To say the coronavirus (COVID-19) is a “wake-up call” would be the understatement of the year, which is (already?) too long. Everyday disruptions to our lives and livelihoods can be an unsettling, rude awakening, to say the least. But in place of our usual thoughts and prayers during this time of crisis, our country is getting a much-needed culture shock.  

In a matter of days, the news coverage on the pandemic has progressed from being a distant dilemma to deadly and at our doorstep. Governments are scrambling to pacify the panic. An impending recession is all but certain. Meantime, societal comforts, like breaking bread at your favorite restaurant, have been either quarantined or canceled.

Yet with America as we know it grinding to a halt, the sheet metal industry is shouldering on. The word around the country from many contractors whose work has been deemed "essential" by the government is that they are proceeding to work on projects with caution. However, at this critical juncture, it is not enough to simply proceed. We as an industry must be proactive. 

Now more than ever, our country’s attention is on indoor air quality systems and reassurance that the air we breathe is clean, the type of service only HVAC professionals can provide. If there were ever an occasion to remind people of the importance of building health, it is now.

The same can be said of building sustainability; not just when it comes to materials but also business.

For sheet metal contractors, that means leading jobs with LEED requirements and fabricating more than ductwork. It’s a safety net for sustainability in the event that one part of business goes bottoms up, according to one shop owner, which is why more shops are investing in laser cutters to free up their shop space.

When it comes to preparing for the worst, American industry famously falls behind, according to recent headlines. But there is still time to right the ship and be on the right side of this pandemic.

At the time of writing this, there have been more than 10,000 cases of coronavirus in the country and construction sites are closing. When the time comes to rebuild and reimagine our infrastructure, skilled trade workers will have the weight of the world on their shoulders. Consider this your wake-up call, and you would be wise not to sleep through this.

A version of this article appeared in the April 2020 issue of SNIPS magazine