Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

What Are We Emphasizing?

July 27, 2020

On Friday I blogged about curious aspects of COVID-19 numbers are local City and County updates provide. Primarily, the issue that the number of reported cases is not the same as the number of new cases or even current, active cases where a person still has the Coronavirus and could be contagious. What is emphasized in the reporting are the number of reported new cases – many of which appear to be from weeks ago because the person is no longer considered infectious.

Here’s a Monday update, with two things to note.

First, in Monday’s e-mail, there was a new explanatory note included defining active cases – a number always reported but never emphasized – as cases that are still infectious. Frankly this is the number we need to be emphasizing. Highlighting large numbers of potentially positive test results that are no longer infectious only confuses the issue, keeps people fearful, and muddies the waters in terms of what is the current risk. This is what most people (rightfully) care about – what is my current risk of contracting COVID-19 based on the number of known infected people in my area.

Between the weekend (183 new reported cases) and Monday (77 new reported cases) there were 260 new reported cases. However the number of active cases – where people are considered to still have the Coronavirus active in their systems and therefore are potentially infectious to others – decreased from 361 on Thursday/Friday to 308. That’s a 14% drop rate in current infections! You’d think that would be cause for celebration but you certainly don’t hear this statistic touted in news articles.

The only local news article reported how the number of cases and hospitalizations have increased while the number of deaths and hospitalizations requiring intensive care unit care have declined. In other words, the impression is given there are more people who are sick or getting sick, but they are not as severely affected. Since they don’t provide us with a level of detail that includes when the various reported cases were actually tested, all we can conclude reasonably is that more people were sick than we realized, but that wasn’t really too big a deal because the vast majority of them got better without requiring hospitalization. Again, demonstrating that the Coronavirus – while still a risk to the elderly and those with underlying health issues – is by and large not nearly as lethal as we initially thought back in the spring.

Don’t just read the numbers, think about them and draw your own conclusions. I’d be interested to know what the data says to you.

What Are We Testing?

July 24, 2020

I continue to lament the difficulty of interpreting the Coronavirus/COVID-19 data pushed at us on a daily basis whether through the media or through government sources of one sort or another. Numbers without context are unhelpful at best, dangerous worst.

Case in point – daily updates on new COVID-19 positive tests in our county.

On nearly a daily basis I receive an e-mail from our city detailing the number of new cases of COVID-19 reported. Presumably through testing. The source of this data is our county public health office, and the news of late has been dire. If you only look at the headline of each e-mail, the very clear and terrible information communicated is that we have 100+ cases of Coronavirus detected in our county on a daily basis.

A compilation of the data communicated just for the last two weeks:

  • July 13 – 56 “new confirmed cases of COVID-19” in our county
  • July 14 – 184 “new confirmed cases of COVID-19” in our county
  • July 15 – 89 “new confirmed cases of COVID-19” in our county
  • July 16 – 224 “new confirmed cases of COVID-19” in our county
  • July 17 – 137 “new confirmed cases of COVID-19” in our county
  • July 20 – 85 “new confirmed cases of COVID-19” in our county
  • July 21 – 135 “new confirmed cases of COVID-19” in our county
  • July 22 – 160 “new confirmed cases of COVID-19” in our county
  • July 23 – 162 “new confirmed cases of COVID-19” in our county

Add these up and one would logically conclude that, as per the e-mail title, there are 1232 new cases of COVID-19 in our county. That’s a big number. Our county population per 2019 census data is 446,499 people. Which means that .00276 percent of our county is infected. That sounds like a much smaller number, but of course small numbers can be very dangerous if we’re dealing with a highly infectious and deadly virus.

I won’t go into a discussion on whether that’s actually the case or not.

And I’ll ignore that the VAST majority of these confirmed new cases occur roughly 65 miles away in the north end of our county. So our city is roughly 65 miles away from the real problem area for our entire county, yet our city is subject to the same restrictions as this infection epicenter. Despite the fact that our city is only 95 miles from the center of Los Angeles, a distance that traverses another entire county. Since the governor’s current lockdown orders are on a county-by-county basis, it means we’re affected by happenings 65 miles away in our own county, where we wouldn’t be affected by happenings just a little farther away in one of the largest metropolitan areas in the United States.

