COVID-19 Comes Knocking with Opportunity

| March 26, 2020 | 0 Comments

Are you tired of hearing about COVID-19 by now? Join me if you are! Like it or not, though, we are all in this for the long haul: This disease has come knocking on our door now. It is safe to say that the virus that causes COVID-19 has disrupted the lives of most people on earth by now. Many of us are under “lockdown” orders from the government. While my job has not been affected (I work from home), my son is off from his construction job for two weeks because Pennsylvania has ordered that all non-essential businesses shut down if they cannot be run from home. If your nation, state, or province isn’t at this point yet, be prepared for it sooner or later. It may not happen in all places, but lockdowns are spreading around the globe.

As we at Plain News have discussed how to report on this, a couple of guidelines have been put in place. First, try to find the proper place between needlessly creating fear and carelessly ignoring the dangers that COVID-19 presents to society. Second, find information from reputable places. Third, avoid information overload, something that AP (Associated Press) pointed out in a recent news article.

A recent article on Plain News by me about FOMO (fear of missing out) also fits in here, even though that article was originally written weeks ago without any reference to COVID-19. Do we fear missing out on the latest statistic? Do we have to have minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour, or even day-to-day updates on how many deaths are occurring? I confess, I have had to check myself on this, even after writing that article on FOMO!

With all of this in mind, Plain News will not be publishing long articles on COVID-19 statistics on a daily basis, but will be discretely providing information that may be useful for subscribers to have a general idea of what is happening and what to expect. And, please, do not consider Plain News to be the authoritative voice on this matter: We are only trying to provide a service to the best of our ability.

In this article, I want to cover the following points about COVID-19:

  • Symptoms
  • Prevention measures review
  • What to do if you get infected
  • Immunity
  • Statistics showing infection and death rates
  • The way forward

Before beginning, I will briefly review what I wrote in my first report. First, COVID-19 stands for Corona Virus Disease – 2019. It is caused by a virus, but is from a different virus Family than influenza (flu). I failed to mention in the previous report that colds are of a different virus family than flus. There are over 200 strains of cold viruses, most of them in the Picornaviridae Family, Genus Enterovirus.

Perhaps this is the place to say that there is no known way at present to fully stop a virus attack on a human (besides what the human body produces in antibodies, which will be discussed below). Whoever can find a way to fully stop a virus attack (without also killing the person with the virus!) can become an instant multi-millionaire and will become a science hero for the rest of human history. I say that to warn us against falling for some supposed secret wonder treatments or recipes that will cure a viral infection.

Symptoms

Before even beginning to describe the symptoms of COVID-19, let me say something that I personally feel the secular news agencies failed to say when they first started to report on COVID-19, and thus helped to cause panic among some people. World statistics are showing that 96% of people who get infected with COVID-19 are experiencing only minor symptoms and will recover just fine without any need of medical attention. The failure to say this probably helped lead to the run on buying masks, toilet paper, and groceries, which left store shelves empty. This was not necessary. On the other hand, when this first broke out, there were more unknowns as to where this thing would or could go.

By now, though, statistics are showing that most people who get this only have mild symptoms. You do not need to, and should not, go to the hospital when you first start getting symptoms (unless you know that you have a pre-existing issue that could be a special case). If your symptoms get bad enough, then yes, a hospital visit may be necessary. But some hospitals are experiencing Emergency Room jams from people who are showing up with only minor symptoms. This makes it harder for hospitals to accommodate those who really need special help.

The following graph provides a general overview of symptoms between a cold, a flu, and COVID-19. Do be careful about making any solid claims using only self-diagnosis: The symptoms do overlap, and only a test can determine which virus we may or may not have.

Notice the three main symptoms of COVID-19, which are underlined for mild cases: fever, dry cough, and shortness of breath. But also note that other symptoms are possible. No consensus has been reached as to how many people may actually have COVID-19, but display no or very few symptoms. The disease is too new, and tests are too sparse, to determine this aspect at this point in time.

