Why am I speaking out about COVID-19? I majored in Global Health, sitting in lecture after lecture about what the next global pandemic would look like and how it would surely strike in my lifetime. Then I worked at Doctors Without Borders, where smart person after smart person would meet in conference rooms and think through how to avoid medicinal shortages when we all get the same virus (while I sat in the back and quietly took notes). Then I worked at USAID, where our government would consistently give money to weak health systems around the world because they knew we were all interconnected. Then I worked for Global Health Strategies, and was just a few steps removed from discussions about how Bill Gates was positive a pandemic would happen any minute (Just check out his TED talk years ago and his speeches over the last five years for proof). Now I am at the International Rescue Committee, where my organization is responding to coronavirus in countries around the world. I also write a blog, am opinionated and passionate, am young and am a Christian. [I’m also stuck inside and have a lot of pent up passion…..]
In 2016, the Obama administration sat down with the Trump administration to run through a fake scenario of a global pandemic as part of an administration handover. Most of the Trump administration fell asleep during it. In 2015, Bill Gates appealed to the world that our next global threat would undoubtedly be a pandemic. No one really listened, and Bill was essentially the lone funder of ensuing initiatives. In 2014, I graduated from Duke University, determined to work in global health to strengthen health systems to avoid, you got it, a global pandemic, while even my own fellow graduates roll their eyes as they flaunt their engineering degrees.
Fast forward to today, and we are still divided as those who believe in the powers and measures of global health versus those who would rather ignore it. Millennials brunch and middle-aged women crowd into smoky bars, while a select few of us follow the rules of social distancing.
If we want our economy to bounce back, our elderly to live, our young people to stray from spreading the virus to millions, we need to bridge this divide. And quickly.
I began social distancing around February 24. Around that time, I went into my office and got bronchitis from a colleague who had coughed two offices over. I knew she gave it to me, because she was the only one in the office that day and because she was broadcasting that she had bronchitis. For two weeks, I had to use an inhaler, was in respiratory pain and felt generally lousy. My doctor stressed over and over again that I should not leave my apartment because getting coronavirus while I had bronchitis could be a death sentence. She even called me two days after diagnosing me with bronchitis to ensure my symptoms hadn’t gotten worse and to hold me accountable to staying in quarantine.
A few days later, my best friend from college got coronavirus (she lives in Spain, which is battling the third worst outbreak of coronavirus worldwide). A few days after that, a groundbreaking study was published and announced in a WHO communications briefing: those with a heart condition may be the most at risk, with some estimates showing a 15-20% death rate. I sunk in my chair, tearing up at work: My dad is almost 60 and has heart disease.
Suddenly, the virus was becoming too real and I wanted to play my part. Though I had hoped to come out of quarantine after my two weeks with bronchitis, I knew I’d now be social distancing for the foreseeable future.
But, when I checked Instagram while socially isolated in my room, I saw videos of large groups eating brunch, tons packed into a crowded, smoky bar, and countless people riding the subway like it was just another day.
When I asked a few closer friends if they would consider social distancing as well, they would look at me like I was insane, telling me I am young and need to live a little.
Those words stung, and they’ve left me frustrated. How selfish can you be to think that no one else’s life matters but your own? If you won’t die, then who cares if others do? How is that any different than involuntary manslaughter? You know that what you’re doing could kill people, and you do it anyway, and then you do, in fact, kill people.
I’ve been trying to get to the bottom of why I feel so strongly about social distancing, and I’ve drilled it down to two arguments: because of my faith and because of basic public health.
First, my faith.
In John 13:34-35, Jesus calls us to love others the way he loves us. Is it really loving others by going out partying and potentially passing the virus along to elderly who could very well die?
Philippians 2:4: “Let each of you look not only to his own interest, but also to the interests of others.” Are we really looking to others’ interests – ie not dying – when we don’t socially distance?
1 Timothy 5:8: “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” I can’t imagine not following social distancing and then spending time with my family.
Acts 20:35: “…. We must help the weak….” Self explanatory.
1 Timothy 5:17: “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.” This verse is one of the many reasons it is imperative that we close schools and churches.
1 Peter 5:5: “Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.””
Proverbs 16:31: “Gray hair is a crown of glory.” I just think this one is sweet J.
And what I’ve really been meditating on today: Galatians 6:2: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” As my helpful translation teaches me, Paul describes these weights using the Greek term barē, which in New Testament use applies to something excessive or extreme in its weight (Revelation 2:24; Matthew 20:12). Being in Christ does not mean we won’t have burdens to carry in this earthly life. We will. God’s Spirit certainly gives us the power to deal with these issues, but another way God intends to provide for those in Christ is by giving us the ability to help each other.
