A long war has left Syria ill prepared for COVID-19—and outside forces, including the United States, might be making the battle more challenging
An Alaskan reader challenged us to share 10 reasons to take the coronavirus pandemic seriously—to believe that it is “not a hoax,” as she put it. Her state’s experience with the coronavirus has encouraged its residents to see it as a faraway problem: The entire state has suffered only 17 deaths so far, whereas a single nursing home in my area saw a higher death toll.
Part of Alaska’s separation is geographic. Air traffic largely ceased from mid-March until recently, and few would-be visitors braved the lengthy road trip through Canada. (For the curious: Yes, Canada allowed Americans to drive across the border if they promised they were heading straight for Alaska.)
That brings us to the first reason: As Arizona, Texas, and Florida have shown, case counts can rise quickly in places that hadn’t been hit hard. This isn’t mainly from increased testing, because the percentage of positive tests is increasing—not decreasing. Frustration with the economic damage from shutdowns has led to political resistance, just as annoyance with the shutdowns’ inconveniences has led to fatigue among the public. Both mean that we are likely entering a period where the virus spreads more rapidly. My county now reports 100 and even 200 cases per day—far beyond even its April high—but plans minimal restrictions in response.
That brings us to the second reason: The supply of quality personal protective equipment (PPE) remains limited. Improvised fabric masks and bandanas satisfy the letter of the law and are likely better than nothing, but they fall far short of N95 and P100 masks—or even plain old surgical masks—in protecting from airborne transmission. Yet finding good masks remains a challenge, even for hospitals.
A third, related reason: Even where PPE is available, its use remains hit-or-miss. Early signals from Washington, D.C., and the World Health Organization actively discouraged mask-wearing, and commentators seeking to downplay the virus argued that subsequent calls for masks stemmed from politics. Yet experience worldwide has shown that widespread mask use really does make a difference—especially when they’re worn properly.
Let’s move back to what happens if the virus does get past protective measures and consider the argument that it’s “like a bad flu season.” Coronavirus has now killed over 130,000 Americans, despite having only infected roughly one-twentieth of the population. Last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated the flu killed 24,000-62,000 Americans—total, for the entire flu season.
We’ll call the higher mortality rate reason No. 4, and No. 5 is what happens to people who don’t die. We recover from colds and almost always recover from flu, so we tend to assume that getting the coronavirus and not losing one’s life equates to a full recovery. Not necessarily: As a recent Wall Street Journal article reported, perhaps as many as 15 percent of people who survive the coronavirus have lasting problems such as shortness of breath and irregular heart rate or blood pressure. Since the pandemic has only been a major problem in America for a few months, we don’t know whether “lasting” means a few months, a few years, or the rest of a patient’s life. What we do know is that this virus does not behave like colds and the flu.
Reason No. 6 goes with that fight to get well: Doctors know far more about treating coronavirus than in March, but knowledge is still lacking. Simply discovering whether steroids would help qualified as a major breakthrough. Even now a debate rages about whether doctors should treat severe COVID-19 as acute respiratory distress syndrome or as a phenomenon all its own. That will determine what treatment patients should receive.
The next reason reminds us that we shouldn’t assume they’ll be able to get that treatment: If hospitals and ICU beds fill up, where will patients go? Hospitals in several areas are dangerously close to filling up, with case numbers still surging. On July 5, Austin Mayor Steve Adler told CNN, “I am within two weeks of having our hospitals overrun. And in our ICUs, I could be 10 days away from that.” All of our knowledge and equipment will be in vain if we have nowhere to put patients—or, as hospitals have discovered with their newly minted COVID-19 wards, if they are unable to staff them. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said on CBS’ Face the Nation: “We can always provide additional beds, but we need the people, the nurses and everybody else, the medical professionals, to staff those beds. That’s the critical point right now.”
Reason No. 8 is more optimistic, reminding us that the only way out is not through simply waiting to get sick. Our efforts to develop and produce a vaccine are unmatched in medical history. This matters not just because we are likely to have one—or several!—good vaccines, but because we are also likely to have at least one by early next year, if not by late this year.
Reason No. 9 underlines why the vaccine is worth the wait: While the current surge in cases focuses on the young, experience has shown that it won’t stay restricted to them. Nursing homes can turn away coronavirus patients, but they can’t function without their (typically young) nurses and aides. If cases surge among the young, they will soon surge among all age groups.
Several readers have offered various political viewpoints on the pandemic, but looking at the situation in other countries gives us the 10th reason: Countries that took the coronavirus seriously are limiting both their death toll and economic damage. Several have brought transmission down sharply, in some cases almost to zero: New Zealand, Finland, and Estonia have each had great success. By comparison, countries like Sweden, Brazil, and Iran that effectively chose to let the fires burn have felt great pain. All have one thing in common: They’re far from here, and their decisions weren’t based on American politics. We have the luxury of being able to see what has worked elsewhere. Let’s act based on that.
But let’s do something else, too. Let’s let our speech be seasoned with salt (Colossians 4:6). Missteps by leaders on both sides of the aisle have led to mistrust among the public—mistrust of politicians, mistrust of medical specialists, mistrust of each other. Social media has done what it usually does, dividing instead of edifying, setting us at odds instead of helping us understand one another.
Let’s be the alternative to that kind of talk. Shouldn’t Christians look—and sound—different from the surrounding culture? As we engage with those around us, let’s ask not whether our words support a given political stance, but whether they reflect who we are in Christ.