Prevention

This was covered in my previous article, but a review will be appropriate here. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends the following points in a bulletin published on March 19, 2020, called “Rational use of personal protective equipment (PPE) for coronavirus disease (COVID-19)”.

  • Hand hygiene. Wash hands with soap and water or use alcohol-based rub.
  • Avoid touching eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Sneeze into tissue or elbow, and immediately dispose of tissue
  • Wear a mask if around someone with respiratory symptoms. Note that the bulletin discourages the use of a mask if not directly working with a person with symptoms, saying: “For persons without symptoms, wearing a mask of any type is not recommended. Wearing medical masks when they are not indicated [as necessary] may cause unnecessary cost and a procurement burden and create a false sense of security that can lead to the neglect of other essential preventive measures.”
  • Maintain a social distance of a minimum of 1 meter (3 feet) when around people with respiratory symptoms.

Note that some local health departments and/or governments may ask for stricter measures. This may include more social distance, avoiding group gatherings, closing businesses, and stay at home orders. As Plain News cannot report on each local area’s restrictions and requirements, we give the recommendation to contact your local health department or other civil authorities for any further information on these local measures.

Social distancing measures are meant to keep the disease from spreading rapidly. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) gives this definition for social distancing: Social distancing means remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings, and maintaining distance (approximately 6 feet or 2 meters) from others when possible.

If extreme lockdown measures are used, the disease may even be stopped in a locality. But this means that basically no one steps out of their house. Lesser measures (such as only avoiding large gatherings) are designed to only slow down the spread so that the health care system is not overwhelmed.

Although it is unknown if pets are able to get infected with COVID-19, the CDC is recommending limited contact with pets until more information is known.

Disinfecting items that are commonly touched is recommended, such as doorknobs, stair rails, and telephones.

If you get COVID-19

The CDC has the following recommendations for those with mild symptoms:

  • Stay home, and quarantine yourself as much as possible, even from other family members. This includes using a separate restroom if possible.
  • Keep in touch with your doctor, consulting him before you seek medical care. If you must leave to seek medical care, avoid public transportation.
  • Wear a face mask. This includes those who are caring for an infected person.
  • Avoid sharing household items such as dishes, towels, and bedding.

In simple words, these recommendations say, “You are sick with a contagious disease. Use common sense to stop the spread.”

The CDC recommends isolation until you have not had fever for three days, all symptoms have disappeared, and it has been at least seven days since your symptoms began. So, if you have the disease, a minimum of one week of quarantine is your outlook. However, it may be two or more weeks.

The CDC does not tell you this, but I will make this recommendation: Grab a Bible and enjoy a week of time alone with God!

A look at some statistics

Speculation has abounded as COVID-19 has spread around the world. How many would it infect? How many would die? In the early stages, speculation was about all that one could do, as this was a new virus, and each virus acts differently.

But statistics are beginning to roll in from various parts of the world. It is still too early to form solid pictures, but an outline is forming. Consider these statistics from South Korea (from a couple of days ago), which successfully reined in the initial spread of the disease within their borders. (And that without any universal lockdowns, but with intense testing and strict mandatory quarantines of those in contact with infected people.)

What can we learn from this? First of all, the overall fatality rate is just above 1% (newer evidence is even putting this number down to .5%, or 5 out of 1000). Secondly, we notice that even though people under 50 years of age represent over half of the infected people, only two people in that age group died. The largest percentage of deaths was for those over 80 (4% of the infected), having about 40% of the deaths. The death rate for this age group is just over 10%. That means that 9 out of 10 people over the age of 80 who were infected, survived.

Note that in other nations, some children and young adults have died, but they have usually been those with pre-existing medical conditions. A few perfectly healthy younger people have died from COVID-19, but these are considered outliers in general.