I’ll ignore that for now. Grudgingly.

The e-mail headlines add up to 1232 new cases of COVID-19 in the last two weeks. That sounds like good reason to panic. But then you open up the e-mail.

The first thing we’re then told is that the county is reporting this number of new cases. Reporting is different than being. Reporting is at least one step removed from the actuality of an infection, because reporting may or may not happen in real-time with the infection. Do the reporting numbers only include tests from this particular day? Could tests from previous days be reported now because they’ve only just had time to process the tests or only just now been able to add those numbers into the mix? We aren’t clear here. A certain number are being reported on this day but there’s no indication that means that certain number were discovered on this day. It’s possible that positive test results are being included from tests conducted at some point in the past.

And it immediately becomes clear this must be the case. Because our county’s current total of confirmed cases is 5,444 since the outbreak began in March. But the number of recovered cases is 5,051. Which means that, taking into account the 32 actual deaths in our county attributed to COVID-19, there are only 361 active cases at the moment. And 162 of those active cases are being reported on this day.

What?

If 1232 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in less than the last two weeks, how can there only be 361 active cases at the moment? And if there were 162 new cases reported yesterday, which are part of those 361 active cases, how could it be that on Tuesday there were allegedly 350 active cases?

The only way that’s possible is if the reported numbers are for cases that were tested so far back that the people have already recovered and are no longer considered active. Indeed, we’re told in the e-mail that 93% of those infected have fully recovered.

So while the e-mail claims it is reporting new, confirmed cases of COVID-19, we need to be cautious in distinguishing this from new, active cases of COVID-19, as that clearly can’t be the case. Apparently, from yesterday to today, despite there being 161 new cases reported, there are really only 11 new active cases. And since there are no new fatalities being reported, it means that of the 161 new cases being reported, 150 of those folks have already recovered. They aren’t currently infected.

I’m not a math major by far, but I think my logic and my arithmetic is good so far. Please point out to me if that’s not the case, or if I’m drawing inappropriate or faulty conclusions from the calculations!

Now let’s just focus on the two reports for 7/22 and 7/23.

On 7/22 I was informed by the city, from the county public health office, that:

  • There were 160 new cases of COVID-19 being reported for the day
  • Two previously reported cases were found to be duplicates and removed from the numbers about to follow
  • There were 5282 positive cases of COVID-19 to date in our county
  • Of these 5282 positive cases, 4900 have already recovered and are no longer active cases
  • There are currently 350 active cases of COVID-19 in our county
  • 160 new cases are included in that 350 number of active cases (this would be the logical, simplest way to interpret this information)
  • 32 people have died thus far
  • 85 people are currently (I believe) hospitalized for COVID-19 related issues
  • 29 of those hospitalized people are in ICU

When I go through those numbers, things appear to add up. Total positive cases to date are 5282, which equals the 4900 recovered folks plus the 350 current active cases and the 32 fatalities. Of the 350 people actively infected at the moment 114 of them are currently hospitalized.

On 7/23 I was informed by the city, from the county public health office that:

  • There were 162 new cases of COVID-19 being reported for the day
  • There were 5444 positive cases of COVID-19 to date in our county (5282 from the previous day’s totals plus the 162 now being reported)
  • Of these 5444 positive cases 5051 are fully recovered and not active cases any longer. The previous day there were 4900 recovered cases noted.
  • There are 361 currently active cases of COVID-19 in the county. The day before there were 350 active cases. Which means that of the 162 new cases reported today, only 11 are active cases. The other 150 reported cases are earlier cases where the person is already recovered
  • There are 86 people now in ICU (up one from the day before)
  • There are 27 people hospitalized in total for COVID-19 related issues, down two from the day before

None of this interpretation is provided or highlighted or summarized in the e-mails. I’d like to better understand how it is our whole county is under lockdown and my parishioners are prohibited from gathering to worship when there are, in reality, only 11 new active cases of COVID-19 reported in our county in a 24 hour period.

Pay attention to the details. Don’t assume that what you’re being given means what you think it means. Look through the data with other people and try to make sense of it. You might be surprised at the picture you arrive at compared to the picture painted for you just through headlines or selected numbers.

