, California is in Phase 2 of reopening. Restaurants are resuming sit down service, malls and retail stores are open but with modifications. It will probably still be a while until Phase 3, when personal care business can operate and larger gatherings are safe.

The world that we’ve walked into is certainly different.

One thing that everyone can do is support their local economy. The Downtown Davis website keeps an updated list of Davis businesses that are open along with any special conditions they’re operating under. The way we support our community may look different for the time being, but for now as cities open up all over the world, it’s still possible to stay safe and contribute to one’s community.

Mary Westover is a senior Pharmaceutical Chemistry major and Professional Writing minor at UC Davis. She is from Sacramento and is an avid hulahooper. Mary is serving as an intern for Cool Davis this Spring and Summer quarters.