A Lent to Remember, as a Worldwide Disaster Unfolds

Written by on March 31, 2020

We are seeing more and more government restrictions and advisories relative to the novel Coronavirus, a dangerous virus which is new to the world, and against which the human race has no immunity.  

Harvard epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch, head of the NIH-funded Center of Communicable Disease Dynamics, estimates with 80% confidence[1] that without intervention, 40 to 70% of the world population will become infected and 70+ million worldwide will die, including 2.5 to 3.5 million Americans. Such numbers would exceed those of the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic.[2]  Lipsitch is not the only credentialed person to make similar estimations. Michael Osterholm, an internationally recognized expert in infectious disease epidemiology from the University of Minnesota, estimates “conservatively” that about a half-million Americans will die. In his words, “we conservatively estimate that this could require 48 million hospitalizations, 96 million cases actually occurring, over 480,000 deaths that can occur over the next four to seven months.”[3] This is definitely not the seasonal flu.

The lack of immunity means that the epidemic may not die out until “herd immunity” is achieved, when 70 to 80% have become infected.  On the road to those levels, we can expect exponential growth in cases.  The R0 for COVID-19 (“R naught,” which stands for the rate of infection of a disease in a population of no immunity) is 2.  That means each infected person will, on average, infect two others.  Those two persons will then each infect two more, and so on and so forth, causing an exponential increase in cases.  This is the mathematics behind the explosive growth in COVID-19 cases seen worldwide, and it gives a strong indication of what will happen in the US without strong mitigation to stop the spreading.  Unfortunately, these efforts were begun late.

As the number of cases is expected to increase exponentially, it is estimated that US hospitals will be overwhelmed by mid April.[4]  Some of Italy’s hospitals are already in triage mode, and according to major media reports, are allowing patients in their 80’s to die as the resources are not sufficient to treat all patients. One Italian nurse described the conditions at her hospital: patients were dying alone because of a shortage of staff, many of who were also ill.  

The scale of the crisis should not be underestimated. Major media reports indicate that crematoria in northern Italy are running 24/7, but are unable to keep up.  In response, the Italian military has been tasked with taking the bodies to other locations for cremation.  This suggests that reports from Chinese billionaire and dissident Miles Guo could be accurate: that in Wuhan, 49 crematories were operating 24/7, burning 1,200 bodies a day for at least 17 days[5] (this computes to about 20,000 bodies). According to the Daily Mail, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson “has been warned by scientific advisers that China’s officially declared statistics on the number of cases of coronavirus could be ‘downplayed by a factor of 15 to 40 times’.”[6]

Medical Consequences

It is said that COVID-19 will affect 80% of infected persons in a “mild” way.  However a “mild” case of this disease involves everything that does not require oxygen therapy, ranging from no symptoms to high fever, cough, and pneumonia.  A “severe” case requires oxygen therapy, sometimes a breathing tube and ventilator.  “Critical” cases involve respiratory failure or multiple organ failure.[7]

The most affected are the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions and risk factors.  About 10% of known cases require intensive care, and about 15 to 20% require hospitalization. Some risk factors include cigarette smoking, obesity, diabetes, moderate to severe asthma, serious heart problems, renal failure, and being immunocompromised.[8] Elderly are by no means the only affected.  A doctor at Milan, Italy’s major hospital reported an alarming number of patients in their 40s with very bad cases. This latest development was noted by Doctor Birx, a member of President Trump’s Coronavirus Task Force, during a presidential news conference.

Precautions We Can Take

The above is not to scare you out of your wits, but to scare you into your wits.  We need to be serious about taking precautions to avoid becoming infected.   Social distancing – avoiding contact with as many people as reasonably possible, and staying 6 to 10 feet away from persons is key.  Washing and sanitizing hands and surfaces is also extremely important.  The virus can exist on stainless steel and plastic surfaces for three days, and can exist in aerosol form in the air for three hours after a person coughs .  It can also exist on porous surfaces like clothing for a time.

At present the CDC doesn’t recommend masks for the general public, but this is likely due to the shortage of masks, which is impacting medical professionals. However, it is reconsidering this policy.[9]  In China, it was illegal for members of the public to not wear one in public places. There are at least three potential benefits of wearing a mask: 1) a mask impedes asymptomatic but contagious persons from passing the virus to others, so if all were to wear one, we might so attenuate the transmission of the virus that the pandemic would die out; 2) a mask prevents people from touching their mouth or nose with contaminated hands, thereby reducing the chance of infection; 3) wearing a mask would increase the likelihood of a low inoculum, or dosage, at the time of infection, as it might block some virus-laden particles from entering the nose or mouth, which might result in a less severe case of COVID-19.[10] Therefore, if you cannot get a mask, you may want to learn to make an excellent one using patterns available online.[11]

Bishops’ Decision to Stop Public Masses, and Our Response

Some have criticized the decision of bishops worldwide to end all public Masses, but in my estimation this seems to be a good decision, as long as priests continue to say Mass privately and make confession available.  