Coronavirus Roundup

July 23, 2020

A few miscellaneous items related to the COVID-19 pandemic, mostly in the United States but also around the world as well. After all, who can escape the daily headlines with staggering infection counts and updated fatality tallies? And if these things are being reported so loudly and often, they must be important, right?

Certainly they are important. It’s not as though Coronavirus appears to be fictional. The question becomes what sort of important are they, and how do we make sense of them with other important things?

For instance, we’re being quoted daily the number of new fatalities linked to COVID-19. Certainly we don’t get daily death tallies for other illnesses, diseases, or accidents. Surely the death figures for COVID-19 must be devastatingly abnormal? Surely far more people are dying in 2020 – and primarily related to COVID-19 – than in other years?

What if that doesn’t appear to be the case? What if death rates aren’t massively higher than in other recent years? Could that tell us anything about Coronavirus or how it’s being treated or reported?

More and more I hear different industry experts and commentators talking about how they don’t anticipate any change in how things are being done right now until a safe and effective vaccine is developed. Considering vaccines aren’t necessarily discoverable on demand, this seems like a problematic place to lodge your hope. Add to that how effective or safe is defined with no long-term studies and things get further complicated. And add to that the possibility that antibodies may not last, or may not act like other antibodies and it gets even more complicated. After all it would be pretty frustrating to push (or demand) everyone get vaccinated only to find it didn’t offer long-lasting protection.

And protection is what we’re after, right? We want to know we’re being protected. That’s what our governments are there to help do, right? Protect us?

Or maybe just some of us?

Evidently some people aren’t as deserving of protection as other folks, which is disturbing to say the least. But this is an issue European nations find far less disturbing now than they did when, say, the Nazis were deciding which people merited living and which ones didn’t. At least this is Great Britain we’re talking about, rather than America.

Oh, whoops. Perhaps the problem isn’t as distant from the land of the free as we’d like to imagine.

So this COVID-19 thing has a lot of dimensions to it. But in the midst of it, don’t think that while your businesses and schools and churches might be shut down, that your legislators have stopped working on their pet projects.

AB 2218 was introduced into the California Legislature back in February of this year. In other words, a lifetime ago in Coronavirus terms. I’m sure it didn’t seem so unusual back then, wanting to take money from the general fund to specially fund and provide for transgender individuals and their very specific needs. Whatever those are, as defined by special interest groups where the president/CEO is transgender and 75% of the employees are transgender (Section 2.f.2.A-C). Doesn’t sound like a very diverse workplace, frankly.

Back then in February, it was apparently suggested that a specific amount of money be appropriated from the General Fund for these very vague purposes. Fifteen million dollars ($15,000,000). However despite the pandemic raging and society crumbling and all that, this bill was amended in Assembly not once but twice (May and June). Somewhere in those amendments the dollar amount was eliminated. Meaning there is theoretically – or literally – no limit to how much money from the General Fund could be appropriated for these purposes. After all, this Bill clearly defines the huge need. It asserts at least 218,400 Californians identify as transgender. That’s a huge number. But considering California has an estimated 40,000,000 residents (and that’s probably a low figure given our very hospitable attitude towards unregistered folks), the figure comes out somewhere in the neighborhood of .00546 percent of our overall population.

Now there are roughly double the number of Coronavirus infections (remember Coronavirus? That’s where we started this post!) in California as transgendered people. I think it’s safe to say that the Coronavirus case numbers will grow much more rapidly than the transgendered numbers. And currently most of the counties in this state are under some sort of restrictions or lockdowns due to inadequate medical facilities to handle the potential surge in need for hospital beds and ICUs and qualified medical staff.

So why in the world would our lawmakers decide that right now, in the middle of a pandemic when California is reporting more cases of COVID-19 than any other state in the country, right now we should free up unlimited funds for the support of transgender folks? Why aren’t they figuring out how to direct more funds to those areas areas with the least medical support or the highest rates of hospitalizations? Or at least I’d think they’d be working tirelessly to direct any available funding towards relief of from the Coronavirus, and providing support services for people and families who have lost their jobs and businesses and savings.

So yeah, curious times to be sure. Good to keep your eyes and ears open. You never know what you might learn.

The Forest

July 20, 2020

A very good read here. It requires that we lift our heads up above the headlines being screamed at us moment by moment to recognize the larger damage that has, is, and apparently will continue to be done.

