By Elizabeth Shiverdecker
Northeast MS – Throughout the world, devoutly religious people have been particularly vulnerable to coronavirus infection and have unwittingly contributed to its spread. Religious groups have been found to be at the center of outbreaks in South Korea, Iran, and just recently in New Rochelle in Upstate New York. This is due in part to the close proximity among congregants, as well as to practices such as communion, shared food and the passing around of the collection plate.
Major events all over the country such as political rallies, sporting events, concerts and St. Patrick’s Day celebrations have been cancelled. Schools and universities are closing as well. But so far, politicians and public health officials have shied away from telling religious Americans to stay home on Sunday.
At this point, containment of a pandemic infection is a lost cause; virus mitigation is now the next line of defense. The goal of mitigation is to slow down the rate of new infections by making it more difficult for it to jump from one victim to the next. In other words, we must spread the inevitable number of infections over the longest possible time.
Why make the spread of infection last longer?
As the virus runs its course, about the same number of people will ultimately be infected no matter what precautions we take. Spreading them over a longer time keeps healthcare and other community resources from being overwhelmed or exhausted. Hospital beds, respirators, medications, healthcare workers and other resources are in limited quantities. It takes time to adequately clean, to restock supplies and to let front line healthcare workers rest between surges.
At any given time, there are only a certain amount of resources on hand. And if, on any given day, there are more victims than can be effectively cared for, the available resources will go to those with the best chance for survival. Bluntly, the quicker the infection spreads, the more of us will die. Our chances of survival are drastically increased by each of us doing our part in the damage-control effort by isolating ourselves, avoiding crowds, washing our hands, etc.
Already, cancellations of sporting events, social gatherings and travel have been ignored or protested by folks who don’t want to have their plans disrupted, or just plain don’t want to be told what to do. This is understandable. People have worked hard, saved their pennies and looked forward to “Gittin’ in amongst the folks,” cheering, jeering, and sharing food, personal space and airborne saliva droplets with people they know little to nothing about.
The bottom line is, in a pandemic, crowds are your enemy. By staying home and using technology to participate remotely this time, you increase the chances that you and more of the “folks” will be around next time for the in-person experience. School and sporting events, cruises, reunions, and concerts must be avoided. Your life or that of someone you love may depend on it.(See links to local churches that stream services at end of article.)
What can local congregations do for the community?
Church is a cornerstone of life in our communities, providing comfort and opportunities for fellowship, and hope to people in despair. Those things are crucial to our well-being, and never more so than in times of fear and uncertainty. Many of us will balk at being told to skip church, even knowing the stakes involved.
Elected officials are generally loathe to address the church issue. Church leaders and the congregants themselves must, therefore, step up and look for ways to remind us that we are all in this together, even as we do the responsible thing by isolating ourselves and protecting those we love.
One great thing churches could do is mobilize their young healthy members to help the elderly and vulnerable in our community. Many will be forced to stay home and will be dependent upon civic-minded people to bring them food, medicine and other vital supplies. Churches could also enlist members to make daily phone calls to home-bound people, make sure they’re OK, and let them hear a friendly voice.
For the rest of us, many churches have televised services which you can follow from the safety of home.Telephones and the Internet make it easier than ever for us to stay in touch with our brethren. God hears you no matter where you pray. So, for Heaven’s sake, stay home; protect yourselves, your loved ones, and your community.
Sources and more information links:
New Rochelle synagogue epicenter of outbreak: https://www.cbs58.com/news/what-life-is-like-inside-the-coronavirus-containment-zone-in-new-rochelle-new-york
Christian sect in South Korea spreads virus, prevents government from tracking its members: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-51701039
Shia Muslim pilgrims at the heart of the Iranian outbreak: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/feb/25/coronavirus-middle-iran-denies-cover-up-qom-refugees
In an unprecedented move, Vatican orders all Catholic churches in Rome closed: https://www.straitstimes.com/world/europe/coronavirus-deaths-in-italy-top-1000
Polish bishop says it’s “unimaginable” to close churches, orders more masses instead: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-poland-masses/polish-church-wants-more-masses-to-meet-coronavirus-limits-idUSKBN20X291
Streaming links to local churches. Services will be added to this list as they become known to NEMiss.NEWS:
- First United Methodist Church, New Albany MS: http://fumcnewalbany.com
- First Baptist Church Tupelo, MS: https://www.fbctupelo.com/
- Hillcrest Baptist Church, New Albany MS: https://hillcrestministries.co
- First Baptist Church New Albany MS: (https://