This whole thing started right after Chinese New Year. We sort of had a feeling that things were not quite right, but you know, as a commercial company, we still had to go to work, the office still had to function. In the first week of February, one of my staff, Stephen, called in sick. He said he had come down with a fever. There were these rumors about a strange illness going around in China, they called it a type of coronavirus, and then all of a sudden one of our staff members comes down with a fever. I mean we thought nothing of it at first— we assumed that he had a cold, or in the worst case, a flu. It was the flu season, after all.
We expected him to return to work soon, but he didn’t. Stephen reported that he still had this fever— he just couldn’t shake it off. He told us that he went to the doctor but they refused to give him a test for the new disease emerging from China, one that we now know as COVID-19. Keep in mind, all of this was between the first and second weeks of February. The amount of testing kits available in Hong Kong were barely out of production, we were in short supply. At the time, there wasn’t even a name for this virus yet— it was just labelled as a novel coronavirus. No one knew what this disease was. His condition deteriorated, he was getting chills, and he complained of muscle aches, so he went to the hospital in his fourth attempt to ask for a test and they finally agreed to test him. He was diagnosed with COVID-19 on February 16th.
Once news got around, the office was in a state of panic. No one was quite sure what had to be done, because he had been in the office frequently and for quite some time up to the day he had called in sick. If he had the virus then, he could have infected other colleagues. To make matters worse, we had a staff member who had worked really closely with Stephen— a guy named Aaron. Aaron had also complained of a fever a few days after Stephen had reported having one. We thought we might have two cases. Aaron got tested on the 17th, and his test was positive.
Stephen was quite afraid, admittedly. He had a daughter, but she seemed okay. But his wife came down with a runny nose, and also tested positive. As for Aaron, he has four daughters and his wife at home. His entire family had to be quarantined. The HK Health department mandated that the entire family had to go to a quarantine camp. I was sorry for Stephen and Aaron, they were good guys, indispensable to our team.
Our management was unsure of what to do, but in the back of our minds, all we could think about was how Aaron and Stephen may have unwittingly infected others as they had come into contact with many of our staff. We went into a state of panic, to be honest. We closed down the office for a week. One week became two weeks. We had a cleaning company come in to disinfect the entire office— just to make sure. They even disinfected the ventilation systems; a deep cleaning protocol.
At this point, very little was known about the disease. How infectious was it? How did the virus spread? Was this disease spread through coughing or sneezing? Was it airborne?
We had to draw conclusions on our own. We worked out that perhaps, Stephen was infectious, and that he had spread the disease to Aaron. Word got around, and we tried to defuse the bomb before it could explode. We issued a company notice, contacted clients and consultants. Transparency was the first thing on our minds. We could not be selfish and hide— we had to do the right thing.
There was fear; there was confusion. Would a couple of weeks be enough to shut down the office? We had to even do some contact tracing, because both Stephen and Aaron were not more than three feet apart from the next guy or girl in the office. So what the office began to do was get everyone on both floors to report back their body temperatures twice a day for an indefinite amount of time. It was the only thing we could do. The entire two weeks were terrifying. How many people could they have infected? The only thing left to do was to wait and see.
Written by: Natasha Leong