“Excited?” Maria asked as she placed a slice of cake in front of me and sat to my left. “I mean, it’s here. It’s finally here.”  Then, leaning in, “It’s here.”

“Weird. It just feels weird,” I responded while typing ‘execution commands’ on my laptop. I momentarily glanced at the memo taped over the cake, candy, chips, assorted snacks, bottles of sparkling juice, party streamers, ribbons, and helium-filled balloons. 

“COVID Tiger Task Force Deactivation.” the internal memo broadcasted to staffers. The shutdown comes as the pandemic continues. The U.S. will eclipse 610,000 deaths by Summers’ end, while the global death toll currently exceeds 4.1 million. As we approach deactivation, the entire team was focused on ensuring a smooth transition of key members back to normal business operations. Yet, I am unsure what ‘normal’ was anymore.

Standing to stretch my legs, I poured a glass of Sparkling Grape Juice. “Not bad,” as I sipped. Just before 3:30 PM, team members gathered around the conference room table we labeled the ‘Nerve Center.’ At 3:32, I raised a glass and toasted my colleagues. They were such an unusual band of brothers and sisters. “To those, we lost,” I raised my glass again. “Too many losses,” I mentally opined.

Pressing the ‘Enter’ key on my Dell, a PowerPoint cycled through those we lost. (All names were changed.) First was a 20-year company veteran from New York, Jaime. Jaime died last year after battling COVID for six weeks. Glenda, our team member, in California acquired COVID after a hip surgery. She passed last November. Charlie was a Facilities technician in Midwest. After state health officials ordered schools to reopen, he sent his child back. His child returned from school with COVID and passed it to both Charlie and his wife. Both parents died in the same hospital in subsequent months. Finally, our statistical wizard in Chicago, Amy, died in her sleep. She went home one weekend feeling unwell and never returned. Tears filled my eyes while proceeding with each memorat. 

My last slide transitioned to the festivities at hand–closure. “Ladies and gentlemen, I present the COVID Tiger Task Force’s final official email.” 

Greetings Everyone:

As many of you know, the COVID Tiger Task Force began in March 2020. With each subsequent update, publication, and guidance, we attempted to capture daily (sometimes hourly) changes, capture fluctuations, and provide management with the most updated novel coronavirus information. In its infancy, our team began out of necessity, as a high-level ‘daily brief.’ We thought this type of analysis might only be required for several weeks and believed such in-depth data analysis would decline as coronavirus mitigation strategies were implemented. Sixteen months later, it is hard to fathom this team endured longer than ever imagined.

At this time, with management’s approval, we feel it is an excellent time to deactivate the team and return members to their respective operating units. Compilation of new relevant data analysis will continue to be performed by select team members on an as-needed basis. Additionally, I will continue to perform any detailed analysis, as requested by management. Documentation, research, and other archival work will also continue. 

Should current coronavirus trends reverse course, a select set of team members are prepared to regroup and reinstate the task force. I will also update the state and county data monthly. Thus, we will retain an operational dataset that can be easily updated or analyzed as required.  

Worldwide, more than 1,800 medical professionals from 64 countries lost their lives in the battle against the novel coronavirus. Our organization lost sixteen. Our team lost four. They battled the novel coronavirus disease on the frontlines, in cities, states, and the nation. They willingly placed themselves in harm’s way and sacrificed so much. Each doctor, nurse, technician, transporter, EMT, pharmacist, and everyone who supported patient care, deserve our deepest gratitude and admiration. Their service and sacrifice saved countless lives and made a difference for thousands.

It’s been a privilege serving with you.

A massive round of applause erupted as I hit enter. “Ready?” I queried—everyone erupted in cheers. Then, projecting on the screen, I entered ‘Archive’ and hit the ‘Enter’ key. A minute later, the system returned, ‘Archive Complete.’

One last time. Ready everyone?” Again, the room erupted in cheers, smacked ‘high-fives,’ and hugged while wiping tears. Then, I entered ‘Logoff Off.’ 

The screen returned, “Logoff Complete. Goodbye, Mr. COVID.” 

I sat down, physically and emotionally exhausted. The party continued for another hour before team members started filing out—a few remained in the room. I glanced at the ‘COVID Tiger Task Force War Room,’ the four 50 inch screens, whiteboards, markers, easels, and paper, and twenty-four five-inch binders housing every god-forsaken emergency plan we ever created. 

What do you remember the most?” one team member asked.

Huh?” I quipped after being snapped from thought. 

What do you remember the most?” 

Them,” pointing to a wall of pictures of those lost.

Any regrets?

Too many,” I mumbled. My conversation with a New Orleans nurse still haunts me. And while I’ve tried many times to find her, I never did. But I do remember the conversation. 

We need supplies,” she said.

Speaking into the conference room phone, “I cannot locate any for you, but I will continue to try.”

An eerie pause, “I have worked four days, sleeping a few hours in my car.”

Another eerie pause. “I cry every day.”

A third eerie pause. Tears of grief briefly filled the conference room speaker, followed by a short ruffling, “Pull it together,” she appeared to whisper to herself. “Ok. Thanks for helping.” Click—dial tone.

Well,” another team member sighed. “God forgive us all.

In my opinion, the clinicians who saved all those lives are God’s angels. And while COVID did appalling violence to faith, God used those clinicians to save. still, COVID killed the living in a matter of days. And in a blink of an eye, it caused thousands of healthcare workers to question the very nature of love from above. Millions of beautiful people passed from life to death. what pisses me off the most those politicians, from federal to state, who we will find them wiping their hands when truth is squeezed out. Facts, failings, and stupidity will reveal unrecognized failures of overbearing, dismissive politicians who allowed death to occur when they could have prevented it. COVID was not fake news. COVID was not a conspiracy. They never thought a worldwide virus would happen. When it did, our leaders hid and dealt in fake news – from Trump to Fox – from congressional politicians to local representatives. May God judge them all.

leaving the War Room, a note was taped to the door.

“Goodbye, Mr. COVID. Thank you.”