Some quick takes on what it might be like to live in a pandemic.
At the moment, it looks like I may be getting a little taste of it already — I’m receiving post-hospitalization home health care, which has restrictions similar to a quarantine, But it’s a developing story, like very few I observed when I was in the news business, and I feel like I’m at the bottom of a very steep learning curve. We all are.
Here’s the backstory. Last month I’d been following the global coronavirus outbreak, the same way I follow global warming, the Australian bushfires and other scientific stories. Then, Saturday, Feb. 29 I was taken to the Emergency Room and admitted to St. John’s for treatment of a lower respiratory virus. Monday I was discharged, and now I’m in the home health care program as I recuperate. Which means I’m homebound except for trips to the doctor’s office. I honestly do not know what comes after I’m done with that.
So I’m not gonna pontificate. Or try to predict.
Instead, at least for the blog, I’m going to fall back on a technique I figured out at the very beginning of my writing career, as a columnist for the UT Daily Beacon at the University of Tennessee Knoxville. I called them “mini-columns,” short takes I couldn’t — or wouldn’t — develop into a full column. It gets thoughts in print, but it doesn’t require to follow them through to a logical conclusion.
He say what? Don’t go to church?
I don’t think I like the direction this is headed …
According to a CNN News report today, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are now “encouraging older people and people with severe chronic medical conditions to “stay at home as much as possible.” Welp, let’s see. Older? Check. Chronic medical condistions? COPD, check. Hypertension, check. And I’m already at home recuperating from complications of COPD — if we were are Caritas Hall, I’d stand up and yell, “BINGO!” In fact one of the conditions for home health care treatment is that you don’t go out except to visit the doctor, so I’ve got that covered, too.
But the CNN report goes farther than that. Here’s one bit that got my attention:
Dr. William Schaffner, a Vanderbilt University professor and longtime adviser to the CDC, said these two groups [older people and those with pre-existing conditions] should consider avoiding activities such as traveling by airplane, going to movie theaters, attending family events, shopping at crowded malls, and going to religious services.
Don’t go to church, eh?
Then there was this this, which is more nuanced but points in pretty much the same direction:
Schaffner and [Michael Osterholm, former state epidemiologist for Minnesota], said their advice has some flexibility for important events.”This is not an instruction. This is not an order,” Schaffner said. “I’m not asking everyone to stay at home and lock the door for a month. I’m saying, be thoughtful every time you contemplate getting together with a crowd or group.”
For example, if a grandparent wants to attend a grandchild’s wedding, they could sit off to the side, and bump elbows with relatives instead of hugging and kissing.But someone might want to avoid, for example, a regular weekend religious service.
“Don’t go. Be reverent at home,” Schaffner said.
We’ll see how this all shakes out, of course. And I’ve got a hunch over the next few weeks and/or months we’ll all settle into some kind of sustainable “new normal” except, perhaps, when there are local flareups like we see at times during flu season. But it looks like it’s going to have an effect, impossible to determine yet, on my spiritual formation.
Prayer for ‘rumpled, righteous public servants’
In an op ed today on the New York Times website, Farhad Manjoo catches the mood exactly. He (or a headline writer on the copy desk) noted, “Coronavirus Is What You Get When You Ignore Science.” Duly noted. “Scientists are all we have left,” he added. “Pray for them.”
Also duly noted. Manjoo’s prayer:
Let us pray, now, for science. Pray for empiricism and for epidemiology and for vaccines. Pray for peer review and controlled double-blinds. For flu shots, herd immunity and washing your hands. Pray for reason, rigor and expertise. Pray for the precautionary principle. Pray for the N.I.H. and the C.D.C. Pray for the W.H.O.
And pray not just for science, but for scientists, too, as well as their colleagues in the application of science — the tireless health care workers, the whistle-blowing first responders, the rumpled, righteous public servants whose long-ignored warnings we will learn about only when the 12-part coronavirus docu-disaster series drops on Netflix. Wish them all well in the fights ahead. Their weapons, the weapons of science, are all we have left — perhaps the only true weapons our kind has ever marshaled against encroaching oblivion.
The rest of Manjoo’s column was about policy, not prayer.
It’s a good prayer, I think.
Another prayer — for precinct election judges
Since the nova coronavirus outbreak got to be a public health emergency toward the end of February, the Capitol Fax blog has been running daily updates. It’s published by Rich Miller, editor, publisher of an Illinois state politics and government newsletter, and the updates have focused on the Illinois Department of Public Health, evolving policies of the federal CDC and other information of interest to public health and local government officials, legislators, state agency staff and just about anybody else who might want to track local conditions. Based on its early coverage, I hope CapFax is nominated for some kind of public service award.
Anyway, on Friday morning, Miller put up an open thread on the blog. His commenters, many of whom are involved in politics or legislative affairs, responded with chit-chat about the upcoming March 17 primaries, Chicago-area St. Patrick’s Day parades and the fine spring weather predicted for weekend canvassing, thanks be to “Mother Nature and the patron saint of precinct captains, Our Lady of Perpetual Door Knocking.” Several speculated on the effects of the COVID-19 virus on public events around Chicago. Which led to this exchange:
“I wonder what impact COVID-19 will have on Illinois primary turnout.”
And I wonder what impact COVID-19 will have on our very elderly pool of election judges.
Having seniors spend a long day mingling with all manner of people, passing materials back and forth with them, while confined in a polling place seems… ill-advised.
Later in the day, the Chicago Board of Elections announced, “In response to calls … received from nursing homes, the Board will not be using any nursing homes that were previously designated to serve as Election Day polling places.” No doubt the primary elections will go on as scheduled, but judges at precinct polling places will put in a long, exhausting day from the time the polls open at 7 a.m. till they close at 7 p.m.
That alone makes them worthy of our prayers. And worthy of our thanks for taking on the damned difficult job of making our elections happen, with or without a life-threatening public health emergency.