These 6 Hidden Impacts of the Covid-19 Pandemic Will Surprise You

Thomas Smith

Photo by cheng feng on Unsplash

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused massive personal, economic and societal impacts worldwide. Many of these are well-documented and understood.

But a few of Covid-19’s impacts are totally unexpected. Here are six of the most surprising hidden impacts of Covid-19.

A Run on Butter

Photo by Sorin Gheorghita on Unsplash

According to Food and Wine, butter sales are up at least 20% during Covid-19. While overall dairy sales are down, butter is booming.

The reason? More people are cooking at home, rather than eating out at restaurants. As they prepare their own food, they’re realizing that they really like butter. They’re also seeing that butter is easier to cook with and only marginally more expensive than less-tasty processed seed oils.

Writer Nassim Nicholas Taleb sees the Covid-19 butter surge as evidence that restaurants have cut corners for years by using cheap seed oils instead of butter, against clear consumer preferences. The pandemic gave consumers the power to choose between butter and seed oils in their own cooking. And they’ve overwhelmingly chosen butter.

While butter is often vilified, recent science has indicated that highly-processed seed oils may cause inflammation, and could be bad for you. The move towards butter during Covid-19 could lead to a permanent change in consumer preferences and health.

Worse Wildfires

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On top of Covid-19, the American West has seen a historically bad wildfire season. It often feels like the twin disasters must be linked.

And they actually may be. As Covid-19 struck, many states released non-violent prisoners, to stop the spread of the virus in prisons. In many states like California, prisoners are paid to fight wildfires. Early releases meant there were at least 600 fewer prisoner firefighters on the fire lines this season. That almost certainly made fires harder to control.

Covid-19 concerns and resource limitations meant fewer opportunities for controlled burns this season, too. That means there was likely more fuel available to stoke major fires.

And people spent more time outdoors during the pandemic lockdowns, which meant more human sources of ignition. Fireworks at an outdoor gender reveal party are blamed for a massive fire near Los Angeles that claimed the life of at least one firefighter.

It seems counterintuitive, but Covid-19 likely made this fire season worse through its indirect effects.

Scanning Photos for the Dead

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Digitizing family photos has always been popular. But during Covid-19, it’s taken on a new urgency. According to Mitch Goldstone, CEO of, his company has digitized over 600 million family photos, and demand has increased during Covid-19.

During Covid-19, Goldstone says, people “seek normalcy, nostalgia, and remembrance. That is why so many are keeping their minds on families by sharing decades-past photos.”

But there’s a darker reason for the increase in scanning, too, which Goldstone calls “heartbreaking.”

More than 40% of the company’s orders are from families scanning photos for the funerals of loved ones lost to Covid-19. It’s a shocking reminder of the scale of the human impact from the pandemic.

Smaller Turkeys

Photo by 🇨🇭 Claudio Schwarz | @purzlbaum on Unsplash

Normally Thanksgiving would be a time to gather family together for a large, celebratory meal. Not in Covid times.

Instead, more people are celebrating the holiday within their immediate families or quarantine units. A small group of 4-6 people doesn’t need an 18 pound turkey. And so the poultry industry and major retailers have adapted, offering smaller turkeys.

This isn’t easy to do. You can’t simply dial in the size of a turkey as it grows on a farm. Instead, retailers are buying naturally smaller turkeys, farmers are slaughtering turkeys earlier so they don’t have a chance to grow large, and many retailers are offering processed options like turkey breasts, which turn a big turkey into pieces sized for a smaller group.

More Pandas

Photo by Pascal Müller on Unsplash

Pandas are badly endangered. So any panda born in captivity is a huge boon to the species.

For over a decade, the Ocean Park Zoo in Hong Kong had been trying to encourage two giant pandas to mate. When the zoo closed to visitors due to Covid-19 in January, the pandas finally mated. The absence of human visitors was likely a big factor.

The pair hasn’t gotten pregnant yet. But other pandas are on the same Covid-19 path. One at the National Zoo in Washington gave birth in August. She got pregnant artificially. But the absence of humans in her environment may have made the pregnancy less stressful and contributed to its success.

Globe Lights, Globe Lights, Everywhere

Photo by Giorgio Trovato on Unsplash

When people do eat at restaurants, they’re very often eating outdoors. Outdoor dining has saved thousands of restaurants, and many are upgrading their outdoor spaces to continue serving customers.

Simultaneously, many homeowners are upgrading their own outdoor spaces. Since they’re spending more time at home, many are renovating. Renovations are up 58% during Covid-19, and outdoor spaces are one of the most popular places to renovate.

What do all these restaurant and home renovations mean? Globe lights! Many things divide us during Covid-19: politics, mask wearing, attitudes towards vaccines. But one thing unites us all: a desire to dine outdoors under a charming string of hanging globe lights.

According to a spokesperson I interviewed at Feit, a popular maker of globe lights, the company is “definitely seeing increased demand for string lights” during Covid-19. Feit is “not sure if it’s just people at home wanting to elevate their outdoor spaces, or if it’s businesses”, but either way demand is way up (my guess is that it’s both).

The immediate human toll of Covid-19 is obvious. But many of its impacts are far-reaching, surprising — and hidden.

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Award-winning entrepreneur, and the co-founder and CEO of Gado Images. Thomas writes, speaks and consults about artificial intelligence, privacy, food, photography, tech, and the San Francisco Bay Area. As a professional photographer, Thomas' photographic work regularly appears in publications worldwide. Pitches/news tips:

Lafayette, CA

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