Posts tagged ‘Pandemic’

Sheltering-In-Place

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Credit: Tirachard Kumtanom from Pexels

As COVID-19 continues to sweep through our nation, infections are increasing, some hospitals are being overwhelmed, doctors and nurses are working exhaustingly extended shifts, and a good portion of our nation has been ordered to “shelter-in-place” to try to stymie the spread of the virus.

In 1 Samuel 22:1, a young man named David is being pursued by Saul, who is the king of Israel. Saul has become jealous of David who has proven himself a valiant warrior by killing a nemesis of the nation of Israel, a giant named Goliath. When King Saul realizes his own nation respects this young warrior more than they do him, he becomes inflamed with jealousy and makes repeated attempts to kill David, but to no avail. He escapes each time. David, fearing for his life, is eventually reduced to hiding out in a cave called Adullam. While in this cave, David pens the words of Psalm 57, which opens:

Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me, for in You I take refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of Your wings until the disaster has passed.

David is sheltering-in-place in a cave, trying to avoid the disaster of Saul’s jealousy. It had to be hard. But David knows something. David knows that, ultimately, it is not a cave that is his shelter. It is the Lord. He is David’s refuge. And He will be with David through and beyond his disaster. His disaster will pass. The Lord’s presence, however, will never pass away.

During this disaster of COVID-19, remember that – even as you shelter-in-place and, perhaps, go a little stir crazy because you’re itching to get out – your shelter, ultimately, is not in where you’re sheltering. It is in who your shelter is. Your shelter and your refuge are in the Lord. And He will be with you through and beyond this disaster. This disaster will pass – hopefully, soon. The Lord’s presence, however, will never pass away.

And that’s great news.

March 30, 2020 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Coronavirus Comfort

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Credit: Pixabay

It’s been another tough week in our nation. I keep wondering where the peak of the coronavirus’s spread is on the one hand and where the bottom of our economy is on the other. The number of people becoming infected is increasing – exponentially. And the economy is collapsing. Goldman Sachs is forecasting a 24% decline in our GDP in the second quarter while J.P. Morgan predicts a more “modest” decline of 14%. Families are trying to stay healthy by sheltering-in-place while businesses are trying to figure out how to stay afloat. And no one seems to know quite how or when all this will end.

At times like these, the words of Martin Luther’s famed hymn seem especially poignant:

A mighty fortress is our God,
A bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood
Of mortal ills prevailing.

This moment in our history is certainly filled with “mortal ills.” And yet, God is stronger than any illness. God is bigger than our own mortality.

This is why Luther concludes his hymn:

Let goods and kindred go,
This mortal life also;
The body they may kill:
God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.

Even if coronavirus can quarantine a society, it cannot quell God’s presence. And even if coronavirus kills a body, it cannot conquer God’s kingdom. His kingdom is forever. Coronavirus is not.

Let’s try to remember that during these long days.

March 23, 2020 at 5:15 am 2 comments

Coronavirus Concern Sweeps the Nation

Arlington National Cemetery is one of the many public spaces that has been closed in the wake of the spread of COVID-19.
Credit: National Guard

As I write about COVID-19 for the third time now on this blog, I must admit that I never expected to devote this much attention and concern to a virus that first emerged halfway across the world. But the state and spread of this virus is shifting so quickly, it’s nearly impossible not to be riveted by what is unfolding. So much has happened this week.

The World Health Organization officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic.

The NBA, the NHL, and MLB have all suspended their seasons.

The NCAA has cancelled March Madness.

Public spaces across the nation – including places like Disneyland – are closing.

The financial markets are suffering from whiplash.

Air travel to and from Europe has been suspended.

And we’re still having trouble slowing the virus’s spread.

Many of these actions above are the result of an abundance of caution, which is good. But along with much caution, there is also much fear. After all, there’s still so much we do not know about this virus. Its mortality rate continues to be elusive to us. The actual number of infections remains unclear. Testing for the virus remains limited. And, of course, treatment options are nearly non-existent.

Fear like this at a situation like this can lead to all sorts of panicked responses. Stories of stores selling out of staples like bottled water and toilet paper abound. But panic does not equal prevention. The continued calls to wash your hands, wipe down surfaces, and practice social distancing are the things that are necessary to stymie the spread of this virus.

In 1519, the city of Zurich, Switzerland was overrun by the Black Death. It claimed the lives of a third of the city’s population. There was a famous reformer of the Church who lived in Zurich at this time, Ulrich Zwingli. As he cared for those who were ill, he himself contracted the disease. In what seems like a near miracle, he did not die. But while he was in the throes of his sickness, he composed a poem:

My pains increase;
Haste to console;
For fear and woe
Seize body and soul.

