Pandemic Fatigue

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What day is it? They all seem alike. I haven’t been out to eat at a restaurant since early March. I haven’t hugged my son and daughter-in-law since early in the year. All my conversations, except with my wife, are on Zoom, except for brief exchanges when I’m out for walks in my neighborhood. I miss singing with my choir–except for virtual recordings (I did last night). I hadn’t reckoned on this going for seven months, and perhaps that many more.

I don’t think most of us did, and it is hard on all of us.

And it is very tempting to just say, “I’m over with this.” Can’t I just throw a big football party with all my friends? Or celebrate Thanksgiving with lots of friends and food?

And then I remember I’ve made it through seven months. We are in our sixties, and that is good news. By God’s grace, we haven’t gotten sick when others in our age group have gotten very sick. We personally know of people who have died–our age or younger. Perhaps you do as well.

I’m also reminded of life challenges that have lasted into years. And there were times when I wanted to throw in the towel. Caring for a parent with terminal colon cancer. Walking through each parent’s final years, the calls in the night (never good), the emergency trips home. There was a graduate degree while working a full time job with a young family. There were the half marathons I ran. Walking with my wife through close to a year of cancer treatments and recovery. Working a number of years to accomplish work goals that couldn’t be done in a year.

I’ll bet you have stories like that. You were tired. You even were tempted to quit. Why didn’t you? Those memories and the answer to why you didn’t quit might be important in your life right now. It might be your love for someone else who was dear to you. It might be a goal that answers to a deep calling in your life. It might be a faith that believes goodness and truth triumph in the end.

What practices sustained you when you had to say “no” to many good things in life? Maybe it was a few quiet minutes with some music and a glass of wine. Maybe it was a walk in the park. Maybe you read the Bible or said your prayers. Reaching out to a trusted friend with whom you can be your unfiltered self. And you kept doing these things as you were able.

While none of us have gone through a pandemic before, many of us know what it is to go through hard things that aren’t over in a few days or weeks. We know what it is to be fatigued, and find the resources to keep going.

And if we haven’t? Then this is our time to develop the grit, the resolve, the stick-to-it-iveness that will serve us well in any other challenges we face in our lives. What story will you tell about this time?

Why does it matter? Because the infectiousness of this disease means the action of one could affect 10 or 50 or 100 others. In a highly individualistic country, it reminds us how our lives are inextricably intertwined. That party could result in the deaths of grandparents who weren’t even present.

Have you ever thought, “I’ve made it this far, I don’t want to lose all I’ve worked for when I’m getting closer to making it through.” We’re a lot closer to a vaccine than last March. We’re closer to when this virus will recede if not disappear.

As a Christian, I do not fear death. But my faith also teaches me that life is never to be thrown away heedlessly. These have been good months of reading and writing, communicating and planning, building and clearing out. They have been months of clarifying and simplifying. They have been months of trying new things. I’ve been fortunate to work, and work as hard in many ways as any time in life. They are months for which I’m glad I’ve been alive. By God’s grace I hope to be doing these things for a while yet and I want to be around when we can gather and party and sing again–without masks.

I want that for you as well. Let’s hang in there together.

A Thank You To Librarians

Wikidata education for librarians group at WikiCite 2018 by LiAnna (Wiki Ed) licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Libraries in many places are just starting to open up. But librarians have been hard at work all along, even though they miss having patrons in their buildings. I asked people on the Bob on Books Facebook page what they would want to say to librarians.

A word that kept coming up was “lifeline.” Whether it was help getting e-books or gathering their book requests for the curbside pickups many of you provided, people were so grateful for the effort you invested in getting books to us safely.

People didn’t merely see librarians as helping them, but the whole community, just as they always do. But in a time of isolation and strain, your service sustained that sense of knitting together a community and serving that community.

Several mentioned some of your challenges, from the time it took to get book requests to your need to take our temperatures. We just wanted to say “we understand, and appreciate all the things you are doing to keep us safe. We want to keep you safe as well.” And we won’t microwave the books!

You are so creative. Some of you provided craft kits in your communities or special online programs.

We think of you as essential! We want you to be safe and we will wear our masks (over our noses!) when we can come back to the library. We don’t know what we would have done without you during the pandemic.

We appreciate all those library skills and research skills you taught us. We’ve had all kinds of professional and personal reasons to use those during the pandemic.