These statistics look a lot better than most of the early speculation. However, this is only one nation. Other nations have other statistics. Italy is noted for having a higher death rate than South Korea. No one is sure why, but several things are possible. For one, Italy has the second oldest population in the world (after Japan). Also, it may have to do with how people are tested. South Korea had a strong test program (despite the shortage of tests available, they pushed that aspect). Italy is not testing as many people, so they may not be finding out that many people are indeed infected, but only showing minor symptoms. Germany, for example, is showing an even lower death rate than South Korea. At this point, the question of why Italy has a higher death rate is still a question.

The takeaway from statistics is that COVID-19 is comparable in danger to the flu in younger people, but harder on older people. Even so, the survival rate is still somewhere around 90% for those over 80. The problem with COVID-19 is that no one has any immunity built up for the virus, so everyone is vulnerable. When the flu goes around, part of the population is immune, so not everyone gets the flu. With COVID-19, it can run freely. This translates into many more people getting the disease, and even though the percentage of people requiring medical help is fairly low, the numbers can easily shoot past the capacity of the health care system’s ability.

Lessons from a cruise ship

Just today, an interesting analysis is being published about how COVID-19 acts aboard cruise ships. Several of these ships have experienced outbreaks, with some of them forced to keep everyone on board, but confined to their rooms. One ship was forced by Japan to remain locked down for two weeks. Meanwhile, health authorities did repeated infection tests to see who was infected. One thing they found was that 18% of those infected showed zero symptoms. This is a peek into an aspect of the disease that previously no one knew, because no one had done widespread testing among general populations. This means that one out of five people will never know they have the disease (unless they get tested). When the aspect of 18% not showing any symptoms is factored into previous known death rates, China's estimated infected death rate drops to .5% (about 1/8 of original estimates by WHO).

Another aspect they reported was that before everyone was confined to their rooms, the average infected person ended up infecting about seven others. After lockdown, the infection rate quickly dropped to less than one. This shows how effective lockdown can be. This can help us be more respectful to lockdown orders; they do work.

With all of this, we need to remember that this is just from one situation, and therefore we cannot make solid scientific decisions from this one set of data. A cruise ship is a different environment than general society. However, the data do give us an initial point of reference for how the disease operates.

Immunity

One early question, now just starting to get an answer, is whether people who get infected with COVID-19 will be immune to it afterwards. Most virologists seemed to think that there would be immunity, based upon their work with other viruses. The most recent evidence is indicating that this is very likely the case.

As we talk about immunity, we need to understand the basics of how immunity is achieved in the human body. Viruses are attacked by antibodies when they enter the human body. An antibody is a protein that is found in the blood, saliva, mucus, and other body liquids. In a way that I cannot wrap my little brain around, these antibodies are able to figure out methods to disable viruses (it is literally a chemical warfare going on in there!).

So, when a new virus enters the body, the body begins to build antibodies to attack the invaders. If the body is healthy it will begin production of antibodies, in a race to see who can outpace who: virus vs. antibody. If the antibodies win, they eventually kill all the viruses. If the viruses win, the body dies.

If the antibodies win, they will stay in the body afterwards. Sometimes this is for the rest of the person’s life (meaning lifelong immunity), but most times the antibodies eventually disappear. For colds, the average life of the antibodies is only a few weeks on average. This is why the average person gets a cold three times a year. For the flu, the average is a couple of years. But since there are so many varying strains of flu, and the antibodies for one strain may not help against other strains, we still can get the flu more than once every couple of years.

But this built-up immunity helps to stop the spread of flu. If that immunity was not there, a new flu virus could sweep through the population much like COVID-19 appears to be sweeping through.

Research has found COVID-19 antibodies in humans who recovered from the disease, giving hope that there is immunity against it once a person has been infected and recovered. This answers that big question in the earliest days of COVID-19. Now, in just the last couple of days, the U.S. government has given the green light for people who have recovered from COVID-19 to donate blood plasma. This plasma (which will have the antibodies against the virus) will then be given to three groups of people in a test program. The first group will be those who are in serious condition, the next group will be in those who have mild symptoms, and the third group will be to those who have not been infected yet.