Death is at hand.
My senses fail.
My tongue is dumb;
Now, Christ, prevail. 

Lo! Satan strains
To snatch his prey;
I feel his grasp;
Must I give way?

He harms me not,
I fear no loss,
For here I lie
Beneath Thy cross.

Whether in sickness or in health, whether in times of prosperity or pandemic, we lie beneath the cross. And because of this, even as we are cautious, we are not afraid. If a cross could not overcome Christ, a pandemic cannot conquer His promises to us.

March 16, 2020 at 5:15 am 1 comment

The Coronavirus Continues to Spread

The coronavirus outbreak continues to spread – rapidly. Yesterday’s update from the Washington Post is worth citing:

A northwest Oregon resident has tested positive for coronavirus with no known history of travel to countries severely affected by the outbreak and no known contact with infected individuals, state health officials said Friday.

The case, in Washington County, marks the third case of unknown origin in the United States and indicates that the virus is spreading. It is also the first coronavirus case in Oregon …

Earlier Friday, health officials in Santa Clara County, Calif., said a 65-year-old resident also had a case of coronavirus with unknown origin – becoming the second U.S. case of community transmission. The nation’s first community-transmission patient was a woman in Solano County, about 90 miles away.

The World Health Organization on Friday raised its risk assessment of the coronavirus to “very high,” citing the risk of spread and impact. WHO officials said their assessment – the highest level short of declaring a global pandemic – doesn’t change the approach countries should take to combat the virus but should serve as a “wake up” and “reality check” for countries to hurry their preparations.

The U.S. stock market fell for the seventh straight day amid fears of global economic damage from the escalating outbreak, and the Federal Reserve took the unusual step of issuing a statement to reassure Americans.

“The fundamentals of the U.S. economy remain strong. However, the coronavirus poses evolving risks to economic activity,” Fed Chair Jerome H. Powell said. “The Fed is closely monitoring developments and their implications for the economic outlook. We will use our tools and act as appropriate to support the economy.”

It is sobering to realize that despite all our modern medical advances and all our yeoman’s efforts at containment, the world still stands relatively defenseless against a virus that carries with it a startling mortality rate of, at present, 2.3% – a rate that far outpaces the mortality rate of the seasonal flu, which sits at around .1%.

This past Wednesday, the Christian Church began its observance of the liturgical season of Lent, which kicked off with Ash Wednesday. In churches across the world, the words God once spoke to Adam after he fell into sin were repeated to the faithful: “Dust you are and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:19). These grim words are meant to call us to reflect on our own mortality. Death is inescapable. The mortality rate associated with the coronavirus may be at 2.3%. The mortality rate of humanity itself sits at 100%. As President Kennedy said in a famous speech at American University in 1963, “We are all mortal.” Our problem, it turns out, is bigger than any virus. Our problem is our very selves.

I am deeply grateful that scientists and medical professionals across the world are working tirelessly to quickly identify, contain, and develop a vaccine against the deadly coronavirus. I am thankful that governments are taking the needed – and often ambitious – steps to combat the virus’s spread. But the coronavirus epidemic should serve as yet another reminder of just how fragile life really is. The culmination of Lent into Easter, however, is a promise of just how powerful Jesus’ life really was. A deadly disease is just no match for an empty tomb. And in a world where the headlines smack of death, that’s the kind of life we need.

March 2, 2020 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

The Fight to Defeat Zika

Brazil Zika Birth Defects

Credit: AP Photo/Felipe Dana

When I searched for it, the first article that came up was from CNN and was titled, “What are the chances I’ll get it?”  The “it” is the Zika virus.  And right now, the virus constitutes a menacing epidemic.

On the one hand, societies have seen and battled viruses far more serious than Zika.  As CNN explains:

Only about one in five people infected with Zika virus will actually become ill, according to the [Centers for Disease Control]. “The most common symptoms of Zika are fever are rash, joint pain or conjunctivitis (red eyes). Other symptoms include muscle pain and headache,” the CDC says. For most people, the illness is mild with symptoms lasting from several days to a week. People don’t usually get sick enough to require a hospital visit, and the virus very rarely results in death.[1]

This is not good, but it is also not particularly devastating.  One needs only to remember the Ebola outbreak of 2014 to realize that Zika’s threat pales in comparison.  Indeed, the CDC also notes that once a person has contracted the virus, he is likely to be inoculated from future infections.