In some cases, infection rates are still too high to open up. We want you to know how much we miss you!

Your service moves some of us to song: “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine; You make me happy when skies are grey.

One person wrote, “You are important, loved, necessary, and valued!” Some pray for you, others bless you, and what everyone wants to say is:

Why Returning to University Campuses Now is a Bad Idea

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I write as someone who has worked around universities all my adult life. In the last week some high profile campuses like the University of North Carolina and Notre Dame have suspended in-person classes after welcoming students back to campus. Last spring and early summer, administrations on these and other campuses made plans to open up. Many spent the summer creating elaborate testing, social distancing, living, dining, and classroom protocols to lessen the risk of infections. It seemed to me then, and now, that these were plans with holes in them.

  1. Even if campus plans control infection risk on-campus, they don’t control infections in the towns students were living in over summer, or the behavior of students in those places. This is different from primary and secondary schools, where everyone is local and decisions can be shaped by local infection rates. Some students from areas with high rates of infections, or who engaged in higher risk behaviors may bring infection to campus. These students come from all over. Some campuses test students before they move in, but all tests are a “moment in time” measure.
  2. Even if campus plans control infection risk on-campus, they don’t control infection rates and policies in the city, town, or state where they are located. The city where our flagship state university is located currently has a high, though falling, infection rate. Students have returned amid this. They are in bars, restaurants, coffee shops, businesses all over our city.
  3. Even if campus plans control infection risk on-campus, they don’t control student behavior off campus. Students are just like the rest of us in this pandemic. What have adults been doing all summer? Having large, non-socially distanced, non-masked parties. And students are already following suit as reports from many campuses are bearing out. Just like the general population, most students are trying follow safety protocols. But enough are putting themselves at risk of infection, and in turn risk infecting others.
  4. Even if campus plans control infection risk on-campus, not all students live on campus. In fact, more students may be living off-campus because of reduced density resident housing. The number of students in apartments, the ventilation of buildings, what steps are taken in social distancing, masking, and in gatherings likely will be left to students. And these students will be mixing with students living on campus.
  5. Finally, I question the premise that campus protocols will minimize infection risk making in-person classes feasible. At this time rapid-tests have higher false-negative and false positive rates. The better tests often take two days to a week. Students without symptoms could spread infection to others throughout that time. Even with reduced class sizes and masking, I wonder if these will be sufficient to prevent infections when people share this space for an hour or longer. Will residence halls be safe when senior facilities, which are basically dorms for seniors, have had significant outbreaks?

Students are at an age where many may be asymptomatic, though contagious, or contract mild illnesses and recover (although we are continuing to learn about long-term effects on even some healthy young adults. And some will get very sick. What is more concerning are other university personnel, some with more significant risk factors. Where these are known, some have been able to work out remote work arrangements. But those who provide food, sanitation, and maintenance services and many support staff cannot work remotely.

What drove these decisions as in so many of our “open-up” decisions were two things: economic realities and the difficulty all of us have had sheltering in home. The former raises questions about our economics. The latter raises questions about the health of our souls. Yet I cannot help but wonder if this decision will result in greater losses with all the extra costs of starting up only to suspend classes and send students home. What will this do to student morale? It will be interesting to see how campuses that planned for remote learning in the fall from the start do in comparison to those who tried to open up.

The situation on universities is dependent on what is happening in our larger society. John M. Barry, author of The Great Influenza, says that if we do not get the virus under control now, colder weather will likely make things worse, with up to 150,000 new cases daily nationally. We cannot reasonably hope either to bring back the national economy, nor students to our campuses without rigorous control measures. Given our apparent lack of will, consensus, and leadership, I think universities need to start planning now to extend remote instruction through the spring. Either that, or plan for a lot of sick students and campus personnel.

