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From the Publisher: Case Study

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Published November 17, 2021 at 10:00 a.m.


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It was just a matter of time — 20 months, to be exact — before someone at Seven Days came down with COVID-19. For the duration of the pandemic, we haven't required our employees to work in the office, but, because everyone on staff is vaccinated, some brave and social souls started venturing back. Reporters, editors and designers benefit from the camaraderie of a newsroom. We've all had enough of the isolation of Zooming from home.

Working inside without masks made it easy to forget that we were in the middle of a public health crisis. Life felt almost ... normal.

That is, until one staffer contracted the virus toward the end of October, most likely from his housemates — our first case.  

He had spent a few hours in the office — and interacted with half a dozen people there — before he started exhibiting any symptoms. All those coworkers got tested and, eventually, three of the six received positive results. By that time, though, the trio had done other things outside Seven Days as a group.

Then two more employees got sick.

How were all these related? No combination of Venn diagrams could solve the riddle. All the individuals in the second set of positive cases had attended the same music event, but so did a bunch of other Seven Dayzers who emerged unscathed.

I have to agree with Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger, who sent out a long, detailed email on Sunday night, just as I was trying to put the same observation into words: "We have reached a confusing and uncertain moment in our long battle against the global Covid-19 pandemic." He went on to make an argument for vaccination, strategic masking and happy holidays.

As an employer, it's hard to strike the right tone — between cautious and exhortative, reassuring and informative — especially when the health experts seem somewhat confounded by what's happening with this wily virus. And maybe it's human nature, but I've noticed that people, myself included, seem less inclined to self-reflection than to point a worried finger at someone else.

The good news? Within a week, our "Patient Zero" was on the mend. Everyone else got over COVID-19 pretty quickly, too. One said of her own breakthrough case: "I've had hangovers worse than this."

Without being asked, most worked throughout their illnesses — remotely, of course — so their coworkers wouldn't be left scrambling.

All six now report being fully recovered; they can smell and taste again.

Obviously, we're lucky no one got seriously ill, but the outbreak ultimately released some tension. The anticipation of it turned out to be worse than the reality, likely thanks to the vaccines.

Another reporter got sick last week but tested negative; it was just a bad cold. Everyone is scheduling booster shots.

Nonetheless, the Seven Days office, once a hotbed of creative enterprise, is back to being pretty much deserted.

I hope I'm not alone in looking forward to the day when we can all work together again.