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COVID-19 and the Church: An Emergency Physician’s Thoughts


Author’s Note: I am an Emergency Medicine Resident and a Resident Representative for the Christian Medical and Dental Association. My Wife, Elizabeth, works as a Pediatric Oncology Nurse and we are members of our local church The Oaks. The Views expressed here to not reflect my residency or employer but are my own.

The Present Days

Recently I went to work and the change in climate was undeniable. There was an eerie feeling in the air. You could feel the apprehension and the questions that were running through people’s minds. I consider myself incredibly fortunate to call the Emergency Department(ED) my place of work.

Many consider this the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. I currently have some of my closet friends stationed in the specialized part of the ED dedicated to this outbreak. The nature of where I work means I have been hyper-aware of everything that is being said about COVID-19—from scientists, doctors, public health officials, friends, churches, pastors, leaders or anyone else who is saying anything. I have been listening. The talk has ranged from panic, dismissal, calm, rejection of fear, outright fear or trepidation.

Many of these frustrate me because it seems scripture calls us to walk through crises in a different way. Scripture models people walking with wisdom marked by a calm anchored by God and a deep concern for peoples well being (Phil 4:6-7, 2 Cor 4:16-18 ,Gal 6:9, Mat 10:16)/ We should not run headfirst into a pandemic unprotected, ignoring the information we have gathered, assuming God will impart invincibility to us. We also should not hide being crippled by anxiety. I want to touch on a few facts before we talk about ways we can respond.

The Facts

COVID-19 is a virus. Viruses are not technically living things but self-replicating proteins. A different way to think about this is as a robot whose sole job is to build more robots exactly like itself.

COVID-19 as a special affinity for attaching to people’s lungs which is why the main symptoms are cough and difficulty breathing. This virus is extremely contagious. More contagious than the normal seasonal flu. This virus is most likely spreads through “droplets” which means little drops of fluid that we spew into the air when we cough or sneeze. This is why surgical masks help prevent the spread. The masks catch droplets as they leave people’s mouths.

The N95 masks everyone talks about are for Airborne viruses. COVID-19 is not airborne unless you are involved in very specific things in health care that mechanically force particles of the virus into the air (like placing patients on breathing machines that force air into the lungs). (If you want a source that is a medical review of the topic, view this: https://emcrit.org/ibcc/covid19/)

The reason everyone is so concerned about this virus is for 3 reasons.

  1. It is extremely contagious.
  2. It is very mild for the vast majority of people (80%), but very deadly to people who are at risk (age above 60 and any certain chronic conditions).
  3. The potential to overwhelm the capabilities of our healthcare system nationwide.

Again, this virus will likely affect many people, but most people will not feel very ill. A minority of patients are at a very high risk of being very ill. The goal of the public health response right now is to slow the spread and protect at-risk people. If we can do this, it will help minimize those who get sick and avoid overwhelming our healthcare resources as well as protect those that have the highest likelihood of being critically ill or dying.

This prevention is called “flattening the curve”. The goal is to ensure that as cases come the people who become ill can all be cared for by the healthcare system (Chart via OurWorldinData.org)

 

Why this matters for the Church

The reason this is so important for the church to understand is we regularly gather with people of all ages in close proximity. We are drawn and called to close community and sharing meals. These are marks of our way of life.

We need to understand our response to this virus is not to avoid becoming sick ourselves but to protect the highest-risk people among us. The church is a force in the world as such we have the power to change the…



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