March Madness

Well, folks, March madness is upon us. Yes, I know that both the men’s and women’s NCAA basketball tournaments have been cancelled due to fears of contributing to the spread of coronavirus. In general, people are choosing not to participate in any large group gatherings. The Kennedy Center is canceling performances. The Library of Congress has closed. Late night talk shows are off the air until the end of the month.

March Madness this year is expressed in some overreaction to the very real pandemic that is sweeping our country.

People are panic buying everything from toilet paper to bleach to canned soup. Fears of running out have made people intensely competitive in the grocery store and less than pleasant for others who share their space. The theme seems to be, “I’m getting mine, who cares if you don’t have any.” It’s madness.

The theft of cleaning products including hand sanitizer and surface cleaning supplies has spread to the hospital. That’s right. People are stealing hand sanitizer from the hospital at such a rate that the hospital has decided to suspend the placement of dispensers at the entrance of every patient room. The hand washing stations with soap and water remain and I think you can obtain hand sanitizer from the nursing stations. My hands are perfectly happy with soap and water, which seems to dry the skin less than the alcohol-based products, but that means the hospital is going to go through a lot more paper towels. It’s madness.

Nursing homes are, for the most part, on lockdown. The people who are among the most isolated in our community no cannot receive visitors. I know of once case where family members were told they could not visit their loved one for the next six weeks. They decided the only rational response to that ban was to take their loved one out of the nursing home and move her back into their own home. It’s madness.

Residential colleges are telling their students that they have to finish the semester online. Families who have designed their budgets around students living in dormitories suddenly are scrambling to find places for their students to live. Students whose access to the Internet has been based on the free wi-fi available on campuses are struggling to find connections so that they can keep up with their classes. I spoke with a college student yesterday who doesn’t yet know if she will be returning to the campus after spring break as her college had not yet made an announcement. It’s madness.

Some people are choosing to self quarantine even though they have no evidence they have been exposed. Despite the claims by some of our leaders, the US still does not have enough testing kits. The US has tested about 26 per million people, compared to south Korea who has tested 4,000 per million or the United Kingdom testing 1,000 per million. We don’t know the extent of the rate of infection, because we haven’t done tests. So some people who consider themselves to be vulnerable are simply choosing to stay home and avoid all contact with others. They’ve stocked up on groceries and are hunkering down for an uncertain amount of time. It might help to slow the spread of the disease, but there is a big social cost to the behavior. They are giving up their trips to the gym and swimming pool and giving up on physical exercise for an indeterminate amount of time. It’s madness.

“Do you think we should cancel the Palm Sunday Parade and the Easter Sunrise Service?” a colleague emailed yesterday. Both are outdoor gatherings of less than 250 people in spaces where folks can maintain separation from each other. Neither involve excessive hand-shaking or physical contact. Both are still weeks away. Making a decision this week seems to me to be crazy. It seems like madness.

The Gospels are filled with Jesus’ instructions about not living a life of fear. We are called to make our choices based on faith, not fear. But there is no doubt that fear is taking over our community.

March madness is in full swing.If they decide to close the public schools in our town, chaos will ensue. There won’t be enough workers to staff essential services. It’s madness.

A bit of calm thinking is in order.

We know that Covid-19 is a pandemic. That means it has spread around the world. It doesn’t matter where you are, there is risk of contacting the virus. We know that it spreads quickly through human contact. We know that the number of cases rises exponentially. We know that people can be sharing the virus with others before they have symptoms of the disease. The best scientific estimates are that the death rate is significantly higher than other strains of the flu because there is no vaccine and there is little acquired immunity to this particular strain of illness. We know that elderly folks and those with compromised immune systems are most vulnerable and that the death rate among children is significantly lower. A coronavirus diagnosis is not a death sentence. Most people are going to survive even if they contact the disease.

There are sensible precautions that we can take. We can be more diligent about personal hygiene. Washing hands more frequently is a good idea. Washing surfaces more often is a good practice. We can decrease contact with others by using non-contact forms of greeting. A bow is as gracious as a handshake. It takes some practice. We aren’t used to it, but we can do it. We can listen to health officials. We’ve been asked to limit gatherings of 250 people or more. That means some congregations will need to add additional services so that they can serve their people in smaller groups. It has no impact on our church, which rarely sees crowds of more than 250. We will have to make decisions on a case-by-case basis when it comes to certain funerals and a few other special events. Attendance has already dropped off and I suspect we will see an even more dramatic decrease this weekend. I doubt if we will have a problem at all.

And we can remind ourselves that we are all in this together. We don’t have to hoard supplies and put our own concerns above those of others. We can reach out in genuine love and care. In a little over two weeks March will be over. I hope that some of the madness subsides as well.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!