Reading During the Pandemic

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Image via Peakpx is licensed under CC0

The initial weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic absorbed much of the time and energy that I would give to reading. But it has been four months now, and, like many, I’ve settled into a “new normal” that has afforded many good opportunities around the world of books:

  • Reading a history of the Latina/o church in the Americas, Brown Church, and then doing an online interview with the author, Robert Chao Romero, a gentle and thoughtful scholar.
  • Discovering  the life of Nathaniel R. Jones, an African-American attorney and appellate court judge from Youngstown, and going on to his memoir that is opening my eyes to what my hometown was like for the African-American community and his courageous resistance.
  • Evenings reading Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light, while listening to the piano concertos of Rachmaninoff.
  • A conversation with a college ministry work team on The Jesus Creed, reminding me both how clear Jesus was about what really matters–loving God and neighbor–and how challenging it is to really live that day.
  • Trying to figure out why the characters and plots of Kristin Hannah get into my head. It happened with The Nightingale. It happened again with The Great Alone.
  • Revisiting forty years of memories going back to the Jesus Movement as I read To Think Christianly, and sat in on a webinar with the author.
  • Revisiting the difficult memories of fifty years ago through Derk Backderf’s Kent State: Four Dead in Ohio. I grew up 35 miles from Kent, and the deaths of students, including a girl from my own town, stunned me as a high school student. I can never hear Ohio by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young without it catching me up.
  • Amid all of this a relative of my sister who follows the blog and Facebook page sent me a lovely book facemask. I wear it proudly. I’m not only Bob on Books but Bob Behind the Books!
  • I discovered Octavia Butler. Perhaps it was not the best time to read The Parable of the Sower, set in a dystopian America in the not-to-distant future, but it left me hungry to read more of her work.
  • I also discovered the world of Three Pines, and I have fourteen more Louise Penny’s (with another in September). The anticipation alone gladdens the heart.

I’ve been fortunate to have publishers who have kept me stocked up with books. All the news and fuss around the pandemic don’t add to my understanding of how we should live during this time. My Bible, my church (online), my family and friends, and my books help far more, and it is to these I want to give my time. I’ve concluded that the best thing I can do is to share the hope nurtured by my faith, and the goodness I find in books. Both will be around long after the pandemic is in the rear view mirror!

A Few of My Pre-Pandemic Favorite Things

Huntington Park

Huntington Park, one of my favorite things. © Robert C Trube

I suspect most of us have had wistful memories of all the things we didn’t give a second thought of doing pre-pandemic. Perhaps this helps explain the urgency with which some people have tried to resume life as if nothing happened, as if there is not still a risk of infection. Being at an age of being at increased risk, and some health history in our household that further enhances that risk, we’ve resigned ourselves to what looks like six to twelve more months much like the last three. We are utilizing warm weather for some visits with friends outdoors at social distances, plein air painting, walks, and visits with neighbors.

These are a few of the favorite pre-pandemic things I miss:

  • Hugging family who don’t live in our house.
  • The Asian buffet near our home.
  • Leisurely browsing in my local bookstore.
  • Going to the grocery store together.
  • Going to a grocery store at any time, not “senior hours.”
  • Singing with Capriccio in rehearsals and concerts. It is not only the music but the friends and the laughter.
  • Coffee with a friend in a crowded Starbucks.
  • An adult beverage with a work team.
  • Actually meeting with a work team without a computer screen between us.
  • Celebrating a special occasion with a dinner out.
  • Selling the books I’ve read at Half Price books (the stack is growing).
  • Going to a Columbus Clippers game at Huntington Park.
  • Singing with Paul, Jeff, Jayne, Diane, and Tracy in our small acapella ensemble at church.
  • Going to concerts or lectures or any event with a lot of other people.
  • Seeing another’s smile and being glad I do.

I’ve not missed travel–congested roads, airports, crowded planes. I don’t look forward to going back to these. A number of the things I’ve listed above we technically could do. But from what we know, we can’t afford to get sick if we can avoid it. So we won’t do these things until infection rates are very low or there is a vaccine that works. As much as I miss these favorite things, we still have a life we love. We still have fellowship with friends and family. I can brew a pretty good cup of coffee. I can walk in my neighborhood. We can go out painting together. We talk to more neighbors than ever. I think the teams I work with have done amazing things during this time. I’ve enjoyed many good books, listened to some great music on vinyl and CD. We’ve made some good meals together and enjoyed good take out. We treasure our church’s worship times, even if online.

I’m not willing to exchange our lives for a favorite thing. I realize there are no sure things. While I do not fear death, I won’t throw away life needlessly. But I still have favorite things I miss. What are yours?

Pandemic Musings

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When will we be together like this again? Photo by fauxels on Pexels.com

A number of friends have been keeping pandemic journals. I have not but have been reflecting on this time. It is so often the case that we move out of one season of our lives into another without thinking of how we have been formed by that time. We don’t ask what the time has asked of us. We want to move on, to get back to normal.

