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What Condition Our Condition Is In

June 2, 2020
EDITOR'S NOTE: As we sail into this uncertain summer, HPAC takes a look at what our readers want and expect to see from the market in the months ahead.

As I write this, Memorial Day weekend has come and gone and residents of many states are clearly restless about continuing the life and work restrictions caused by the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic.

Nevertheless, national polls still say two thirds of Americans actually agree that local guidelines are warranted by public health concerns, i.e. social distancing, the wearing of masks in public, continued closure of schools, offices, restaurants, sports facilities, etc. Indeed, fear certainly seems justified. As May ends, 100,000 Americans have died from COVID-19. When I wrote this column a month ago, that number had just passed 55,000. 

Even so, we still see impatient pushback from many Americans who want to go back to work, or at least to a ballgame, whatever will make life seem “normal” again. So, some try to dismiss reality. In Chicago, it was recently reported that most of the emergency hospital beds added at McCormick Place Convention Center were not needed, after all. “What a joke!” scoffed a neighbor. I disagree.

Indeed, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has done heroic work in recent months, overseeing 37 separate emergency projects across the U.S. to add more than 15,000 hospital beds in makeshift spaces like convention centers, arenas, hotels, and dormitories. The work was always intended to be a backstop in case there was a surge in demand. So, if COVID cases in many cities across the U.S. have exceeded projections, why weren’t those beds filled?

Well, because it was not anticipated that the U.S. healthcare industry would actually decline in the middle of a public health crisis. But hospitals, clinics, doctor’s offices, etc., all have seen non-COVID cases virtually disappear overnight. Nurses are being laid off in many areas, which just seems counterintuitive. But there it is.  

With so many apparent contradictions in play, last month we decided to reach out to a sample of our readers for a pulse check. Receiving just under 300 responses, we learned that more than 80% of you have seen business slow this spring, and more than a third of you have had work drop off by more than 20%. Sadly, a handful even reported that they will likely have to close operations due to the sudden downturn.

But even with all of that, there remains considerable optimism in the answers we received. Anecdotally, one said you “anticipate a tsunami of new business” once restrictions are lifted. Another added their biggest concern now was how manufacturers would be able to “catch up with expected new order demands” for supplies and equipment. 

Upon returning to work, though, many see more immediate challenges. For one, the biggest will be “making sure buildings are ready and safe to open.” Another worries “how to tame occupant fears, separating rumors from the truth in regard to IAQ.” To that end, several of you predicted that both worker and customer safety will be the top priority in the market’s “new normal”.

Echoing the words on this issue’s cover, hopeful readers also pointed to areas of promise, especially in what they see as the potential benefits of using UV-C technology to disinfect not just hospitals, but homes and offices, as well. For more on that, see our June cover story.

Finally, nearly 20% of respondents also reported that you are reading more since the shutdowns started in March. And 15% of you predict that you will continue to read more in the future, as well. Rest assured that we here at HPAC will take that as a challenge to keep you coming back to our website to feed that larger appetite.

With that in mind, I wish you all continued good health and safety at home and at work as we enter this uncertain summer.

About the Author

Rob McManamy | Editor in Chief

An industry reporter and editor since 1987, McManamy joined HPAC Engineering in September 2017, after three years with BuiltWorlds.com, a Chicago-based media startup focused on tech innovation in the built environment. He has been covering design and construction issues for more than 30 years, having started at Engineering News-Record (ENR) in New York, before becoming its Midwest Bureau Chief in 1990. In 1998, McManamy was named Editor-in-Chief of Design-Build magazine, where he served for four years. He subsequently worked as an editor and freelance writer for Building Design + Construction and Public Works magazines.

A native of Bronx, NY, he is a graduate of both the University of Virginia, and The John Marshall Law School in Chicago.

Contact him at [email protected].