Conclusions to be drawn, since the author does much in terms of description but very little in terms of prescription?

For starters, this should be a stark wake-up call to the inherent dangers of a professional political caste made possible by unlimited terms. It’s tragic that more publicity has been given in recent years – by both red and blue pundits – to eliminating term restrictions on the Presidency than on calls for term limitations on all elected offices and officials. Often such calls are aimed only at the legislative branch of government, but real thought should be given to considering term limitations for the judicial branch as well. I have long maintained that people with a vested stake in the real world tend to be more responsive to the needs of people they are not so different from than people who are virtually guaranteed employment for life at tax-payer expense without really needing to consider the needs of the taxpayers.

Criticism of the media for not fully reporting more nuances of the Coronavirus pandemic is necessary and warranted combined with some hard examination of why such willful exclusion of contextualized data and information continues. Much self-righteous indignation has been expressed in defense of our free press, but when the press is nearly uniform in what it says and how it says it, I suspect strongly it isn’t nearly as free as it likes to think itself, or as we need it to be.

Other conclusions?

Which Numbers?

July 14, 2020

Numbers are interesting things. Or more accurately, what numbers are cited and how they’re cited are interesting things.

Here in the US we’ve been dealing on a large scale with the Coronavirus since early March. Early on as lockdowns were put in place around the country the reports I remember were of massive death rates in Italy as well as sporadic reports of huge fatality levels in New York City. Articles with pictures of bodies stacked on the sidewalk because hospitals and mortuaries were unable to deal with the rapid spike in deaths related to COVID-19. Most everyone was pretty willing at that point to go along with demands to shelter-in-place and shut down non-essential businesses. The goal was not to eliminate infections necessarily, but to bend the curve, reduce the steep rate of new infections so hospitals would not be overwhelmed with dealing with incoming patients.

Here we are four months later and lockdowns are being reissued after a month and a half of eased restrictions. There is fearful talk about rising infection rates (as opposed to fatalities). But the talk now is not about fatalities any longer but infection rates. We’re told about how many new cases of COVID-19 are being discovered. Presumably with wider testing. This is of course concerning. Or is it?

Assuming the Coronavirus is as contagious as we’re told it shouldn’t surprise us that as testing rates go up so will the number of cases reported. Especially if, as sporadic articles maintain, the virus is airborne and can remain in the air for longer periods of time as opposed to mainly being spread from speaking, coughing, etc. in close proximity to one another. In which case, infection rates have likely been much higher than reported all along (something I’ve maintained since March), when testing was non-existent and then at lower rates than it presumably is now.

This is of course bad news. Anything that makes people sick is cause for some level of concern. Every year we know the flu is going make the rounds and a lot of people will get sick (far more than are reported to be infected with the Coronavirus, so far) and many will even die from it. But because we’re used to it, we don’t really take many precautions other than the flu shots that are now aggressively pushed each year despite offering questionable protection.

The Coronavirus is new and therefore we’re much more nervous about it as information is difficult to sift through to determine the real risk it poses. So far what we’re told is that it’s the greatest risk to the elderly and those with underlying health conditions that weaken their ability to fight infections in general. I don’t doubt this is true – my question is how serious the risk is.

Consider this collection of data from the CDC.

The first chart is a week-by-week breakdown of fatalities associated with the Coronavirus either alone or in combination with other illnesses. The first column is just deaths attributed in some way to COVID-19. Note how the numbers increase rapidly from the first reported cases in February. They peak the week of April 18, 2020 when there were nearly 17,000 deaths associated with COVID-19 in the United States. Then look how those numbers decline just as precipitously to under 200 as of the week of July 11, 2020. There are some disclaimers to note, such as the data (particularly the most recent data I would presume) is not necessarily fully accurate due to discrepancies in timing as to when data is received by the CDC. But in any case, it’s clear that COVID-19 related fatalities are nowhere near where they were in April at the height of our fear and worry. The disease is killing fewer people than it used to, despite shocking rises in reported numbers of infections in recent weeks.

