The Great American Reopening, in 5 Charts

2 minute read

Even a moderately observant UFO monitoring the United States would have noticed, in late March of 2020, that something was seriously amiss. Why are there suddenly so many fewer planes to dodge? What happened to all the cars? Why is it so dark at night?

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected just about every meter of culture and industry except, possibly, the weather. The charts below demonstrate its multifaceted impact, shown against the backdrop of reported COVID-19 cases in the U.S., scaled to fit the range of values in whatever is being graphed.

Let’s start with travel, which, while not yet fully back to normal, is clearly on its way there:

Unfortunately, the novel coronavirus also took a toll on employment—and the nature of how we work, when employed—that resembles transportation figures:

That devastation was also felt in entertainment, as movie theaters shuttered and reopened in limited capacity. In the interim, there was a yawning increase in American’s appetite for streaming entertainment at home. Compare box office returns to Google searches for “Netflix,” one of several streaming services that saw a voracious growth in demand. (Google search trends are counted as a percentage of the peak value for a given time span, which in this case was the week of March 22, 2020.)

We could go on. Google searches for “gym” or “reservation” reflect the national mood toward the pandemic, and a wide swath of other economic indicators trace a similar pattern as the employment numbers. But as one can plainly see, the metrics that took a severe hit at the beginning of the pandemic are presently on the road to recovery, albeit some faster than others. Whether that persists will hinge on whether the decline in cases and deaths persists as businesses rapidly reopen for summer crowds. Meanwhile, interest in Netflix remains strong.

Correction, June 14, 2021: The graph of employment figures in this article was original scaled to thousands of individuals, not total individuals. The axis has been corrected.

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