I was travelling in Switzerland and Germany with my wife and two-year-old when the coronavirus began spreading through Europe. When we returned home on March 5th there were no cases of the virus in Boulder, Colorado where we live.
But I was worried: My daughter Luna had a slight fever and cough, and we’d just been in two coronavirus hotspots. So I called our hospital, and spoke to a nurse. After I explained our situation, she put the phone down to confer with a colleague.
What she didn’t know is that she failed to put her phone on mute. So, speaking openly, she acknowledged to another nurse that this was her first coronavirus call. Then she lamented that I was wasting her time: “I don’t understand why people are getting their panties tied up in a bunch about this whole coronavirus thing…”
The rest of their conversation was similarly unproductive. When she finally returned to the line, she sounded flustered – perhaps because she noticed I’d overheard her words. She said a pediatrician would call us to talk about next steps.
It wasn’t just our daughter at risk. It was humanity.
Upon hanging up the phone, I shared with my wife, Nathalie, that I felt shame and regret for wasting the nurses’ time. Nathalie scoffed and shook her head. “I trust in us more than her to make the right decisions for our family.”
Nathalie also reminded me that I likely had more information than that nurse. I’d spoken at length with CEOs at two biotech companies on the front lines of COVID-19, and I’d seen the confirmation of their perspectives from biostatisticians and mathematicians.
I knew what the data we had at the time said: the virus incubated over five or six days, and each infected person would on average infect 2.3 other people. I knew that meant one prevented transmission could represent 4,000 fewer infections in 60 days and 115,000 fewer infections in 90 days, and preventing infections meant saving lives.
In other words, it wasn’t just our daughter at risk. It was humanity.
A day later, Luna’s slight cough and fever fizzled out. But my worries about our country-wide approach to the impending pandemic had only heightened.
So with Avanoo co-founder Prosper Nwankpa, I called an organization-wide meeting. We asked our employees to stay home and take their kids out of school – about a week before quarantines and school closures began in the U.S. There were some tears and confusion among our team.
So together as a company, we reviewed the data. Biostatisticians and infectious disease experts are largely in agreement: 20 to 70 percent of the world’s population will be infected without major intervention. And right now there are only a few options:
We all concluded that a lockdown was most likely, and that it would be supportive of our families and communities to begin our personal lockdowns before governments required it of us. Today, a few weeks later, I feel confident we made the right call.
So I’m at home, as I’ve been for weeks now, thinking about what happens next.
Before this ends, many millions of us will have experienced no symptoms at all. But many others will die. Grandparents, children, friends, neighbors, colleagues… people who had so much to offer to the world. Wonderful, loving, amazing people.
Most of us will, in a few weeks or months, walk out of our homes healthy and ready to rebuild together. And when we can finally give each other hugs again, we will have already answered perhaps the most important question of our generation: Who were we in our darkest night?
Who were we in our darkest night?
This is the answer I want to share:
We were more than our fears, anxieties, and suffering. We were more than the separation and longing we felt. We were more than susceptible to a virus that we avoided… or that fizzled out in our bodies. We were love. We were connection. We were one.
I believe this can be our answer.
I want to help make this our answer.
Because when Luna grows up, I want to tell her the story of who we decided to be right now. I want her to know that whenever she wonders how she can be helpful to others, she can return to the example all of humanity created for her in this darkest night.
—Daniel Jacobs, Avanoo CEO & Co-founder
Daniel Jacobs is a husband, father, inventor, and storyteller. His work has been featured on Fortune, Inc. Magazine, Business Insider, Apple News, HuffPost, and most major news publications in the United States. He is CEO and co-founder of Avanoo, which uses the power of stories to drive connection, belonging, and performance in the workplace.
Join other HR and organizational leaders to learn how storytelling can address the disconnection, isolation, fear, and disengagement employees are feeling – and how you can use the Avanoo StoryApp (available without cost during the coronavirus pandemic) to scale connection, belonging, and performance throughout your organization.Reserve Your Spot