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March 16, 2021 // Scott Allison // Opinion  //       //  Opinion

The COVID-19 Pandemic: A Reflection

Chapter One

Jan. 26, 2020, Heathrow Airport, London. It is always difficult to pinpoint a certain moment in time when a higher level of awareness kicks in. They say before an earthquake, animals in the wild will have an inkling of coming trouble. I sat at the airport waiting to catch a flight back to the U.S. and watched a BBC report on COVID-19 that said contract tracing had failed and the virus was loose in the UK. I instinctively sensed trouble approaching.  

Allison+Partners co-founder Andy Hardie-Brown and I had just completed the European segment of our Town Hall meetings. We had been monitoring the virus since it is earliest days as we kept in close touch with our offices in China. After returning to the U.S., the next big decision was whether to complete the Asia leg of our scheduled Town Hall meetings. We decided we would, and left for South Korea in mid-February. We arrived to find a well-prepared community in the earliest stages of the pandemic. The hotels checked temperatures each time we went in, but masks were not widely worn.

On Feb. 23, we headed to the airport to fly to Singapore. And for the very first time, we donned masks. Singapore was as delightful as ever, and it was great to spend a week with our team. But storm clouds brewed. My flight home through Korea was cancelled. All flights through Korea were shut down. On Feb. 27, I flew back to San Francisco. Customs at SFO was empty.  However, no temperature scans or any reference to the virus. There was a sense of naivete in the air.

Although our team thought we were over-reacting, Andy and I decided to quarantine for 10 days prior to returning to the office. Ten days seemed like a long time. If only...

On March 10, I made it back to the San Francisco office and had a chance to speak to the team.  I brought up the virus and said we should continue to wash hands and be careful. I did not think it would be that serious. For the next three days, the news became progressively worse with hints of potential shutdowns. 

On March 12, we sent the team home early. And on Friday, March 13 – yes, Friday the 13th – we told everyone via conference call not to come into the office. By March 16, we had closed all offices in the U.S. and Europe, and everyone began working from home. Asia had gone into lockdown earlier. Thirty offices and 500 people just had their work life/home lives turned upside down. As one of my colleagues wrote in her blog post, quoting Winston Churchill, “If you’re going through hell, keep on going.” We were going to have to figure out how to keep going, keep our people safe and keep the client work moving.

We launched into days that began at 5:30 a.m. and often did not finish until midnight. The TV news ran day and night, and images of suffering from China, Italy, the UK and finally the catastrophic loss of life in New York and New Jersey kept pouring in. If we didn’t recognize the courage of our healthcare community in the past, we certainly did now.

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