COVID-19

by Juan Thomas
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“We’re at war with an invisible enemy” – President Donald Trump

Over the past month, the entire world has been under siege with the coronavirus…also known as COVID-19. On March 11th, the World Health Organization declared this fast-moving and highly contagious virus a pandemic. That same day, the entire world was stunned when NBA superstar Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz tested positive, effectively starting a domino effect that has wiped out all sports in North America. The Federal Government, acting on the guidance of the Office of Management & Budget, sent all eligible employees home on March 15th to telework indefinitely to prevent the further spread of this virus. The entire DC area has been pretty much shut down as Maryland, Virginia, and The District have closed all non-essential businesses and even have curfews and stay-at-home orders in effect. As of today, there have been 602473 positive COVID-19 tests and 25668 people have reportedly died from the virus. Notice the italics for the word “reportedly” because from what I’ve read, a lot of those who have perished had conditions in which they likely would’ve died very soon anyway. I’m in no way cheapening their fates but there may be some politics at play with the death toll. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control—universally known as the CDC—has implemented guidelines and protective measures that we’re to take as Americans. Amongst those include a ban on gatherings of more than 10 people, social distancing of at least 6 feet, and the wearing of masks. It’s crazy…life has really changed.

Everything changed in my household on March 19th. Ashton became ill and had a high fever. He’s battled this for almost all of his life so this wasn’t a big concern for us until Mercedes found out one of her colleagues that she was in close proximity to had fallen seriously ill and was awaiting a COVID test result. We got Ashton tested for COVID and those were the 3 most restless days of my time as a parent…and that takes into account the 1 ½ weeks he was in the PICU last year. Fortunately, for us, the test came back negative and he only had pneumonia. It may be weird to write this but I was relieved. After that scare, Mercedes went to teleworking and we pulled Ashton from daycare. Currently, I’m the only one that travels to the office for work…and that’s because the Branch of Building Operations in the Office of Facilities & Administrative Services at the U.S. Department of the Interior still has a mission to keep the Main Interior Building up and running. Besides, over 85% of the building population is at home. Do you know how much uninterrupted we’re getting done?

It’s only been a month of this teleworking thing and the rumblings I’m hearing is that we should be back in normal operations tempo after Independence Day but this is concerning. I’m a Facility Manager by trade. I’m in the business of making sure buildings and physical assets in my portfolio are operational and good for use by the workers in my agency. As I just indicated, 85% of those workers at home, doing their jobs from their home offices, bedrooms, kitchen tables, man caves, she sheds, and wherever other place people telework. They aren’t in my building. While I don’t particularly think this is a threat to what I do here, at the U.S. Department of the Interior, I am concerned about my industry. For a long time, I’ve held the belief that facility management is a secure industry because businesses, government agencies, schools, and other industries need the built environment to operate. Well, those businesses, government agencies, schools, and other industries have their people at home and not in the buildings. At some point, if this COVID-19 thing really gets out of control, I think there may be some cost-cutting of facilities out of budgets and many of my peers in the industry may be left in the cold. I really hope it doesn’t come to that but it certainly is a concern for me.

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