Only I don’t think “normal” will be what we knew before February-March of 2020 when the pandemic hit. Here are the things I’ve been musing about. There are some conclusions and a lot of questions.

One conclusion: hug the ones you love whenever you see them because, if they don’t live in your house, you may not know when you’ll get to hug them again.

I recognize that many have gone through great hardship of lost jobs, or braving exposure to the disease as first responders, health care workers, or “essential workers,” or those who are trying to work two jobs and care for and educate children all in the same living space. I’ve been quite fortunate and have no grounds to complain. I can work at home and have been quite occupied, we’ve had enough food (perhaps more than enough), and had many opportunities to stay connected with family and friends. Given my age, my chief job has been to stay healthy and out of the hospital, saving the beds and equipment for others. It has challenged me to think afresh of how we use the blessings we enjoy for the sake of others, whether favorite bookstores or struggling charities or those experiencing greater isolation than we are. That is something well worth carrying out of this time. Such situations won’t go away.

I’ve watched the war between “we’re in this together” and “you can’t take away my rights.” It strikes me that we do best when we determine to protect each other’s rights, which guards rights and seeks the common good. I find myself far more drawn to the people who are looking out for the rights of others, to health, to safety, to productive work, than those “fighting for their rights.” I think I want to be more like the former than the latter. Now and later.

I’ve noticed how on edge and brittle we all are. Maybe its too much time looking at all the back and forth on social media and in the news, all the sifting of fake posts from accurate reporting. Add to that the gruesome stories of ICU’s full of sick patients. Add video of violence against the body of a black man where millions can witness his life ebbing away, and more back and forth about protests. Actually, we’ve been like that for a while. The past months have only intensified our condition. I can’t help but wonder if the screens through which so much of this is mediated has us all on collective overload. I sometimes set my phone aside for hours, which usually are the best hours of the day. Maybe this is the season to really work on the media hygiene that allows me to have a life, and some sanity, and perspective.

I’ve wondered about an economy that in retrospect appears to be a house of cards that tumbles when we have to stay at home except for groceries…and hardware…and essential services…and restaurant take out…and online vendors. I realize that there is a discussion to be had (not here, please) about whether we needed lockdowns to address the pandemic. I prefer not to add my voice to all the online experts who know best what we should have done. I worry about those who live paycheck to paycheck who often are “essential” and yet among those most exposed and vulnerable. I’m troubled by the inequities this season has exposed, inequities that have been there the whole time. State-controlled economies seem another form of tyranny. But growing extremities of wealth and poverty, if not voluntarily addressed could lead to the disruptive forces that end with that kind of tyranny. At very least, it seems that we could figure out how to recognize all the “essential” jobs in our normal economy and ask whether they are being adequately paid.

I’ve also been musing on the data that has shown that our CO2 emissions have been lowered to the levels needed, at least for a few months, to prevent further warming of the planet. I’ve also been struck by the images of cities with clear blue skies above instead of a constant haze. It has been brought home to me what a drastic change is involved to meet our emission goals. We’ve basically had to shut down the planet. What does that tell us about the kind of economy we have built that must redline the planet’s operating limits to flourish? What if we set ourselves to thinking about what we’ve done in these months and ask if there is a way to develop an economy where people can work without pushing the planet’s operating limits? Rather than thinking either/or, might we start looking for both/and solutions?

Through most of history, much of economic life revolved around the home. It did not involve all the commuting, the huge office complexes, the relentless global travel of modern life, nor the kind of entertainment complex of large scale gatherings that are perhaps the hardest to resume in a time of pandemic. I can’t help wondering what could emerge from this messy, stressful, and yet strangely creative time. I, at least want to begin asking if there might be different ways of conceiving of the good life.

At very least, when disease is past, could it mean a renewed community life–and many hugs?

We Were Not Ready For This

coronavirus

Photo by CDC on Pexels.com

We were not ready for this. Literally. None of our bodies were ready for Covid-19, a novel coronavirus to which none of us are immune.

We could discuss whether our respective countries were ready for this. Frankly, that’s a quagmire I’d prefer to avoid. I wonder, given the infectiousness of the virus, its ability to spread before people are symptomatic, and how easily we travel from one point on the globe to another whether this would have been possible to prevent. Don’t want to get in an argument on that one though…

It’s plain that many of us were not ready economically. This exposes the vulnerabilities and inequities in our economic systems in many countries. Many live paycheck to paycheck, or even day to day. Few have the six months of savings financial advisors recommend.

