A good portion of my work involves travel to meet with clients and to have team meetings throughout the U.S., with most of my travel taking place in the West.
This past week was no exception.
I had finally secured a business meeting with an important school district outside. So on Thursday I packed my bags and headed to the Salt Lake City airport as usual.
There was one exception however. This time I was carrying in my business bag, a container full of sani-wipes. When I got on the plane, I wiped down very inch of all three seats in my section. While I am NOT a germaphobe in any way, I know that travel is one of the higher risk activities for the passing of germs, colds, and yes, even the Coronavirus.
While on the plane, I offered wipes to other passengers and I noticed that a few other fliers had brought their own wipes as well.
While on the short 70 minute flight to Denver, I watched a bit of new. I saw the updated world and U.S. maps that showed the reach of Coronavirus.
My flight, rental car pickup and drive to the hotel were all normal. After checking in to the hotel, I noticed that one of their event screens by the meeting rooms area stated that the district I was visiting tomorrow was going to be hosting an educational foundation meeting at this very same hotel. I thought that was coincidental.
The next morning when I got up early to work out in the hotel gym, I saw the registration tables set up in the hotel lobby for the school district meeting. I walked up to the table with all of the name badges on it and saw a few of them names of the people with whom I would be meeting later that morning.
When I arrived at the school that also housed the administrative offices for the district, I was directed to the location of the meeting and signed in. I was told to have a seat and that someone would be with me shortly.
After sitting for a few minutes, the door to the office area opened up and out came a man who called me by name and said, “Scott, we are ready for you now.”
He stood at the door with his hand extended and waiting for me to grad his hand and shake it, which I did cheerfully. He was a school leader.
He led me into a small conference room and situated me at the head of the table so I could connect my laptop to their screen. While we were engaging in the small talk and waiting on the superintendent and the rest of her leadership team to come, his phone rang. He answered and after a few back and forth exchanges, he stood up and left the room.
About that same time, the district’s leaders came and introduced himself. We were having conversation about our roles, our past roles and the local area when the school leader came back in with a concerned look on his face, grabbed his notebooks and quickly left the room.
The district leader wasn’t sure what to do. No one else was in the meeting. He was doing a very nice job of making small talk. After a bit, he got up to check on the situation.
I knew something serious was up because he closed the door as he went out and I could hear the hushed tones of people trying to contain the volume their conversation.
When the district leader came back in, he closed the door behind and said, “Well, I need to tell you what is going on. It is only right.”
He then explained to me that one of employees at a local school was found to have the Coronavirus.
I instantly knew this was a BFD, a Big Freaking Deal.
He said that the employee has been on the job and interacting with staff and students all week.
I asked if the employee had interaction with the school leader. He said yes. He said that the health department told them that if you are within six feet of an infected person for at least 10 minutes, then you are at risk of getting the virus. The district leader said that the employee has not only done that with the school leader but with many others.
Fortunately there was sanitizer in the room and I washed my hands twice.
I asked him if the employee was at the education foundation meeting at the hotel this morning and he said yes.
It was obvious that this situation was epic in the number of people who could be a risk just from having been in association with the employee. There are thousands of people who could be impacted.
After the district leader told me all of this, I volunteered to reschedule our meeting until another day. He said he wasn’t sure if that was necessary but I told I felt this was going to totally consume all of the leadership time. He then took a phone call and let me know he was summoned to the control center to monitor and address what was going on. I again reiterated that I would be happy to reschedule.
He agreed and I wish him and the rest of the team the best as the dealt with the very difficult situation.
I packed up my stuff and made my way back to my car to drive to the airport.
As I was walking the realization began to sink in that I had shaken the hand of someone who may be a carrier of the virus.
This had serious implications as I was about to head back to the airport, get on a plane and fly home. I felt it was unlikely that I had the virus, but I also felt a very heavy weight of responsibility to not pass it on to others if I did.
When I got in the rental car, I decided to call my boss and let her know what was going on and to see what her thoughts were about precautions. After giving her an overview, she reconfirmed that I shook hands and asked how long was I with him in the conference room. We discussed a few options that included driving home instead of flying.
She said she was going to update the EVP. I told her I was going to call my wife and then reach out to the person who’s hand I shook to clarify my potential for being contagious.
When I called my wife, who is definitely more germ cautious than am I, she had a lot of questions and concerns. Her daughter is about 7 months pregnant and her 13-year old son is prone to illness. I let her know that I was going to try to get in touch with the school leader for clarification on risk. She thought that was a good idea, so I got off the phone.
My first call was to Delta Airlines to move my flight that was now, at this time, about an hour away. I changed it until about five hours later.
I then tried to get back in touch with the school leader. I called the district office. No answer. I then tried calling the school leader’s assistant. No answer.
I was not surprised because I am 100% certain they were all dealing with the situation.
I then sent an email to the school leader asking him to reach out when he had the chance. A few moments later, he called me. He did confirm that he had direct contact with the employee.
This was not good.
My boss then called me back. I let her know. She let me know that she had informed the leadership. We discussed the idea of my driving back home again and that I would need to cancel my trip to Orlando in two days. Not only would the travel be bad, but the meetings were with a group of our colleagues.
I had decided to drive home already and had already called Hertz to get another car.
I called me wife again and let her know that I was going to drive home. We would have time to discuss the implications of what would need to happen when I got home.
When I arrived at the Hertz center to return my current car and pick up the one I would drive home, I wiped down the car and headed to the counter. The exchange went well and within minutes I was loaded up in the new car and getting ready to start my journey home.
Right after I approached the exit gate for Hertz and had exchanged my drivers license and received my paperwork, my phone rang. I did not recognize the number.
I answered the phone and it was the school leader calling me back from a different number.
He said, I wanted to let you know that that health department has just told us that the official test had come back negative and that the employee did not have Coronavirus.
I could tell from his voice, that he felt like a 10,000 pound gorilla had been taken off of his back. I also felt that way.
I thanked him repeatedly for calling me with the information and wished him the best.
When we hung up, I asked the Hertz gate attendant if I could return the car since I now had a change in plans and would not need to make the 500 mile drive back home. She asked me to pull back into the return area and then I caught the shuttle bus to the terminal and took advantage of the later flight that I was wise to reserve.
This was a close encounter with what could have been a VERY SERIOUS situation for many, many people, not just for me. I am so grateful that it did not turn out that way. But I can tell you it has made be more aware and in tune with what is going on.
Interested in reading more? Here are a few of my other Coronavirus-related posts
WE HAVE GONE CORONAL
THIS IS WAR
A SUNDAY MORNING ESCAPE
A BEAUTIFUL EVENING AT UTAH LAKE
FLYING VIDEO TAKE OFF
YOU ARE POSITIVE FOR CORONAVIRUS
YOU CAN’T TOUCH THIS – IT’S QUARAN-TIME
WHEN THE STREETS HAVE NO FAME