Special Report

A Year in Review: 17 Non-Obvious Ways Life Has Changed During the COVID-19 Pandemic

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11. Planet Earth vibrated less

In April 2020, about half of the world’s population — around 4 billion people — were living under some form of social distancing order. As people moved less due to travel restrictions, lockdowns, and work-from-home orders, the planet began vibrating noticeably less than usual.

The drop in seismic noise, which is the vibrations in the planet’s crust generated by cars, trains, industrial machinery, and simply people going about their daily lives, allowed seismologists — at least for a while — to monitor subtle tremors like small earthquakes and volcanic activity.

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12. Food insecurity intensifies

As COVID-19 began spreading nationwide, millions of Americans were out of work. All over the country, communities saw lines at food banks stretch longer as food insecurity, or the lack of consistent access to food for all members of a household, rose.

An analysis by the Brookings Institution conducted earlier this summer found that in late June, over 27% of households with children were food insecure. A separate report by Northwestern Institute for Policy Research found insecurity among households with children was over 29%. In 2019, 13.6% of households with children were affected by food insecurity, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

After the summer, thanks to stimulus checks from the federal government, children returning to school, and declining unemployment as states reopened businesses, fewer households with children have been reporting food insecurity than at the beginning of the pandemic.

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13. Sharp increase in extreme poverty worldwide

Extreme poverty was expected to rise in 2020 for the first time in more than two decades, with the coronavirus pandemic pushing an estimated 115 million more people into that category, according to the World Bank’s biennial Poverty and Shared Prosperity Report released in October. Extreme poverty is defined as living on less than $1.90 a day.

Before the pandemic hit, the global extreme poverty rate was expected to drop under 8% in 2020. Because of the pandemic and its consequences on economies around the world, extreme poverty is expected to have impacted between 9.1% and 9.4% of the world’s population in 2020.

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14. Increases in maternal and under-5 mortality rates

While the mortality rate of COVID-19 among children has been relatively small, it has impacted children in other ways, resulting in higher mortality in children under 5 years old. This is largely because of disruptions to life-saving services, including food supply and health care.

A study published in The Lancet journal estimates that between 250,000 and 1.2 million additional child deaths may occur in any 6-month period during the pandemic, which would be an increase of between 10% and nearly 45%. The number of maternal deaths worldwide may increase between 8% and almost 40%, or between 12,000 and almost 57,000 maternal deaths.

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15. More cars on roads

Back in May and June, health experts advised workers to keep contact with others to a minimum, and suggested driving alone instead of using mass transit (this recommendation received considerable backlash and has since been revised to “driving or riding by car either alone or with household members”).

Although empty roads were the hallmark of the first few months, once state and local economies began to reopen, traffic congestion has been up. Changes in the volume of direction requests on Apple Maps since the start of the year suggest driving in the United States dropped nearly 60% from the start of the year in April, spiked in the summer months, then trended downward. As of January 10, Americans drive approximately 15% less than they did one year ago.

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