Two columns over the Percent of Expected Deaths is also fascinating. This column compares the weekly data to historical data from 2017-2019 and shows how the 2020 fatality data compared to those previous years. In other words, did more people die in these weeks in 2020 than died in previous years in the same weeks when Coronavirus wasn’t in the picture? These figures peak in the same week – the week of April 18 – with a 40% increase in fatalities compared to previous, non-COVID-19 years. And then the percentage begins dropping so that by mid-June overall numbers of deaths are roughly equivalent to previous years. Although data is likely incomplete after mid-June as per the disclaimer notes, again the trend is clear that the virus is not as fatal as it was initially. I’m curious as to why that would be.

In the second table, I find it interesting that while California gets a lot of news play, our infection levels are rather low compared with other places and our fatality levels are essentially identical to previous, non-COVID-19 years. Unlike, say, Massachusetts, which I never hear about in the news! They have roughly 2000 more cases of COVID-19 than California despite a population 1/6th the size of ours. Fascinating.

It’s good to be cautious here. We have an odd habit in our country of emphasizing death counts that is misleading in terms of the real damage done. This is true in terms of our reporting of wars and other international engagements. You hear how many of our soldiers are killed, but never additional information on how many are severely wounded, as in limbs blown off or life-long paralysis or blindness or other severe, life-altering injuries. Likewise, with COVID-19 there are people who do get seriously ill but don’t die from the disease. So just looking at death statistics certainly doesn’t convey the full impact of the virus.

But it does make me wary about the heavy push for a vaccine as an answer to this situation. I’ve never thought it reasonable to assume we could produce a vaccine for this on demand. Vaccines aren’t that simple – otherwise we’d have a vaccine for the common cold! I worry more that if and when a vaccine is developed, there will be a push to make it mandatory – a push based on maintaining fear levels of Coronavirus into next year.

At least as I interpret the data, it seems more reasonable to say (as I did months ago) that likely infection rates are far higher than reported because of inadequate testing capabilities, so the apparent increase in infection levels now that testing is more pervasive is not really an increase in the percentage of people getting the virus, just a rise in the number of them detected. All of which means the virus is far less lethal than widely reported, even if it does still pose a risk to certain at-risk populations who would also be equally at risk from the flu and other more common and known viral strains.

Instead of emphasizing vaccines as the hope for moving past this, it seems far more reasonable to rely on herd-immunity since the vast majority of people who get the virus are only mildly affected and make full recovery. Assuming this process of infection and recovery leaves people with life-long antigens that make repeat infection impossible, within a few years the Coronavirus will no longer be much of a threat, and will be a decreasing threat to people as they age and develop other complicating health issues since they likely will have already had COVID-19 and won’t get it again when they’re weaker and less able to fight it off.

I’m happy for someone to explain how or why my analysis and conclusions are wrong. Data is time-consuming to sift through and there are a lot of anecdotal articles (or more accurately editorials) out there to complicate things further.

Theological Discussion?

July 9, 2020

I’m working through Eric Metaxas’ Martin Luther biography. I’ve long passed the section where Luther calls for theological debate on the matter of indulgences, often described as the “nailing” of the 95 Theses. Luther had concerns and called for theological discussion. Discussion did not ensue but rather a heavy-handed insistence by the Roman Catholic hierarchy that Luther simply do what they told him to do. The result was an unfortunate further rending of the one holy Christian and apostolic church as many congregations confess in the Nicene Creed regularly.

While Lutherans are proud of this heritage we could be better emulators of it. In light of what I posted yesterday from the Russian Orthodox Church regarding California’s surprise ban on singing and chanting in worship services, I decided to check the regional resource board for our denomination in terms of COVID-19 resources. What I found was an entire page of links. But every single link was to an outside secular source. The CDC, WHO, and various California and other state web sites regarding COVID-19 best practices and requirements.

It struck me as odd that as our region of our denominational polity struggles with not just rising case reports of Coronavirus but also secular policy that directly impacts the very nature of worship, there were no links or calls on our regional website for theological discussion on the matter. Our denomination has by and large said this is all a Romans 13 issue and the appropriate response is obedience to the dictates of the State. But rather than a simple top-down decision on this matter the body of Christ could benefit from some active discussion on the topic. I don’t necessarily disagree with our denominational stance. It’s certainly a good way of avoiding legal entanglements and negative publicity. But I’d like to think there could be some proactive theological discussion regarding worship and how singing and chanting play into it not just in terms of tradition but in terms of theology.

