Taking care

There is little doubt that the coronavirus will disrupt some activities around here. We are waiting for confirmation of a death in our county where the virus is suspected. It is on of five cases in our state according to health officials. There are usually many people who have been exposed before a case can be confirmed, so it is likely that the numbers will rise quickly here as they have in other parts of the world. With all of the travel and connections in our world, it seems likely that we will see cases of the virus in our community. There is reason to hope that the sharp rise will moderate somewhat as spring turns to summer, but around here that date is uncertain and could be months away.

I have heard anecdotal reports of shortages of disinfecting wipes, face masks, hand sanitizer and toilet paper in conversations with folks around town. I haven’t been shopping myself, but I’m pretty sure that hand sanitizer was in short supply in at least one warehouse store in town because a member of our Department of Building, Equipment and Grounds went shopping for supplies and hand sanitizer was on the list and I haven’t seen a new bottle. The request was for convenience. We’re not out. We can refill smaller dispensers from a large one. We just thought that for convenience we’d have a bit of extra supply. I have two containers in my pickup and several more around the house that can go to the church if needed. We’ll definitely be using more in the weeks to come.

I wouldn’t consider a temporary lack of hand sanitizer to be a crisis, however. We have plenty of sinks and soap and we can wash our hands the old fashioned way. The same is true for disinfecting wipes. The disposable wipes are convenient, but there are other ways to disinfect surfaces. When we managed a church camp that was nearly 50 miles from the nearest store, we wiped down surfaces with a mild bleach solution with dish rags that were washed in hot water. As far as I know it was as effective as disposable wipes. Toilet paper is a slightly larger challenge, but I stopped by the grocery store to purchase my lunch yesterday and saw someone leaving with a couple dozen rolls so they aren’t all the way out at that store - or weren’t yesterday. And, in a pinch, I’d favor using wash cloths and running the laundry a bit more often over going back to newspapers and magazines. We don’t have an outhouse and I’m not sure magazines would be good for our septic system.

I’m not worried about shortages having a deep effect on our personal lives at this point. Just as a point of human interest, I think I will pay attention to the random items that run in short supply. Our son, who lives in Washington State, where there have been more confirmed cases and now a single case confirmed in his county, reported that there have been random, unexplained shortages. For example the local grocery stories were out of tomato paste for a few days and then stocks returned to the shelves. If it weren’t for the the corona virus, such an event might not have been noticed. It’s hard to think that tomato paste is related to people’s virus fears, but it is possible that it is a standard pantry item and people are stocking pantries in anticipation of needing to stay away from stores for a few days.

I’ve heard rumors of other shortages, but so far haven’t noticed any big issues. We generally restock on groceries on Mondays because it is our day off. We went shopping as usual this past Monday without encountering any problems. And I did make a brief stop in the grocery store yesterday and didn’t notice any empty shelves. But if I do encounter an item that is in short supply, I might have more of a tendency to wonder if it is related to panic buying. For example, the grocery store where we shop most often doesn’t stock the largest size of our favorite brand of peanut butter. Frequently they are temporarily out of the next largest size jar. Most of the time we just wait until our next trip for them to restock. Sometimes we buy one or two jars of the smallest size. Since this was happening long before rumors of the virus were in town, I don’t think there is a connection, but now, if I were to encounter an empty shelf, I might wonder. No worries, however, we bought two of the larger sized jars on Monday. That will last us for a while.

I am worried about isolation’s effect on our people. The people who are most vulnerable to the virus are people who are already somewhat isolated. They may live in assisted living or nursing homes and crave visits from the outside which could be curtailed. They might be self isolating at home and missing out on regular social events. It has been my observation that when people stop attending church for any reason they are slow to resume the practice. Shrinking church attendance has a lot of effects on our institutional health and I’m worried that the virus could cause a drop in attendance. On the other hand, a drop in attendance means there is more physical space in the room and people can spread out more and that alone is helpful when it comes to spreading the virus.

The virus is already getting us to be more attentive and careful about personal hygiene. We are wishing our hands more often, and being careful to disinfect surfaces. Now we need to get more creative about how we render pastoral care. I’m used to holding hands with people when I pray with them in private settings. I would never have though about the practice before our awareness was raised by the threat of the spread of the coronavirus. There are a number of pastoral tasks, such as anointing with oil, and just laying on of hands that involve touch. We may be less welcome to visit in the homes of the most vulnerable of our people. Nursing home communion practices may be questioned.

We need to think carefully and thoughtfully as we plan to extend our ministries as we go through this together.

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!