Initial testing has shown that those who are seriously sick with COVID-19 may not benefit … they are too far gone. However, it is hoped that those who have mild symptoms may be kept from getting worse, and that those who have never had the disease will be immunized against it.

If these tests prove effective, it is hoped that the spread of the disease could be slowed down. There have been some negative results in previous tests of this type with other viruses, so some caution is being used.

Even if giving this antibody-infused plasma to the non-infected could produce some immunity, it will not be like the body producing its own antibodies. In other words, to maintain immunity, the recipient will need fresh doses. No one knows how long the COVID-19 antibodies will be effective, but one virologist noted that he expects “at least six months.”

The way forward

COVID-19 is here, and most likely here to stay, unless God would stop it. What should we do about it? What should our governments do about it?

Pray!

That seems like a stock answer, but I want this to be more than a stock answer. Here is why.

A computer model has been built with the currently known reproduction rate (spread) of COVID-19 and other factors entered. Without any lockdowns to prevent its rapid spread, the health care system will be overloaded in just a couple of weeks. Again, we need to remind ourselves that the death rate is not really all that much more horrendous than the flu, but the problem is that no one has immunity, and so everyone in a given community is susceptible.

If a two-week lockdown is factored into the computer model, things look better because the disease will be spread out a bit (flattening the curve). But the only way to not overwhelm the health care system, according to the computer model, is to have a two-month lockdown.

There are lots of variables to this, so the builders of the model are quite frank that the model could very well be off. However, there is no reason to think that it is just some fairy tale.

What are some things that could affect the model? For one thing, the flu season is so regular that doctors can depend on it: basically the winter months. No one knows why the flu disappears every year in March or April. Will COVID-19 act like the flu and disappear shortly? Or, will it be like colds, which are usually only in Spring and Fall? Or will it run year round?

Are the numbers punched into the computer model a true reflection of how COVID-19 acts? No one knows for sure.

Despite these doubtful factors, wisdom would tell us that this disease could produce an extraordinary number of people who will be sicker than normal in the next couple of months, with thousands of deaths. This is why governments are implementing lockdowns (although the factor of politics or societal pressure could play in as well in lockdown orders).

But there are “side effects” of lockdowns. While many people will be able to handle two weeks off of work, how many economic wrecks will happen in a two-month shutdown? Let’s ask some rhetorical questions.

Do we cause 500,000 people to lose their jobs to save 1,000 lives? Could the depression level among people who suddenly have lost their jobs, their homes (foreclosure), or apartments (living on the street), actually cause more problems than 1,000 people dying early from a disease? (Already, one news source is discussing how loneliness and depression may be affecting older people in Italy who are shut in because of lockdown.)

Where is the point where the economic consequences are worse than the disease? US President Donald Trump summed up that question by saying something like, “Let’s make sure that the cure doesn’t cause more damage than the original problem.” That represents one side: Can we all sacrifice financially so that a few people can add more years to their life? We as North American Plain people are for the most part financially set enough that we could weather several months of financial meltdown. Yes, we may need to share some, but that is good for us and builds brotherhood. Who should be first in offering to give up some financial gain so as help someone else through a pandemic? Should it not be God's people who are the most willing? Let us also remember the poor, in third-world nations, who will lose their jobs and not have a government nor a brotherhood to help them through the economic meltdown. An AP news report has this quote: “Our first concern is food, not the virus,” said Suresh Kumar, 60, a bicycle rickshaw rider in New Delhi (India). He said he has a family of six who rely on his daily earnings of just 300 rupees, or about $4. “I don’t know how I will manage.”

Only God knows the point where economic problems become greater than the health problems. We can discuss different models for society, but in the end we simply do not know which model would be best. When we stop to ponder this, we then realize that all of life has these types of quandaries, even without a pandemic in our midst.

The takeaway is this: While we always need wisdom from God, we need a double portion right now. Our government leaders need a double portion. Our church leaders need a double portion. We as individuals need a double portion.

