I recently came across a newspaper recap of the pandemic crisis entitled “COVID-19 Year One”. I didn’t read the article. I never made it past the title. The “COVID-19” part was hardly surprising. I have probably thought, said, written or typed that name a million times during 2020, frequently with a colourful adjective out front.  It was the “Year One” label that just stopped me in my tracks as I realized the “days since” clock had given way to something more stupefying and ominous. We are now measuring the pandemic in years.

For those still keeping score, it has been 292 days since Canada’s 100th case of coronavirus and 294 days for the United States. It has been a long journey, so far, no matter how you choose to account for it. With our second wave in full force, it is very difficult to distinguish our beginning this past spring from what now apparently seems to be the middle. But I would guess that we can all recognize that is not going particularly well at present. With case counts continuing to rise across North America, we are hunkering down yet again in nearly every B&M community.

While our fight is far from over, we can finally see the path out of this sorry mess. The pace and success of vaccine development in 2020 has been astonishing by any modern standard. The genetic sequence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus was identified and published only 10 months ago and we now have two different approved vaccines that appear to be highly effective against the virus. Both vaccines are made from messenger RNA, the molecule that our bodies’ cells naturally use to carry DNA’s instructions to cells’ protein-building mechanisms. This new technology has never been used before in commercial vaccines.

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine rolled out here in Canada this past Monday and with it unfolded a unique and momentous chapter of B&M history. The first inoculation in Ontario was administered at University Health Network’s (UHN) Michener Institute building shortly after Noon. UHN is the main hospital network in downtown Toronto and a long-standing B&M client. It has been a busy and chaotic few weeks for our local facilities management team there. UHN, and specifically Michener, were specifically chosen as one of two pilot sites for the entire province and B&Mers were called upon to rapidly prepare a secure, low-temperature storage area for the vaccine and to support the ongoing deployment at the nearby inoculation centre.

This assignment went way beyond our usual technical and infrastructure scopes. Our operations manager Rick Ysidron and his crew, together with our key subcontractors, had to do little bit of everything, day and night, to make this happen. The parameters changed frequently and furiously. The Monday deadline was obviously met and our team has already moved on to the next stages of the expansion. Now that the storage facility and vaccination centre are operational, our site team, that includes operations, administration and security, are responsible for the protection, custody and control of the vaccine supply from arrival on the loading dock to the deployment.

On their own, these activities are not especially complex or noteworthy. The scale of the operation is relatively modest thus far. The facilities themselves are unremarkable. The vaccine storage requirements for this pilot are small. Only 2500 doses. The tactical and technical demands on B&M are straightforward. “This-is-just-what-we-do” type stuff for our FM people. But in the context of a global pandemic and considering the importance of this pilot, our team’s contribution takes on a next-level significance.

It was a Toronto-based personal support worker who become the first person in Ontario to receive an approved vaccination at Michener on Monday. As she received her shot, the room erupted in applause. Our site people were there, looking on. I hope they took a pause from their official duties long enough to smile and soak it in. The clapping, after all, was for them too.

Only a day later, Anoop Kannan, our FM supervisor at the Copernicus Lodge long term care (LTC) facility in Toronto became the first B&M employee to be vaccinated. He volunteered “to take the jab” at Michener under the client’s vaccine allocation. The CEO of Copernicus described him as a “trail blazer.” Knowing protection has already begun to be extended to our people working in health care and LTC environments gives me a huge sense of relief. The extraordinary events of this week at Michener demonstrate so tangibly that help is on the way for all of us.

This story only details the latest of the many extra miles walked by B&Mers for their customers this year.Our company is strong and healthy because of it. There has been a steady stream of accolades from clients in every industry for your dedication, selflessness and professionalism during this pandemic. Each of you has helped to distinguish our company during some of the darkest and most difficult times imaginable.

On behalf of the entire McDonald family, I thank you for your hard work and dedication and wish you a safe and happy holiday season.

Please continue to take care, to be kind to yourself, and to protect all those around you.