Hazmat Suit Rentals and Other Dwight Schrute Responses to Extraordinary Circumstances

Our response to lesser events, as demonstrated by Dunder Mifflin employees, reveals our need for improvement if we are going to survive something the likes of COVID-19.
You’re exhausted. After you discovered that your daughter, Cece, came home from school with lice, you stayed up all night delousing the house. You arrive at work the next morning, disheveled, but you made it. As you go about your day, all you want to do is get through the next eight hours so you can get home and rest.

Then, it happens. One of your co-workers, Meredith, starts vigorously scratching her head. You look around, hoping that you are the only one in The Office wondering if Meredith has lice. You lock eyes with the receptionist Erin, and comment that it’s normal for people to scratch themselves.

Erin acts upon her senses; she is too familiar with the symptoms of a lice outbreak. She starts scouring Meredith’s head. “Trust me, I know what I’m doing. Between the foster homes and the orphanage, I had lice 22 times.” And then, the announcement comes. Erin exclaims, “Holy wow, that’s a big one. Alright, pencils down everyone, we got lice!”

How a group of co-workers respond to an outbreak of lice

You, Pam, are conflicted. You have a secret and you hope that no one discovers the truth about the origins of the lice exposure.

Angela shames Meredith for her lack of personal hygiene and starts the public assumption that Meredith brought this upon herself.

Dwight declares a full quarantine.

When asked by Pam if he might be overreacting, Dwight shares a bit of his personal history.

“Of all of the vermin in God’s great green kingdom, lice are the ones I detest the most. My first day of school, I had lice, and no one would play with me. For 15 years, they called me freak and four eyes and sci-fi nerd and girl puncher. All because I had lice when I was 7.”

This quote by your co-worker, Dwight Schrute, brings to light an important truth that all people must understand when working with fellow humans: In times of panic, people react in various ways that may have no grounding to a reasoned response to the situation.

Erin, the resident lice expert, is tasked with checking everyone for lice and the office is divided by the “haves” and the “have-nots”. Dwight re-enters with a bright yellow full body suit, saying “It’s a hazmat suit. That stands for hazardous materials men’s suits wearing. If you rent more than four times a year, it just makes sense to buy.” Dwight is well-intentioned but his modus operandi is typically an overreaction.

Stanley, on the other hand, has had enough of the nonsense. This co-worker resolves to break the quarantine and leave the office. Erin jumps on Stanley’s back, forbidding him to leave, as he may be contaminated and spread the lice to his family.

What we can learn about ourselves from our favorite fictional characters

As Pam, you wonder whether Meredith brought lice into the office or if you exposed her by bringing lice from home to work. You struggle all day with whether you should say something. When you finally decide to share your secret with Meredith you find her in the breakroom already shaving her head completely bald.

We, of course, are referring to the television show The Office, Season 9, Episode 10, Lice. What characters can you identify from your team? Dwight, the extremist, and Erin, the expert, have many funny exchanges as they work through solutions to the outbreak. Erin takes everyone’s belongings to be washed and prescribes mayonnaise. “Once it’s all over your head, just leave it there for four hours. That will be enough time for the lice to fall asleep, suffocate, and then pass away.”

Erin applies her prior experiences to develop a common sense approach and assists her peers in mitigating the outbreak of lice. While we are in uncharted territory with COVID-19, if we remain calm and follow Erin’s example, we have a much better chance of reaching an expedient, positive outcome.

A few great points when formulating a proper plan for responding to COVID-19

What do we know about the source of the coronavirus as well as its routes of transmission?

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is updating their information as we learn more about COVID-19. With regards to how it spreads, the CDC has said, “The virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person. Between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet). Through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.”
What do we know about the correct products, means and methods to utilize when addressing SARS-CoV-2?

  • The EPA continues to update their approved list of COVID-19 disinfectants - the EPA notes, “While disinfectant products on this list have not been tested specifically against SARS-CoV-2, the cause of COVID-19, they are expected to be effective against SARS-CoV-2 because they have been tested and proven effective on either a harder-to-kill virus or against another human coronavirus similar to SARS-CoV-2.”
  • Restoration & Remediation Magazine provided a great write-up, even prior to novel coronavirus, regarding selecting the correct disinfectant for forensic restoration. The article includes discussions about dwell time, understanding manufacturers instructions, as well as the difference between disinfecting and sanitizing surfaces.
What do we know about proper personal protective equipment (PPE) for COVID-19 responders or those taking advanced precautions?

  • The CDC is regularly updating their interim infection and prevention control measures for healthcare settings which includes PPE recommendations.
  • The Global BioRisk Advisory Council (GBAC), which is a Division of ISSA, has released three tip sheets for cleaning and restoration professionals who are responding to SARS-CoV-2. The first sheet from January 30, 2020 addresses PPE considerations, “Personal protective equipment (PPE) should be selected based on the results of a situation/site risk assessment. This includes taking into consideration the likelihood of exposure and the activities or work practices being performed.”
What a common sense approach to COVID-19 looks like

We must work together to share pieces of the puzzle as we form common sense approaches to assisting with reducing the impact and extent of the novel coronavirus. Returning to our source material from The Office, at one point Dwight swings a pair of scissors and unwittingly pierces his hazmat suit, exclaiming, “Oh God, oh no. No!” I have seen pictures of people wearing rubber boots, protective suits, gloves and masks to the grocery store. In one photo a lady is adjusting her thin mask with her gloved hand, and I wonder how much she has thought through the donning and doffing process of personal protective equipment (PPE).

If you have the resources and you believe this level of protection is important - you do you. I would think that in a shortage of goods, it might be best to keep those PPE resources available to our first responders and those tasked with cleaning known hot spots for COVID-19, but that’s just my opinion. What I do know is that if you don’t properly put the equipment on and then take it off in a structured process, you are negating any protective effects the resources were intended to provide.

Panic and pandemic do not mix well, take care of each other

Dwight at first wanted to treat everyone with Lye and later he warned, “You have exactly 60 seconds to evacuate the bullpen. At that time, I will be tossing this powerful insecticidal grenade, which contains piperonyl butoxide, as well as…” His declaration is cut short because he accidentally drops the grenade and it goes off inside of the manager's office.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) advises that the best place to start is to, “Know the facts about coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and help stop the spread of rumors.” As we resist the inclination to panic in the face of this unfolding pandemic, we can choose to be a Dwight or we can choose to be an Erin for ourselves and our communities.
Jon Isaacson is a freelance writer, business coach, speaker and 17-year veteran of the property restoration industry. His organization, The DYOJO - The Do Your Job Dojo, specializes in helping individuals, teams and organizations to Develop Intentionally. Jon also hosts the DYOJO Podcast which features discussions with insurance entrepreneurs and is available on Apple, Spotify, Anchor and Google.