By Marianne Delorey, Ph.D.
“A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is braver five minutes longer.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
As my father was a firefighter, we took seriously the issue of family fire drills. We had a plan that included a route out of each room and a backup route in case the first one was blocked. We practiced this plan at least twice every year. He tested all the smoke detectors and made sure we knew what they sounded like. My dad was always serious, but when it came to safety, he was particularly so.
But practice makes perfect and when later in life, my house did catch on fire after a lighting strike. I smelled smoke and I knew exactly what to do. I did not hesitate. I did not stop to grab anything; I got out of the house.
I have been thinking about drills a lot this past month because our luck finally ran out at one of our sites. While we have had a few scattered cases of COVID at all Colony properties, we just had our first major outbreak. We all came into work on the Tuesday after a long weekend and learned that four people tested positive over the weekend. Another two more reported being positive that morning. We ordered 100% testing of the building, mandatory masks in common areas, and shut down the dining room and started delivering meals. We made sure to post signs and communicated to the visitors and families. The 100% testing turned up another six positive cases. A few days later, we did another 100% testing, and another after that.
Twenty people in a building with 100 apartments ended up getting sick over the course of the next two weeks. But you know what? Our prep work paid off. Our previous practice helped us stay calm and do what we needed to do. We cannot know what would have happened had we not taken immediate action to stop the spread, but I think it is reasonable to guess that at a minimum, we prevented at least 10 hospitalizations.
We are now all healthy again, thankfully. I am so pleased with the response of our staff, our families, and especially our residents. Everyone knew that the masks and social distancing was needed to keep COVID from spreading further. All residents were willing to get tested repeatedly with minimal complaint. We hear on the news so many people pushing back against mandatory masks and other public health measures. I am here to report that the vast majority of people are cooperative and helpful during trying times.
And then there are the heroes among us that run toward the danger.
One day a while ago, I showed up to work and before I even got to my desk, some alarm sounded. It was unexpected and really made me freeze. My maintenance super, however, took off running toward the noise without even a moment’s hesitation. Nobody thinks of maintenance folks when you think of heroes, but that day, I realized we need to expand our definition. He ran toward trouble, even before he knew what the problem was.
Similarly, when we were doing testing of people in the building when we already knew there was a high likelihood of positive cases, there were coworkers that stepped forward and said, “I will help test.” I am humbled by their willingness to help keep people safe at their own expense.
When COVID first hit, we realized we were in the category of “essential workers” and at the time, it felt so unfair. We work in apartment buildings, so on some level, we did not sign up for this level of risk. But that is why I think we need to redefine hero. There are heroes like my dad who knowingly accept a high-risk job. And then there are heroes like my staff who did not sign up for a high-risk job but take those risks anyway because they are helpers during a crisis. My hat is off to the everyday heroes among us. And none of us know how much longer COVID will last. My hope is that we all have five more minutes to be brave.