Our supply chains were not ready for the hoarding of toilet paper, or infections to run through a key sector of business, like meat-packing facilities.

We weren’t ready with our health. Some of the vulnerabilities to this disease reflect poor habits of self-care: diet, exercise, tobacco use that make lungs, hearts, and kidneys more vulnerable.

What has struck me most profoundly is that we weren’t ready spiritually.

We have a hard time being home-bound, if we are blessed to have homes or apartments. Blaise Pascal said, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” When stay at home orders or recommendations extend beyond a few weeks, I’ve noticed the increased restlessness, even though people can get out to walk, buy groceries and necessities, take walks or drives, and go to work if required. Why our restlessness of heart, and what does this say of us?

We weren’t ready for a problem that didn’t yield to a quick human solution. We are anxious at what we cannot control. We are impatient at what cannot be set to rights in a manner of weeks. We are frustrated that those in authority have no solution that can restart our economy and keep all of us safe from infection. Many of us avoid thinking that it might take a year or more for this pandemic to be done with us, before we can truly go back to life the way it was, if we ever can go back. What does our anger and rancor reveal when the truth is that we all are faced with something not faced in our lifetimes, something for which we don’t have a roadmap?

We weren’t ready, and I speak particularly as an American, for a world where the “big ME” has to take a back seat to “we’re in this together.” Some are doing some amazing things from the medical personnel and first responders who risk their lives to care for others, to the many people who have stepped up to provide for people in desperate need. But it troubles me in a situation where any of us could be infected without knowing it, that people would refuse to wear a mask to protect others, including those who stock the shelves of their grocery, who fill their prescriptions, or for the elderly who have ventured out to buy their groceries. What is missing in our lives when my personal comfort and convenience ranks above the protection of others who may be vulnerable?

Our online behavior of recent years hasn’t prepared us for this, and I’ve become aware of my own bent inclinations in this regard. I find myself spending far too much time following the back and forth of “exposés” and rebuttals, of debates about where blame is to be placed, of protecting lives, and protecting livelihoods. I find myself angered more than I’d like to admit and depressed, and in my worst moments caught up in this stuff. A wake up call came for me a few days ago when I learned that a former colleague, a dear friend, was seriously ill with Covid-19. I realized how none of this had anything to offer my friend, or me. I was reduced to prayer, to going to “the rock that is higher” to find help for my friend, and to still the anxious concern I had for him. Thanks be to God that as I write it appears that he has turned a corner.

I wasn’t ready for this. These months have laid bare the unseemly and the shallow and the poorly formed in my life. And I suspect this process is not yet finished. The question is will I just give way to such things, or pretend they are not there, even though I catch them lurking in my life in those moments of insight? Will I justify such things, clothing them in talk of my rights or freedoms, or will I confess the ugliness, the unhealthy habits of mind and body, and find help in community with others who share my faith? Will I allow the stillness and solitude to lay bare my heart and heal it? Will I surrender the illusion of control that has been shattered by these events and listen with hope for the bidding of what is within my reach?

None of us were ready for this. I’m not sure there was a way we could have been. Perhaps instead of trying to figure out what we will make of this, the question we might ask is, what will we allow all this to make of us?

 

We Knew This Day Would Come…

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Library,” by Stewart Butterfield, licensed under CC BY 2.0

For years our friends and family have looked askance at those stuffed bookshelves and piles of books in various rooms of our abodes. People asked us why we were buying books when we already had plenty of books to read. People came up with a Japanese term to describe what we were doing–tsundoku, the piling up of unread reading materials. Some tried to invoke Marie Kondo on us to purge our books and only keep what gave us joy. One problem. Nearly all of them give us joy!

Somewhere, deep in our psyche, we knew this day would come. Bookstores and libraries would close. Even Amazon wasn’t a reliable source of books. We would have to rely on the books we have on hand. Forget the toilet paper! Would we have enough books on hand when the apocalypse came?

I’ve got that covered. Some time ago, I calculated that I probably won’t be able to read all the books in our home during my remaining life. It does mean I’ve begun to be more selective in buying new books, and occasionally, I realize that there is an unread book that at this point I’m no longer interested in reading.