Would you like to be President or Governor or Congressman right now? Would you like the responsibility to make the decision as to how long and how hard to make a shutdown of the economy? If you go too easy with the shutdown, thousands and thousands may flood the hospitals, and some will have to be turned away. If you go too hard, hundreds of thousands or millions may lose their jobs, and possibly their homes to foreclosure. This can lead to depression, or even suicide.

Do you see now why I said the only way forward from here is to pray?

I know many, if not all, of you have been praying. Let’s be faithful in continuing. We can also pray that God would simply have mercy upon His creation and stop this virus immediately.  Many people in the Bible asked God to "stay the plague" that had come upon them.  Can we not do the same?

We can also do good. Sew some masks. Call a quarantined person, or write them a letter, daily. Stick some cash into the pocket of the man who has just lost his job because of the shutdown, or give him a nice cut on his bill. Buy some groceries for someone. Offer to do lawn mowing or other chores for the quarantined. The quarantined can also find ways to be a blessing, by calling a lonely person, or praying for others. Write a hymn, start learning a foreign language, or brush up on Greek studies of New Testament words.

As I was writing this article, the following came into my inbox from a local community website. This blessed me!

Quote:

“This brought tears to my eyes!

"To the person that left a bag filled with bread and toilet paper on every mailbox/porch in our neighborhood. That was the sweetest thing I've seen done in a while! You are such an amazing person! Thank you! It was so refreshing to see the kindness in this world.”

End quote.

While this pandemic will bring a lot of sorrow to the world, can we commit to a goal of bringing more joy, somehow, some way, to counter it and even surpass it? Is it for this reason that God allows such tragedies to come to pass? Will we miss our chance?

Rise up, brothers and sisters! We have a beautiful opportunity knocking at our door!

~Mike Atnip

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Managing Editor's Note:
I have been involved with Christian Aid Ministries' Billboard Evangelism call center for the last ten years. Numerous people over the years have asked if they can use CAM's toll free number on their vehicles, ink pens, license plates, etc. CAM has discouraged this for several reasons. First, it is difficult for us to find the phone team help we need to handle the calls that come to us presently. Secondly, not everyone who is interested in using CAM’s phone number and gospel messages demonstrates a clear Christian testimony in their habits and driving practices. This could hinder the work we are trying to do with the billboards.
Consequently, a number of people have considered the possibility of starting a call center for people who do not see a CAM billboard, but need spiritual direction. Perhaps now (when people are at home and especially lonely, depressed, and struggling to relate to family members) is the time to launch this vision??? This is also a time when many Plain people are not able to work.
I am currently coordinating too many things and should not attempt another. But I would be glad to share what we’ve learned over the years with someone else if they would like to spearhead/coordinate something like this.
The easiest and fastest way to connect with people would be to launch a very simple website with a chat or email option allowing the public to connect with someone who could be an inspiration to them or a source of spiritual encouragement. With a bit more effort, phone calls could be forwarded to Plain people who do not have internet access but could talk on the phone.
From my perspective, this project would take a visionary or two who could articulate the vision and inspire people to get involved. It would require a coordinator to bring all the needed pieces together to make this happen. It would need an administrator to keep it going, a web designer & tech person(s), “operators” who could direct inquiries to the right person, and a lot of folks who could write or talk to people on the phone. This project could continue for a few weeks or months and then discontinue. Or it could be an endeavor that would continue on beyond the coronavirus pandemic if there were people and resources to keep it going.
So, if you have interest in helping with any of these positions, you can send us your contact information and what you would be glad to help with. We will put this on file. Once a coordinator has been identified, we can forward your information to the coordinator.
And finally, if you or someone you know might be interested in becoming a phone team member with Billboard Evangelism, I would be glad to hear from you! We are looking for men in the 45-65 year age range who can work part-time or full time.

Blessings,
Ernest Eby
news@plainnews.org

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