So, the coronavirus – which I’m sure everyone is already tired of hearing about. And, on the medical side, my opinion only carries so much weight - I am not a biologist, epidemiologist or any other kind of ologist that would give me expertise in the areas of predicting or combating viruses. I have only the anecdotal experience of having lived through the swine flu, the bird flu (I think the corona virus only narrowly avoided being called the snake flu!) SARS, MERS, etc.
With that background, I do not take the corona virus lightly. People have already died. More people will die. I can also tell you with absolute certainty that people will die from the organized response to the pandemic. You cannot make decisions for 300,000,000 people without killing some of them. Kids out of school will spend more time with their vulnerable grandparents. Statewide business closures will result in fatalities. Those who rushed out to strip store shelves of toilet paper, disinfectant wipes, and hand sanitizer all increased their risk of exposure exponentially by getting elbow to elbow with their fellow hoarders.
And even with all those measures and their attendant harms, the pandemic will get worse. All the others did. I believe 60,000,000 Americans were infected with H1N1 and nearly 20,000 died. I remember visiting children from our congregation with SARS/MERS and being legitimately worried. So, yes, I expect the coronavirus pandemic will get worse. Then, like every other viral plague, it will either burn itself out or become a permanent part of the landscape – with, I predict, a mortality rate in line with all the other viral plagues we’ve endured. In the latter case, there will be a vaccine that will work about as effectively as all the other virus vaccines and we’ll all argue about whether-or-not we should get that shot.
I do understand trying to slow the advance of the virus so as not to overwhelm the system and to give more time for testing improvements, vaccine development, and other responses. But I think everyone should realize that cancelling every event on earth, blocking travel beyond township lines, bathing daily in hand sanitizer, and doing whatever it is people plan to do with all that toilet paper- will not stop the virus from blanketing the earth at this point.
Of course, my special concern is the mission of the church – and the church has a mission regarding this pandemic! God has prepared grace for this hour and the church has a mandate to present it. In part, this begs the question of whether or not local congregations should cancel services. I have received criticism in varying degrees because IRCC has not cancelled services – though we are making every effort to keep any particular gathering below the ever-changing numerical recommendation, taking extra measures to minimize the kind of personal contact that spreads the virus, advising anyone concerned to stay home, learning to live-stream our service and working daily to increase and refine our response.
Still, we have not yet cancelled services. Other congregations have. I am not party to their calculations. If anyone is interested, I would be happy to discuss our calculations.
But – whatever decision congregations make on that front – there is that mission I mentioned. It has three prongs