Cronavirus fears

We began our career in the ministry 60 years after the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918. There wee still a few signs of that deadliest ever epidemic. People could remember when it was a big deal. There were stories of deaths. We heard about the local cemetery having trouble with burials in the coldest days of the winter when the frost line was deep enough to make digging graves a real challenge. It was a big deal. An estimated 500 million people worldwide got the illness, about one-third of the world’s population. An estimated 20 to 50 million people died, including 675,000 Americans.

As a point of reference, World War 1, which the United States entered in 1917, claimed the lives of 116,708 US military personnel. That confused things a bit because some of the soldiers who died during the war died of influenza.

The point is that at this point the coronavirus epidemic that is spreading around the world is a much smaller phenomenon. It is hard to know for sure, but according to the New York Times this morning there are 70 confirmed cases in the United States and one confirmed death from the virus, also known as Covid-19. The virus has been detected in 60 countries worldwide. The CDC is recommending that all non-essential travel be avoided to Italy, Iran,China and South Korea. They are also recommending that at-risk groups avoid travel to Japan, where there have been 900 cases.

We’re paying attention if for no other reason than we have a grandson in Japan, who lives in the Aomori Prefecture, where there have been no confirmed cases. We also have three more grandchildren in Washington State, where the first US fatality confirmed and where officials suspect that the virus was spreading infected for a while before they began to confirm cases.

The good news is that this particular virus has been most deadly with older people with compromised health. So far children have been able to regain health after contacting the virus at a higher rate than adults.

Should we be concerned? Yes. Should we panic? No.

As is the case with other respiratory viruses there are basic things that we can do to protect ourselves and others. Hand washing, maintaining reasonable personal distance, always covering the mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing and avoiding public places when feeling ill are all good advice for limiting the spread of the virus.

The financial markets took advantage of the fear of the virus to stage a much-needed correction last week. There were a lot of overpriced stocks on the market falling an unprecedented long record-setting high market. The correction occurred at a blinding speed, with stocks falling faster than in previous times. And since market prices have a lot to do with our retirement income at this point, we’ve been a bit nervous watching prices plunge. Still, that is what markets do. They go up and they go down. And a correction does not mean that we’re headed for recession.

As is the case with all illnesses, there is a relationship between disease and finances that goes beyond the effects on the global supply chain. Here in the US people avoid getting medical treatment because of the fear of high costs. I read one article that mentioned a man in Florida who had symptoms and an coronavirus test last month. He was handed a $3,270 bill from his insurance company for the test that was not covered by his insurance. If that is repeated in other places, people will definitely decline testing. Many Americans are reluctant to take sick days because they do not have paid sick leave. Workplace culture in the US encourages toughing it out when you feel ill. Given the fact that with Covid-19 people can be infected for up to two weeks before displaying symptoms, workplace spread could be significant once the number of cases rises above current levels.

In the midst of all of this, we are trying to minister to our people, which means addressing not only their immediate needs, but also their fears. And it seems that there are plenty of fears out there. One of the answers to fear is information. With plenty of rumors and less than reliable news floating around, it is important to use a rational approach and choose sources of information carefully. The present political climate hasn’t been supportive of such mature and critical thinking. Social media and other news sources tend to be less than accurate when it comes to news and information.

Comparing this particular virus with other viruses is not particularly helpful when it comes to calming people’s fears. About a billion people catch influenza every year with deaths ranging from about 290,000 to 650,000 depending on the year. The fact that we already have a highly contagious and deadly virus spreading around the world every year can help to put Covid-19 into perspective, but does little to calm fears. Pharmacies are reporting shortages of gloves and face masks in some parts of the country and a friend recently became alarmed when the face masks she ordered from Amazon were shipped directly from China. There is little risk of contacting the virus form new face masks, regardless of the source. On the other hand, we don’t need to go around wearing face masks, either, unless we are feeling ill or will be having close contact with those who are ill.

I’ve visited people suffering from clostridium difficile (d. diff.) in the hospital and know the routine for putting on gloves, gowns and masks to help with infection control. That illness is bacterial in nature and not a virus, but the protective gear is similar. Our hospital is well set up for those cases, but would be overwhelmed if there were hundreds of cases. It isn’t difficult to imagine a scenario where we would have inadequate numbers of isolation rooms.

So I will continue to read and learn as much as I can and to serve the people in our congregation as well as i am able. Things might seem to be getting worse for quite a while, but hope does not die. And we’re in the business of hope.

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!