Balancing Desire to Meet with Safety

It has been 159 days since the NCAA canceled the Division 1 Men’s Basketball Tournament. It was a watershed moment in the nation’s reaction to COVID-19 and among the first dominoes to fall in what has become five months of calling it off.

If we were shocked on March 12, we are weary on August 18. Our Zoom meetings, virtual farm shows, and webinars may save time and money, but they cost us quality relationships and business prospects. We want to connect.

“I do not want to live stream anything anymore,” the Association’s Joe Sampson said last week. “I want to be in the same room with my customers having conversations about their ideas, their families, and what’s ahead for their companies. You don’t get that in phone calls.”

Sampson, vice president of sales at Osmundson Manufacturing and chairman of the Association’s Supplier Board of Governors, convened supplier leadership in Kansas City last week to explore the host city for the 2021 Supply Summit and discuss the impact of the pandemic on the industry.

The issues they are facing are universal.

“Employers are thinking, ‘Yeah, I’d love to get my sales team back on the road and bring guests into my plant,’” said Mark Czopek with Sharon Tube, “but I don’t want to expose my workforce and risk people getting sick.”

Czopek flew to the meeting and has been getting out to see customers. He said the airport experience, like so many things in 2020, has changed.

“I got through security in about three minutes on a Wednesday morning,” he said, “but there was no place open to buy a cup of coffee when I got to the gate.”

Czopek was comfortable in the airport and in the air, and findings from a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology suggest he should have been.

Board of Governors in KC

Arnold Barnett, a professor of management science at MIT, looked at the risk of catching COVID-19 in flight. He considered variables such as the odds of being seated near someone in the infectious stage of the disease, and the odds that the protection of masks (now required on most flights) will fail. He accounted for the way air is constantly renewed in airplane cabins, which experts say makes it unlikely passengers will contract the disease from people who aren’t in their immediate vicinity: their row or, to a lesser extent, across the aisle, directly in front of them or directly behind.

Barnett concluded that airline passengers have a one in 4,300 chance of getting COVID-19 on a full two-hour flight. In other words, about one in 4,300 passengers will pick up the virus, on average. If airlines leave a middle seat open, the odds improve to about one in 7,700, Barnett concluded.

Bloomberg published his findings in an editorial earlier this month.

“That’s not to say flying is perfectly safe—safety is relative and subjective,” the column said. “But as restrictions continue to change, the only way to move forward through this long pandemic is to start thinking in terms of risk-benefit ratios. Very little is without risk, but perhaps some risks, such as flying, are small enough to warrant taking.”

That was the sentiment among suppliers last week, and they want to be part of a movement toward groups taking measured, reasonable risks. That said, the Association fully understands that members with higher risk profiles and family concerns may need to exercise a higher level of caution.

Let us know. The Association’s Board of Directors meets next week to discuss the viability of hosting the fall convention in Orlando. Directors would like to hear from you. Send an email to It can be two or three words: “Let’s meet.” Or, “See you in 2021.” Or, say more.

The challenges are significant, but if you want to make this happen, we will do everything we can to find a way.