"There are 150 missionaries under quarantine right now," my boss said, gravely.
It was 6:00am. Our little crew of
"It's our responsibility," she continued, "to do everything we can to keep these missionaries safe and healthy. If they're sick in bed, they aren't learning what they need to learn. With the 18- and 19-year-old missionaries coming in, everyone's MTC time is being cut shorter and shorter. Some of them are in here for only 12 days. They don't have time to be sick! We can't control everything, but we can control what goes on in these four buildings. So let's get to work!"
We got to work.
While the missionaries were all being instructed not to shake hands with anyone, not to hug their companions, not to touch their faces, etc. - we were being instructed on Virex, "our new best friend." Virex is an all-purpose disinfectant spray that we've used on occasion before, but now we'd be needing bottles and bottles of it. We were to disinfect everything - desks, doorknobs, handrails, light switches, keyboards, even the hand sanitizer units themselves. Every day until this epidemic passed, we would be on the front lines of this fight.
But it couldn't stop with us. The missionaries had to be personally responsible for their own health. So we set up Disinfectant Stations on each floor, next to the custodial closets. Each station had a bottle of Virex, a box of disposable gloves, a pile of rags, and a container of wipes. After we'd set everything up, we were supposed to go around to all the missionary classrooms and tell them about the situation.
But they already knew.
"We're the only ones left in our district," one elder said, pointing to his companion. "There used to be nine of us."
"Both my companions are already sick," another elder said.
Despite the worry on many faces, some missionaries refused to fret. They remained determinedly lighthearted. "Are the custodians all freaking out because everyone's dying?" one elder asked us, laughing.
"It's like Doomsday and the apocalypse had a baby in here," a sister joked.
We were told it was only a flu. "They're not calling it a flu," our boss reported, rolling her eyes. "But it's vomiting and diarrhea, and I'm pretty sure it's the same bug I had two weeks ago." So we didn't worry overmuch. The missionaries might be miserably sick, but they'd be better soon enough. And anyway, 150 missionaries isn't that great a percentage of the MTC (which is designed to hold 4,000).
But still . . .
"Is that an ambulance?" I asked my partner, Macall, as a not-distant-enough siren's wail echoed into the stairwell where we were mopping.
Macall walked down to the second floor landing, where two large windows showed the entrance to the MTC. "Yup."
"Is it coming here?" I joked.
"What?!" I hurried down to the landing and stood beside her. We watched as an ambulance and a fire truck turned into the MTC and were directed by the security guards toward the parking lot. We looked at each other, unsure.
Near the end of our shift, the boss called us all into her office again. This time, all of us had new information, mostly gathered from the missionaries gossiping in our hallways. "They've all been told to leave class immediately if they feel sick," one girl said. "We already had a missionary throw up in his classroom," I reported. "One of the elders told me that 70 missionaries were taken to the emergency room over New Year's," someone else added. "Are we sure this is a flu?" someone asked, nervously.
Our boss admitted that she wasn't sure if it was a flu at all. The number of missionaries under quarantine now was over 300 - it had doubled during the four hours we'd been there. Whatever the disease was, it was spreading fast.
She told us that there had been a lot of meetings held about it already. Hundreds of people now were working on the issue, from lowly custodians like us to the suit-and-tie executives running the place. The germs might have a head start, but we were ready for them now.
We are fighting. And since the Lord's on our side, there's no question who will win the war.
It just might get a little ugly in the meantime.