So why all the concern?

The concern lies primarily in Zika’s adverse effects during pregnancy.  The virus has been linked to birth defects that include microcephaly and Guillain-Barré.  Furthermore, the disease, it turns out, can be contracted not only from mosquitos, but also from sexual contact.  On February 2, Dallas County Health and Human Services confirmed via the CDC that a woman contracted the Zika virus after having unprotected sex with a man who had just returned from a country where Zika is prevalent.

How the Zika virus will run its course and how far it will spread across not only other countries, but across this country, is still to be determined.  But this much is already certain:  our nation is facing a serious public health threat.  As Christians, there are a few things we should keep in mind.

First, we should pray for those who have contracted the virus and we should pray that the spread of the virus would be quickly stymied.  Even if the virus does not affect many of the infected adversely, any kind of sickness is never a part of God’s plan for His creation (cf. Matthew 4:23).  It is always, therefore, appropriate to pray against disease.  Because the virus is spread primarily by mosquitos, we should also pray that the governments of the nations who are being most affected by this virus would quickly develop effective methods of controlling these varmints.

Second, we should continue to declare that every life is precious – even those lives in the womb.  Because Zika is widely associated with serious birth defects, many in Latin American countries, where Zika is most prevalent, are beginning to argue for looser abortion restrictions because of the large number of women who are pregnant and who are getting pregnant while being infected with the virus.  The Washington Post reports:

Across Latin America, calls to loosen some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world in the face of the Zika virus outbreak are gaining momentum but encountering strong and entrenched opposition.

In El Salvador, where abortions are banned under any circumstance, the health minister has argued for a revision of the law because of the dangers the virus poses to fetal development.

In Colombia, an organized movement to lift restrictions on abortion has gained allies in the government but has run into determined opposition from religious authorities. The same is happening in Brazil – and some doctors say that as a consequence, illegal, back-alley abortions are on the rise.

Nearly everywhere in Latin America, including in those countries hit hardest by Zika, women who wish to terminate their pregnancies have few legal options. But as U.N. health officials have projected as many as 4 million infections in the Americas this year, activists are pressing lawmakers to act as swiftly as possible to ease rigid restrictions …

“If I were a woman, had just got pregnant and discovered that I had been infected by the Zika virus, I would not hesitate an instant to abort the gestation,” columnist Hélio Schwartsman wrote in the daily newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo. Each mother should be able to follow her own instincts, he said.[2]

To use an epidemic to argue for American-style abortion legalization in countries that have traditionally looked at the practice with moral suspicion defies decency and smacks of the worst kind of political opportunism.  The effects that Zika can have on the unborn are devastating.  But a moral solution to this concern involves sexual self-control until this epidemic passes.  It does not and cannot involve the taking of innocent human life.  Indeed, Zika should remind us that sexual intimacy carries with it great power and responsibility.  This is true both for the couple enjoying sexual intimacy and for the progeny who can result from such intimacy.

Passing the Zika virus through sexual contact is a real possibility.  Thus, even for people who are married, sexual restraint may be in order.  Sexual restraint is also necessary in order to avoid dangerous pregnancies.  In a hyper-sexualized world, such self-control can appear to be impossible, regressive, and oppressive.  But at a time like this, what an act of love it would be for a person to deny himself the pleasures of sex in order to protect both the health of his spouse and the life of one who could come after him.  We must ask ourselves:  are we willing to love even when it involves self-denial?  Or have we become so selfish and base that to deny our desires is out of the question?

Finally, we should refuse to give into fear.  Every epidemic raises questions.  How will this epidemic be halted?  How many lives might it take?  How many birth defects might it result in?  How widespread may it become?  At this point, we do not have answers to these questions.  But a lack of answers does not need to lead to an abundance of fear.  This is not to say we should not be cautious.  But there is a difference between caution and fear.  Caution responds to a situation wisely.  Fear panics about a situation needlessly.

As Zika continues to spread, I lean on the words of the Psalmist:  “Praise the LORD, my soul, and forget not all His benefits – who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases” (Psalm 103:2-3).  The benefits of God are greater than the denouements of disease.  Zika will not have the last word.

_____________________

[1] Ben Tinker, “Zika virus: What are the chances I’ll get it? (And other Q&As),” cnn.com (2.9.2016).

[2] Dom Phillips, Nick Miroff and Julia Symmes Cobb, “Zika prompts urgent debate about abortion in Latin America,” The Washington Post (2.8.2016).

February 15, 2016 at 5:15 am 1 comment


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