It’s a shame if the denomination that insisted on the freedom of the Christian in the Gospel of Jesus Christ 500 years ago is unwilling to see an ongoing necessity for both celebration and discussion. At the very least, posting some theological materials that discuss the issue and offer perspectives and exegesis to assist members and clergy and professional staff understand the nuances of our stance better would be helpful.

It just seems ironic the only thing we officially have to say on the matter isn’t something we’ve said at all – we’re simply repeating what other people are saying. People who aren’t necessarily theologically trained or even inclined. I don’t expect people outside the Church to be able to give this a lot of thought. I do have some pretty high expectations for the Church in this regard, though!

Well Said

July 8, 2020

A succinct and well-stated summary of the absurdity of banning singing and chanting in worship services while sympathetic ears and blind eyes are turned towards riots and protests around the country. It is only unfortunate that it needs to be said at all.

Apples & Oranges

June 29, 2020

I am not qualified to assess whether the US infection levels of Coronavirus are increasing as is commonly reported, staying the same, or perhaps decreasing. Variables in terms of reporting methodologies, the number of people being tested, and probably dozens of others I’m not even aware of are more than I’m willing or able to quantify. I’ll assume our infection levels are increasing somewhat after we bent the curve in April.

However article leaders like the ones in this news report are not helpful.

The US is compared unfavorably with New Zealand, South Korea and Singapore in our rising infection levels. The first thing I went and did was check on the populations of these countries. All of them are substantially smaller than the United States in terms of population. South Korean is roughly 1/6 of our population at 50 million people, while New Zealand and Singapore have approximately 5 million, or 15% of the US population level of roughly 330 million people.

Now maybe the article takes this into account and is comparing infection levels adjusted for population. It doesn’t indicate it, however. It seems to at least acknowledge that the geographical size of the US and therefore the reality that infections can surge in one area and then another is something different from the other countries it cites. So there’s that.

So be careful out there, but also pay attention. As I was crunching some local numbers I realized that for our particular county, infection rates are at less than 1% of the population. Of course, that’s just the cases that are tested or confirmed somehow, but still. It’s a much smaller number of people than you would think given the unrelenting news coverage.

Well That’s a Relief

June 11, 2020

It’s a relief to know that while there are still dire news stories about churches as essentially COVID-19 factories, nobody wants to impinge on the rights of people to have sex with pretty much anyone. It’s not unreasonable to deny Constitutional rights for months on end and only allow public worship to begin again with veiled threats that the rights could be withdrawn again without warning should some undefined person or group determine the public health risk is too great, but it’s downright silly to suggest people shouldn’t be hooking up for casual sex. Just be careful!

That’s the gist of this helpful guide from New York City. Be forewarned, it’s a pretty straightforward document that deals with a variety of sexual situations and possibilities and how to engage in them as safely as possible. Sure, people are encouraged to consider abstaining to one degree or another from sex with people they aren’t close to, but it’s certainly nowhere near the moratorium on public worship we just recently and very tentatively emerged from. Don’t be fooled, more and more sex is god in our culture.

Even during a pandemic.

Evaluating Risk

May 26, 2020

Yesterday Governor Newsom announced religious institutions would be permitted to resume worship and other services. Stipulations and requirements are of course, well, required. Our congregational leadership has been preparing for this for some time and we’re ready to roll. But of course there is inevitably – and appropriately – the nagging question of whether it’s safe to do church again.

Lots of voices weigh in on this. My ecclesiastical supervisor issued a notice today encouraging pastors in his jurisdiction to not rush back to holding worship services again, but to make sure they have properly followed the instructions outlined by the Governor to protect their parishioners. Judicious advice. And while I’m sure there are a few hard-headed pastors out there who are hell-bent on starting worship again without any consideration for their parishioners, I trust they are a very small minority. I trust most pastors care a great deal about their parishioners and shudder at the thought that, perhaps, regardless of preparations and precautions, one of them might happen to catch something at church that leads to serious illness or death.

Should we sing? Should I wear a mask? The what-ifs abound. Despite very low occurrences of COVID-19 in our county it’s still a concern. Given the age of my parishioners the concerns are not unwarranted. Now, as always, I desire that worship not be an associated cause of death for anyone. Now that we know about a new virus, are additional concerns warranted?