I find many of my book-loving friends feel the same way. There is a bit of a sense of vindication, a bit of smugness as they look around at bored friends, and think to themselves, “all I need to do is pick up the next book on my “to read pile.” All along, we’ve lived with the dread that we would run out of books, perhaps a worse fate than running out of that Charmin. No worries, we have our hoard, carefully built up over the years.

Psychology Today article, published back in 2017 raises the question of what books we would want in our “Doomsday” library. English professor Gina Barrecca writes, “I want books and light enough to read them by; I want stories, and history, and poetry, and science and collections on art, music, architecture, religion.” She goes on to list the classic and contemporary authors and titles.

An interesting question is whether we have any books we want to re-read. If we did run out of unread books, would the books we have read and kept be ones we’d be eager to read again. Perhaps that question might also suggest the books that it is time to discard. If it isn’t a reference, and we’d never re-read it, why are we keeping it?

The best books are the ones that growth with us, that are new to us each time we read them because we are different than the last time we read them. It might be an interesting to look at our libraries to see how many of those books bring back fond memories of previous readings and beckon us to come visit again. Those books are a good investment, that keep paying us back reading after reading. When we have a library of those books, we truly are set, if not for the apocalypse, but at least for a long stay at home.

 

Opening Up

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Photo by Tim Mossholder on Pexels.com

For many of us, it has been nearly a month since the world shut down and we came under stay at home orders. As I write, I sense growing pressure from, and on, government officials to begin opening up our society. The US leads the world in deaths (over 20 percent of all deaths) from Covid-19 and the infection rates have only flattened and possibly begun to decline. Some claim all this is an over-reaction although the best evidence is that given the contagiousness of the virus, the fact that no one has immunity who has not been infected, and the mortality rates are much higher than seasonal flu, the measures have averted a horrendous catastrophe where lives that could be saved are lost due to lack of hospital capacity.

Some are OK with that. One person I’m friends with on social media claimed it was all a big mistake not to keep society open. I asked him if would be OK to see 50 million infected and at least 1 million die. He was OK with that. This is troubling to me, because while I know death comes to all, this was conceding that far more deaths than are necessary are acceptable to get the economy going.

I wonder, though if that will work. Several years ago, when Ebola had spread to the US, one of the health care providers caring for a patient was diagnosed with Ebola after trying on gowns at a bridal shop. No matter the information that demonstrated that the shop was safe, had been thoroughly sterilized, people would not shop there. They went out of business. When I hear of a restaurant cited for violations or food poisoning, that one gets crossed off my list. Just because things open up, business won’t pick up until people know its safe. And should a business become an infection hot-spot, that could spell then end of that business.

I get that people are hurting. Nearly half of all Americans live paycheck to paycheck, with little or no savings in reserve. Unemployment checks are slow in coming from an overburdened system. “Stimulus” checks are just starting to come, and for many, they are already spent. The social cost to the most vulnerable, including children, could be great. Whole industries potentially could be lost. And these conditions may make people more vulnerable to the virus. State governments have taken some measures to forestall the worst, but for how long?

Like so many things, this discussion tends to get framed in stark either-or terms. We must prevent deaths, or we must protect the economy and jobs in our country. Is that the best we can do? Why must we oppose lives and livelihoods. Might it be possible to value both? As I’ve listened to different sources and what other countries are doing, I wonder if something like the following may be the way we go:

  1. We will keep stay at home orders in place, or something like them at least another month to reduce infection rates to the point where health departments can track, trace, and isolate new infections and where testing can monitor for community spread. We probably should do this anyway because what needs to be in place is not ready.
  2. Extensive testing capacity, including anti-body testing which is still under development needs to be readily available for early detection of new infections and to know who is immune and who is susceptible.
  3. We all need to agree that hygiene, social distancing, and masks become part of our habits until there is a vaccine.
  4. Businesses and workplaces that are “non-essential” should be able to open up as they can demonstrate that sanitation, distancing, and other health department mandated practices are in place that ensure worker and consumer safety. Telework should continue wherever possible. Employers should make modifications and provide personal protective wear needed to ensure worker safety. All sick workers should be able to stay home without reprisal. All workplaces should be subject to these regulations and inspected. Mechanisms should be in place to protect whistle-blowers from reprisals.
  5. Public accommodations such as stores and restaurants should have reduced occupancy limits to ensure safe distancing, as “essential” businesses like groceries have implemented. All these places must be mindful that if an outbreak of infection can be traced to them, this can mean shutdowns, and negligence could bring civil suits.
  6. If there is a “pause” in infections, the time should be used to establish the best treatment protocols and make these universally available to provide the best treatment for those newly infected in a more open situation.
  7. Steps that protect the most at-risk should be maintained and enhanced including dedicated shopping hours, priority access to delivery services, and any other measures that minimize there risk of infection. Some of this will need to be the voluntary choices of these at risk persons, best supported at safe distances by friends and relatives who are not at as great a risk. Addressing the impact of long-term isolation of this population is important.

