An Inevitable Discussion

I try to steer this blog away from current events, with exceptions made for historic-preservation and engineering events that make the headlines, like the fire at Notre Dame. Yesterday, it felt like some kind of threshold had been passed, and so I’m going to talk briefly about the Coronavirus pandemic.

To state the obvious: we’re engineers, and don’t have any insight into the situation behind what is reported in the news. We are also people who live in a densely populated city and who travel regularly by means of public transportation, so we are concerned for ourselves, our loved ones, our friends and acquaintances, and pretty much everyone else. The suggestion – rapidly hardening into an order – for people to do what they can to reduce contact is one area we can do something. This is, apparently, true for many other people: in the daily flood of email yesterday, I received 18 items that, one way or another, were about corporate response to the pandemic. Various non-profits (including two universities) were shutting down public events or otherwise reducing personal contact, various businesses (including Amtrak) relayed what they are doing, the management of my apartment complex and the principal of my son’s school discussed cleaning procedures.

To state more obvious things: we’re following the suggestions. We have staggered hours for our employees to try to keep our people from having to commute during rush hours (although it seems like crowded subway cars are, temporarily, less common) and have started part-time work from home. We provide health insurance and paid sick leave; everyone here seems to understand to stay home if they feel sick. I was at a site visit on Tuesday with a marked lack of hand-shaking. There’s not much more we can do other than switch to full-time working from home, and that idea hits a stumbling block. Even if all of our outside meetings can be replaced by emails and conference calls, a non-negligible portion of our work takes place on site, as investigation and construction observation. As long as work continues – and I’m reasonably sure that no one is cheering for a complete economic collapse – we will have to do those things.

No one knows exactly what will happen. OSE will continue to follow health suggestions including, if necessary, closing the office. That step will happen, if it happens, at a time when everyone else is doing the same. We remain available via email for the duration of this crisis, as I hope everyone else will be.

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