The church is often evaluated in times of crisis. I want to be part of a church that social distances, that cares for the elderly, the sick, the people with underlying health conditions and the people who do not have the privilege to social distance or whose jobs put them at risk (at hospitals, for example).
During this time, I want to invest in loving people well, and the best way I can love people is by not getting too physically close to them. I can invest in them through FaceTime, through letters and texts and Zoom calls and delivered food or flowers. I can drop what I’m doing – because many of us aren’t doing as much – and actually have the headspace and the time to invest in people.
I want to be part of a church that takes this extra time to talk people through (over the phone) the bigger questions of life. A few people have already reached out to me asking if God exists, because they can’t quite wrap their heads around this crisis. I am delighted that I have the time and energy to talk to people about these things, and I love that people trust that I won’t push my faith on them but that I can passionately and intelligently engage in those conversations. I love asking people the tougher questions and then just listening: Who do you put your trust in? What is the purpose of life? Are we all connected? Who created us? Are we more powerful than science? Is Christ’s love and peace in your heart? How are your relational commitments? Are you there for people?
People will always remember the way you treat them during crisis. I have never forgotten the people who checked on me when my dad had a heart attack in 2013. I know I’ll never forget the people who have texted to make sure I’m okay living in New York during this outbreak. I encourage you to use this extra time (if you’re privileged to have it) wisely, and not to waste it. Don’t binge watch; invest in others.
Okay, so I’ve made the case with faith as to why we should be social distancing and I’ve suggested some ways to make the most of that time. But maybe faith is not your thing. Or maybe you think that’s soooOOooo 2,000 years ago. So let me give you the public health argument, ie flattening the curve. I’m sure you’ve read an article or two about it, but I doubt you’ve ever heard it explained this…. Bluntly.
I live in New York, where there are 3,000 ICU beds across 168 hospitals. About 80% of them are already full from other health issues (cancer, stroke, etc). There are only 600 excess ICU beds that could go to coronavirus at this time. About 360 of them are already being used for coronavirus as we are having quite a lot of cases. That leaves just 240 ICU beds left across the entire state of New York. If you don’t social distance, then we will all get this virus at the same time, and then there will not be enough beds for us.
All of you JUST in New York who are NOT social distancing are giving coronavirus to thousands who will now NOT HAVE BEDS IN THE HOSPITAL. People will be PRIORITIZED, and YOUR loves ones could be the ones who DON’T MAKE THE CUT. Now expand that to the entire United States.
In Italy, people are dying on the side of the road in makeshift beds. That could easily be the United States if we continue to disregard social distancing.
As the International Rescue Committee said, a humanitarian aid organization responding to coronavirus around the world and the organization I happen to have the privilege of working for, social distancing is a humanitarian act, it’s an act of generosity and of solidarity. It is a way to break the chain of transmission and to support people who are elderly and who have severe underlying health conditions.
If you consider yourself a humanitarian, an advocate, a law-abiding citizen, a Christian, a do-good-er, a thoughtful and intelligent leader, or just a generally decent human, AND YOU HAVE THE PRIVILEGE TO CHOOSE TO SOCIAL DISTANCE (which is not the case for many), you should be social distancing. And if you disagree with me, I hope I do not – nor do any of the people I love – come in physical contact with you over the next 90 days. Because I for one do not want to be in the hospital bed on the side of the road. But, more importantly, I don’t want to be the reason someone is in that hospital bed.
How you can help:
- Donate masks to New York City hospitals!!!!!
- Donate to the International Rescue Committee at Rescue.org
- Donate to Meals on Wheels (or volunteer for them!)
- Give blood
- Buy a gift card to your favorite restaurant
- Order delivery and then over-tip the delivery workers
- Donate to your local food bank
- Babysit, provide meals or financial assistance to families of those with health care workers or other jobs where they do not have the luxury of working from home
- Provide financial assistance to folks who have lost their job in this trying time (actors, writers, freelancers, chefs, servers, bartenders, the list goes on and on)
- Call extroverts
- Writer letters to people you care about
- Call your grandparents
- SOCIAL DISTANCE
Lots of resources:
- For singing in the shower: Elevation Worship’s See a Victory
- To nerd out on cool charts: Washington Post’s viral graphic explainer
- To read the realest of real op-ed that I should have written myself: New York Times “Don’t Brunch”
- For daily, too-much-in-the-know info: Sign up for every top outlet’s daily coronavirus email (WaPo, NYT, Ozy, etc)
- For some Biblical guidance: John 14:27; Romans 12:9-16; Hebrews 12:27; Acts 2; Acts 8:4