It seems that bringing any group of people, particularly large groups in close proximity for any length of time risks spread, although there is some indication that masks help. Are crowd size limits at events possible? Is social distancing possible and economically feasible for travel? What about schools and universities?

That is but a beginning. The question of how freely travel occurs between countries and even states, and how this may be screened pose large questions. This pandemic arose so rapidly by combining a highly infectious virus with ubiquitous global travel.

Even vaccines, which seem like the magic wand, must work long enough to snuff out the spread of the virus through vulnerable hosts, requiring a massive campaign for global vaccination. It’s staggering to think about.

Writing this makes clear that the changes in my own life as one in the at-risk population are going to last a long time, at least another year seems likely, assuming we stay healthy. But I do find myself grieving. When will I be able to visit family in person without social distancing, or share a meal outside my own house? When will I get to hang out at a bookstore? When will I sing with my choir? When will I get to go to a baseball game? While parts of America open up in 2020, I have real questions about that for me. It looks to me like 2020 will be The Year of Staying Home.

Memento Mori

I write these words during a week some predict new infections and deaths from COVID-19 may come to a peak in the United States. It is plain that for many this will be a very bad week. For Christians, this is Holy Week, the final week of Lent. For Jews, Passover in 2020 begins on the night on which I which I write.

“Memento mori.” One of the key aspects of Lent is remembering that we will die. During many years, I suspect this only receives passing attention while we go on with our lives. Not this year. This year has smacked us in the face with death. We have watched death tolls rise in country after country, and now in our own. Suddenly a trip to the grocery store feels like running a perilous gantlet.

“Memento mori.” I’m geeky enough to follow statistics. One of the interesting ones I’ve noticed in our state’s statistics is the median age of those who have died. At present, it is 78. What is striking is that 78.6 years is also the average life expectancy in the US. Now there is some difference between median and mean, but it was close enough that it strikes me that the distribution of deaths approximates that in normal life–some die at every age, but the older you are, the more likely you are to die if you contract this disease. Of course the truth is, the older you are, the more likely you are to die, period. The only thing that is different is that because of this disease, more people at all ages are dying at present. For all of us, this is real!

“Memento mori.” C.S. Lewis reminds us in his sermon Learning in War-Time that war does not increase the frequency of death–“100 percent of us die.” Lewis argues that the one distinctive thing about war is that it forces us to remember death. Young soldiers make out wills. How many of us have made out wills and advance directives in this crisis?

“Memento mori.” The practice of remembering that we will die in Lent is not an exercise in fear or hopelessness. It is an honest reckoning, that along with Christ, we must go through Good Friday before there is Easter. Passover, for the Jews remembers another plague, the death of the firstborn throughout Egypt, sparing the Jews only because of the lamb’s blood on their door posts. Good Friday reminds us of “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” Death will take us from this life and this world, but it will not take us from God. As death did not hold Jesus, we believe that death will not hold us. Beyond Good Friday is Easter–Resurrection Day. One day, “he (or she) is risen” will be said of all of us who hope in Christ.

“Memento mori.” I do not think we can truly live with joy in each day without coming to terms with our death. To suppress it, to ignore it, to fear it, to obsess over it robs us of the deeper richness of life’s most ordinary joys. I recognize and respect that not all who read this embrace what I believe. What these times confront all of us with is the real possibility of our death, or that of someone we love. It poses, if we will face it, perhaps the most important question of human existence, which is how we will come to terms with our mortality. Remembering that we will die, and determining how that will shape the way we however many years are yet given us may be the great gift of this pandemic.

Stay safe, my dear friends.