Covid-19 is not going to kill you.
Its true. Maybe half of us will get infected. Half will not. Of those who do get infected, 97% will recover. But even those who die, will not die because of the virus. The presence of a virus in your body is not necessarily lethal. That’s not how viruses work.
According to research, like that in this article from Scientific American, viruses hijack your immune system. They wear down your defenses, at which point you become vulnerable to other maladies, like secondary infections. A virus weakens your immune system, at which point you die of pneumonia, strep, staph, hypoxia, or some other pre-existing disease or some unknown problem to which you are genetically predisposed.
So, when someone says most of these people are not dying of coronavirus, they are actually correct, if not misguided and unkind. Does it matter which malady is the final cause of death? All you need to know is, at end of August 2020, the total number of deaths by any cause in the US is about 200,000 higher than it was at the same point last year. 200,000 more people have died this year. It’s no mystery why. That number will be at least a quarter of a million by the end of the year.
People say, at least half of the deaths are from pre-existing causes! Morbidity, not mortality. They would eventually have died of this cause anyway. This also is true, but doesn’t matter. They might’ve died anyway, but when? Five years, 10 years, 20 years down the road? If it is your child, your spouse, or your parent who dies, will you not grieve the loss of the years you could’ve had with them? Will you not do everything in your power to keep them safe? Do we not owe the same honor to those who aren’t our parents but live in our community? Does our love extend only to our loved ones, or does it also extend to the neighbor and even the stranger?
Others will say 97% of all people recover! So far, this is also true, however irrelevant. As of this writing (September 7, 2020) 6,470,001 have become infected (that we know of). 193,352 have died. That’s 97% recovered and around 3% mortality. We can thank our medical system for advanced therapeutics. 97% recovered means 1% die. Does that 3% not matter? If it’s your loved one, it matters.
3% of all who are infected represents either a small number or a large number, depending upon the number of people get infected, obviously. It does no good to insist that 97% will survive and 3% will die no matter what we do. 3% of how many infected? If 7 million get infected, 210,000 (3%) will die. If 20 million get infected 600,000 die. Some epidemiologists have said its likely that as much as 40% if the U.S. population could become infected: 120 million. You do the math. So, our goal should be to keep case counts low.
Our social distancing and mitigation efforts are designed to keep the number of infections down, so that the number of fatalities is also down, and also so hospitals do not become overwhelmed be on their capacity.and mitigation efforts are designed to keep the number of infections down, so that the number of fatalities is also down, and also so hospitals do not become overwhelmed be on their capacity.
To put this in perspective, 53,000 soldiers died in WWI in combat in a one-year period. 63,000 died of the pandemic that year. The mortality rate was twice that of the civilian population due to the crowded conditions in military camps. Over the two-year period, 675,000 US Americans died in the 1918 pandemic over two years (1918-1920). Even then, there were public officials who denied its existence or downplayed its significance.
So how should the church respond? We who are committed to the way of Jesus, his healing ministry, his call to love God with heart, soul, mind and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself, what is our response? Some things seem clear:
1. Church is a crowd, as the word congregation makes clear. When we congregate, one infected person, even though asymptomatic, can infect many. the larger the crowd, the more exponential the spread. Congregations in hot spots should not gather for a while. Areas with a low number of cases should exercise great caution, so as not to create a hot spot. Viruses do not distinguish between churches and bars. Anywhere people gather there is risk. Baptisms, weddings and funerals of 10-12 people carry some risk, but if infection happens, less are impacted than if you had 100-200, so the community risk is lower. Social distance and wear masks, to keep people as safe as possible. Be aware that the old and infirm may be the first to show up if you open the doors.
2. Recommit your small groups for worship, prayer, outreach, study, and fellowship. People crave community. We need it. The pandemic has helps us see this more clearly. When you must meet, do so in very small groups. Sports have had some positive outcomes with social bubbles. If you don’t have small groups already, now is a good time to get started. Watch for my upcoming article on this.
3. Visit the sick and homebound, with care. Watch out for the most vulnerable. Many hospitals will not allow visitors for obvious reasons. Visit outside the window. Bring others. Send gifts. Show you care. Call often. Activate the old-school phone networks among the most vulnerable to help them feel connected.
3. Listen to your public officials. They are there for your protection. It’s their job. Even when you feel their decisions are unwise, honor the office they hold and do more, not less than asked. Go above and beyond.
4. Make decisions as a team. This is hard when people disagree, but top-down decisions won’t be respected. Listen to your people. Gather the wisest into leadership, people who will make good decisions. There will always be a vocal minority, but go with the wisdom of the group. Bring in health and school officials for their wider perspective.
5. Know your limits. If your congregation wants to meet, but your or your household have health concerns, self-define. Set your own boundaries with prayerful deliberation.
6. Above all, be kind to one another. People need compassion and patience more than ever. those in crisis can be highly anxious and exasperating. Treat them as you would want to be treated if you were in their skin.
The church has minister through pandemics in every century. We preach not the pandemic as punishment for something you did, but a God who loves us in the midst of a broken creation. We care for the sick, even those who are not our own. We listen to medical experts, not pundits. We continue praying, reading Scripture, and worshipping, in many different forms.
Times of crisis define communities. They exacerbate weaknesses and widen pre-existing fault lines. A pandemic can be our undoing, or it can be our finest hour, as we rise to the occasion. The church has often stepped up in times of social upheaval. You were called for such a time as this. Consider how the community will remember your response to this crisis, and your attitude. Draw near to your highest values. Draw strength from prayer. Follow Christ.