by Pastor Doug Kings
“When will it end?” That question has been on our mind since the pandemic began. The answer remains, unfortunately, not anytime soon. In much of the United States, Europe, and many places around the globe, coronavirus infection rates are again on the rise. The popular mood has change, however, from when the pandemic began last spring. People are frustrated and tired. Sunday’s New York Times featured an article titled: “As the Coronavirus Surges, a New Culprit Emerges: Pandemic Fatigue.”
The United States surpassed eight million known cases this past week, and reported more than 70,000 new infections on Friday, the most in a single day since July. Eighteen states added more new coronavirus infections during the seven-day stretch ending on Friday than in any other week of the pandemic.
In Europe, cases are rising and hospitalizations are up. Britain is imposing new restrictions, and France has placed cities on “maximum alert,” ordering many to close all bars, gyms and sports centers. Germany and Italy set records for the most new daily cases. And leaders in the Czech Republic described their health care system as “in danger of collapsing,” as hospitals are overwhelmed and more deaths are occurring than at any time in the pandemic.
The virus has taken different paths through these countries as leaders have tried to tamp down the spread with a range of restrictions. Shared, though, is a public weariness and a growing tendency to risk the dangers of the coronavirus, out of desire or necessity: With no end in sight, many people are flocking to bars, family parties, bowling alleys and sporting events much as they did before the virus hit, and others must return to school or work as communities seek to resuscitate economies.
As some have said, what we thought would be a sprint is turning into a marathon. Where initially it was expected the pandemic would be with us for several months, it is now clear a vaccine will not be widely available until late spring or early summer of next year.
And a vaccine is the only way the coronavirus will be brought under control. It’s not certain that so-called natural “herd immunity” is even possible. But even trying to achieve it would result in millions more casualties, both dead and those permanently impaired by COVID-19 aftereffects. It would also overwhelm medical facilities, denying needed healthcare to people with any kind of illness or condition.
This disease has been difficult to assess and there is still much we do not know or understand about it. We know now that perhaps a majority of those infected have only moderate symptoms, or even none at all. Yet for an unpredictable but significant number, COVID-19 can be devastating and often fatal. It affects most the elderly and those with preexisting conditions, yet there have been many cases of those who were young and otherwise healthy who became seriously ill and even died.
So, while we don’t like it, we are in this for the long haul. Few of us respond well to restrictions. When it comes our personal health, we all know how difficult it is to change our habits even when it’s for our own good or when it’s “doctor’s orders.” If that’s how we are going to treat this pandemic, then road ahead will indeed be long and hard and the consequences potentially disastrous.
But the pandemic restrictions urged on us are not like our “doctor’s orders.” What has not been emphasized enough is that this is a public health emergency. It’s not just you and me individually that are in danger but the welfare of our human community is at stake. There has been much in recent years that has weakened our social ties (a topic for a future Reflections). This pandemic is an opportunity to rebuild those ties and rediscover our need for each other and our calling to care for each other.
It is a repeated theme of the Old Testament prophets and of Jesus that God’s people live in mutual interdependence. To Cain’s question in Genesis, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” the rest of the Bible gives a resounding “Yes!” This is not a legal demand but a recognition that all humanity shares an essential unity and we only harm ourselves when we separate ourselves from any group and dismiss their wellbeing as irrelevant to our own.
And so, we wear a mask, keep our distance, and avoid crowds not only to protect ourselves but out of care for our neighbor. The medical evidence is clear: such behavior makes a difference in restraining the spread of this disease. We give up some of our freedom and convenience, not in obedience to the law, but to live in the grace of mutual care and compassion.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul gives one of the most moving and powerful descriptions of how those who have experienced the love of God in Christ now live out that same love in their relationships. I commend these words to you as a guide in these challenging yet hope-filled days.
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
Blessings in your life and ministry, Pastor Doug