Part of that concern is due, no doubt, in part to early reports of super-infection events concerning churches, reports that no doubt led to not just a shutdown of religious institutions but added ammunition for shutting down most institutions in general. Perhaps the first and most widely cited such event occurred on March 10th, a week before the statewide shutdowns started, and occurred at a small Presbyterian church in Mt. Vernon, Washington. Sixty some members of the church choir assembled for practice and within short order more than 40 of them were infected with Coronavirus and at least two died from it. Truly a horrific event that would haunt a pastor for the rest of his or her life.

But what if there was more to the story? What if it wasn’t simply a matter of a church choir? What if additional details weakened the link with churches and singing? Does that eliminate the possible risk to my people? No, it doesn’t. Are individuals and churches more informed and aware and in a better condition to practice reasonable cautions now than we were two months ago? Undoubtedly.

Still the effort to link houses of worship – particularly Christian ones – to COVID-19 spread and as justifying continued restrictions and modifications to worship persist. Consider this story from just last week. The headline makes it sound like this just happened – some crazy church someplace met in defiance of orders and now look what happened! Confirmation bias from the headline alone is pretty powerful.

But if you read the story, it has to do with a church event back in early March. March 6-8 to be specific. Not just a worship service but a multi-day children’s event. The article doesn’t indicate whether it was a retreat style event with children sleeping at the church. But it’s clear it’s not just a typical church event, and I’m guessing there’s more than a good chance that many of those present were not members or attenders of the church. Yet the headline and lead off of the article stresses the need for churches to either remain restricted or modify their services to protect the public.

But there is still risk. I argue there has always been risk. I have members paranoid about deranged shooters showing up, and certainly that’s a risk. We have flu season every year and for many of my folks the flu could be every bit as fatal as the Coronavirus, yet we continue to have church. Over the years many members have fallen, suffered seizures and other health crises during worship. Does that mean church should not meet? Does it mean Christians should be afraid lest injury or illness or death strike during worship?

At the end of the day, we know quite a lot. We know that one of two events is going to bring life as we know it and experience it personally to an end. Either each one of us will die, or our Lord will return to bring creation history to fulfillment and usher in something much greater and larger and better. Barring the occasional Enoch or Elijah, I can guarantee that one of these two events will affect every single one of my members. What we don’t know is the when and how.

But the Biblical injunction in uncertain times is always the same – don’t be afraid. Don’t be an idiot, either, but don’t be afraid.

God’s words to Abram in Genesis 15? Don’t be afraid. What did Moses command the Israelites, caught between the Red Sea and the Egyptian army? Fear not. God’s command to Joshua as he takes over Moses’ role as leader of the Israelites? Be courageous. Jonathon’s words to David as he fled Saul under threat of death? Don’t be afraid. Elijah’s words to the widow and her son who were preparing to die of starvation, when Elijah asked her to use the last of their foodstores to help feed him? Don’t be afraid. God’s message to Joseph in a dream after Joseph discovered Mary was pregnant before they were fully married? Don’t be afraid. The angels’ words to the shepherds before announcing the birth of the Messiah? Fear not.

Followers of Christ are not to be people of fear, and this takes tangible expression in how we live our lives and make decisions. Risk and danger are all around us – will we live in perpetual fear of drunk drivers or nuclear missiles or contaminated drinking water or COVID-19? No. We will use the brains God has given us and we will trust in our God, knowing that He has conquered all things in Christ and even our own health and death has been conquered by Christ. We don’t seek to die, but if and when we do we do so in the confidence we will live again.

Christian worship is the expression and articulation of this faith and anticipation. As we join our voices of praise with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven we proclaim the dead are not gone but saints with Christ in glory, as we one day will also be. And that all of us will stand with Job and gaze upon our Redeemer with our own eyes.

So as churches open – and bookstores and movie theaters and sporting events eventually – we live our lives using the brains God gave us. This may mean we wait a little longer than others before showing back up for worship or using our season tickets to the Lakers. If that seems wisest given our own health condition, so be it. But each person will need to eventually make a decision whether they will live in fear or not. I can’t make that call for them, I can only try to show what it looks like to live confidently in my own life. Failures and all.