In Italy, 60 priests have died in the last 30 days.[12]  Fifty-nine religious sisters at two convents in the Rome area tested positive.  The Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter announced that most of its priests at the Wigratzbad seminary in Germany are ill, and half of their seminarians.   

Many people who go to churches are elderly, and among the most susceptible, while everyone is at least somewhat susceptible and a potential carrier to other members of the population. Some have argued that Churches were not closed during the Black Plague in the Middle Ages, but then little was known about infectious diseases until more recently. Today we have computer modeling and the data of past epidemics to help us understand how they spread and how to most effectively slow them. Of those who know more, God expects more.  

Given the health emergency, should we not recognize that avoiding unnecessary contact with others could save lives?  We know that our love for others is real when we are willing to make sacrifices for them, and the knowledge that our love is authentic should give us joy.  Given this, it seems to me that we should joyfully give up the privilege of receiving Holy Communion for a time if it is for the good of our neighbor, and also if our bishop, a successor of an apostle, is directing us to do so. 

An Opportunity for Government to Usurp Our Liberties?

Some worry that the extreme government “lockdown” measures proposed to slow the spread of the Coronavirus may also conceal an ulterior motive: they could serve to accustom Americans to a generally increased government role in the regulation of public and social life and activity, which could threaten civil liberties and bring further, undue government intrusion. 

Notwithstanding the hoped-for effectiveness of these measures, the danger of government overreach is a real problem and one that has been enhanced by most federal officeholders Americans have elected in recent decades: people who don’t respect the basic requirements of the oath of office. Such officeholders do not have the minimum competency and/or decency to respect their solemn commitments, which is what the oath of office is: a solemn commitment.  From such people we should expect the worst, and with the federal government under their control, to gradually lose our constitutional rights. This is indeed what has been happening.  Sadly, most American voters, including pro-lifers, have been key to this trend, and may therefore reap the bitter harvest of what they have sown.

Conclusion: Let’s Do Our Part, and Trust the Rest to God

God is always in charge, and hopefully we will always put our trust completely in Him: a Christian who despairs is not doing so.  We do not always have it in our power to change trends, but sometimes we can work to influence them.  We cannot always stop disease or disaster, but we can take prudent precautions and make prudent preparations. When we have done our part, the rest is up to God. During these times, we should offer up all of our sufferings, and remember that the sufferings of the servant are not entirely different from those of the Master, Our Lord Jesus Christ.

This is shaping up to be quite a Lent.  The need to reflect on our lives and our standing with God is hopefully more evident to everyone.  We will all someday stand before God’s judgment seat and answer for our actions and omissions.  Let us avail ourselves now of His abundant mercy, presented to many of us in the opportunity to make a good sacramental confession for the absolution of our sins. 

Immaculate Virgin, pray for us!  Saints Joseph, Sebastian and Corona, intercede for us!

Catholic Citizenship Disclaimer
The views, opinions, and recommendations expressed in this blog post are those of the author; they do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, and recommendations of any affiliated person or organization. (Click Here to see full disclaimer).

Sources   [ + ]

1. A statistical measure of the reliability of an estimate.
2. “The Federal Government Needs a Military-Style Campaign against the Coronavirus,” Henn, Carl, Feb. 28, 2020, Defense One, View Citation
3. “Scientist: 480,000 Could Die from Coronavirus, 48 Million Hospitilizations,” DeRensis, Hunter, The National Interest, Mar. 12, 2020, View Citation
4. The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation is doing an ongoing study to estimate the needs of hospitals, as well as to estimate the number of likely deaths from COVID-19. These estimates are nationwide and broken down by state. You can use the drop down menu at the link below to pull up estimates for your state. Large shortfalls in hospital and ICU beds are predicted. View Citation
5. Miles Guo Interview with Stephen K Bannon on War Room: Pandemic, Feb 8, 2020, Watch the Video
6. “China’s efforts to blame coronavirus on a US army delegation to Wuhan infuriate No. 10 as Boris Johnson’s advisers say Beijing’s statistics on its cases could be downplayed by a factor of 40,” Daily Mail, Cole, Harry, Mar. 28,2020, View Article
7. “What Will You Do If You Start Coughing?”, The Atlantic, Hamblin, James, Mar. 11, 2020, View Article
8. “People Who are at Higher Risk of Severe Illness,” CDC, Mar. 26, 2020, View Citation
9. “The CDC is Considering Recommending that the Public Wear Face Coverings in Public,” Washington Post, Achenbach, Joel. Mar. 30, 2020, View Article
10. “How Does the Coronavirus Behave Inside a Patient?,” Mukherjee, Siddhartha, Mar. 26, 2020, The New Yorker, View Article
11. How to make a mask. Some of these include pockets for filter media that will block a particulates. https://www.craftpassion.com/face-mask-sewing-pattern/
12. “At least 60 Italian Priests have Died after Contracting Coronavirus,” The Pilot, Mares, Courtney, Mar. 23, 2020, View Article

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