|Photo by Saffron Blaze 2012|
One of the best qualities of our church is our love for one another, often shown through friendly hugs and handshakes. But in this particularly severe flu season, and with the threat of the new coronavirus (COVID-19) spreading in the U.S. and elsewhere, we may need to rethink that and to use common sense to stay healthy.
COVID-19 spread rapidly from Wuhan, a single city in China, to all of mainland China in about 1 month. Outbreaks have since occurred in South Korea, Japan, Iran and Italy, as well as smaller numbers of cases in the U.S. and 40 other countries as of Feb. 27. On Feb. 26, the first U.S. case in a person who had not traveled or been in contact with anyone exposed to the virus was reported in California, suggesting spread of the virus within the community.
On Feb. 27, the number of new cases in countries other than China was greater for the first time than the number of cases in China, and nine new countries reported COVID-19 cases in the previous 24 hours. There have been reports of people becoming infected again once they recover, suggesting that the body may not become immune to COVID-19 after infection as it does after most infections.
The World Health Organization has not yet called COVID-19 a pandemic, or global epidemic, but warns that this could change at any time. The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention says that spread throughout U.S. communities is only a matter of time, with potentially severe disruption to daily life, and urges schools, businesses, and other organizations to be prepared and to do all they can to prevent spread of COVID-19.
COVID-19 spreads from person to person by virus droplets released into the air during coughing, or picked up from surfaces, where the virus can remain infectious for up to several hours. The incubation period may be as long as 27 days. That means that people can be infected with the virus and spread it to others for 3 weeks or more before they even know that they themselves are sick.
Aside from the threat of COVID-19, the current flu season in the United States is particularly severe. Both diseases may have similar symptoms (fever, cough, shortness of breath, body aches, fatigue). There are specific vaccines and antiviral drugs against flu, but not against COVID-19, and these will likely not be available for at least 18 months.
How Bad Is It Now?
As of February 27, COVID-19 infections were reported worldwide in 82,294 people, of whom 2804 had died. This included 3664 people (746 new in the past 24 hours) in 46 countries (9 new) and 57 deaths (13 new) outside of China.
The percentage of patients infected with COVID-19 who have died is 2.3% overall, or 20 times higher than the death rate from flu (0.1%). Death rate from COVID-19 is much higher in the elderly (80 years or older: 14.8%; 70-79 years: 8.0%) and in those with chronic diseases (heart disease: 10.5%, diabetes: 7.3%, chronic lung disease: 6.3%, high blood pressure: 6.0%, cancer: 5.6%).
Even though 85% of patients have only mild infections, COVID-19 has already caused more deaths than the SARS and MERS viruses, because it is more infectious even though less deadly. Each person infected with COVID-19 can spread it to about four people.
As of February 15 in the U.S., the 2019-2020 flu season has caused more than 29 million ill patients, 13 million health care visits, 280,000 hospitalizations, and 16,000 deaths.
What Can We Do?
Avoid handshakes and hugs, even if you feel fine, as you could be infected and not even know it. A warm smile and kind word go a long way!
If you feel sick or have a fever, cough or cold symptoms not related to allergies, stay home from church and see a doctor.
Wash hands often with warm soapy water, for at least 20 seconds, especially before coming to church, after leaving public places, after sneezing, coughing or using the toilet, and before eating.
Use hand sanitizer; cough or sneeze into a tissue or your upper arm rather than your hands; and dispose of used tissues properly.
Avoid touching your eyes, mouth or nose, especially in public places, as virus droplets on your fingers could enter your respiratory tract and infect you.
Disinfect surfaces and avoid touching them unnecessarily, as virus droplets on surfaces can remain contagious for up to several hours.
Stay up-to-date with flu shots and other recommended vaccinations.
Stay healthy by eating healthy; not drinking or smoking; drinking enough water; getting enough sleep; and controlling weight, blood pressure, and blood sugar if you have diabetes.
Avoid unnecessary travel to other countries and airports or travel hubs.
How Can We Stay Spiritually Healthy?
Once we have been saved by trusting in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6), we are indwelled by His Holy Spirit, Whose perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of love and of a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7).
As the body of Christ (Romans 12:5), the church is commanded to love one another (John 13:34) and even to love our enemies (Luke 6:27, 35), which includes acting responsibly to help prevent the spread of disease to our church family and community. In doing this, we should remember that there is a time to refrain from embracing (Ecclesiastes 3:5).
Remember that Jesus Christ predicted an increase in devastating diseases as the time for His return draws nearer, along with other signs of the times (Matthew 24), such as wars, rumors of wars, division, Christian persecution, and false teachers, that are rampant today. Although no man knows the day or the hour (Matthew 24:36; 25:13), we know that each passing day brings us one day closer to the Rapture (1 Corinthians 15:52). We have the blessed hope (Titus 2:13) of knowing that the afflictions of this world are but temporary and trivial in light of the eternal glory that awaits us (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).
Pray for all affected by respiratory infections, and for the epidemic to be contained and reversed, bearing one another’s burdens and fulfilling the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2). We know that Christ is the Great Physician, Who is risen with healing in His wings (Matthew 9:12; Malachi 4:2).
Pray that God will use this epidemic to bring others closer to Himself, working all things together for good for those who love Him and are called by Him for His specific purpose (Romans 8:28).
Know what you believe and be prepared to explain the Gospel to others who may ask you why a good God would allow innocent people to suffer (2 Timothy 4:2; 1 Peter 3:15). Despite persecution and threat of contagion, evangelical Christians in Wuhan are handing out face masks on the streets as they preach the Good News to others.
Pray that our church will continue to grow and thrive. There is no safer place to be than in the center of God’s will, which includes being in church (Hebrews 10:24-25).
Pray that we will all be an encouragement to one another in this and in other trials until Christ returns and brings us home!
© 2020 Laurie Collett (Laurie Barclay, M.D.)