Don't treat the SARS-COV-2 virus lightly.
It's surprising to me to see how many people in the US are not concerned about the still mysterious disease, COVID-2019, which is causing so much havoc in China and now some other nations. While the numbers coming from China have been the source of some confusion and controversy, it is clear that the authorities there see something in Wuhan that is terrifying and requires draconian measures there in an attempt to contain the problem and draconian measures all over the country to prevent other communities from falling into Wuhan's tragic state. I am so grateful for the many resources the Church has sent to China and hope there will be more. But in my opinion, local communities in many parts of the world should prepare now. When the disease sweeps through a community, it rapidly overwhelms local health care systems, as may be happening now or soon in Korea, Italy, Iran, and other places. Face masks, food, and other supplies can suddenly be hard to get. Don't wait until there's an overwhelming crisis. Prepare now to get through this.

No, COVID-2019 is not just like a typical flu (which can be very deadly when millions are infected) nor is it even like SARS or MERS, which were very deadly, but did not spread rapidly. Failure to understand the profound differences could leave you and your family unnecessarily vulnerable. The disease has a long incubation period, making it hard to detect who is infected. Some infected, contagious people may not show serious symptoms or any symptoms at all. One of the things that kept MERS and SARS from spreading quickly was their deadly nature: people who got sick tended to become very ill and a high percentage died. But COVID-2019 does not take down its victims so dramatically, allowing it to spread much faster.

A sobering article was just published in the generally reputable Atlantic Monthly: "You’re Likely to Get the Coronavirus" by James Hamblin.  Credible epidemiologists see this virus as a serious threat that could infect 40 to 70% of the planet and kill millions. It may be hard to escape. For most, it may be an inconvenience and they will recover. But even then, there could be lasting impact from the measures taken to contain the virus. Preparation now is will. And perhaps at least understanding the threat may help us prepare to reduce risk.

The people I know back in China are affected in many ways by this outbreak. For those with loved ones in Wuhan or who may have been trapped there, it's a nightmare. For those in more distant, less affected cities like Shanghai, where I have been living for the 8+ years, the measures taken to control the disease have made life very difficult. Though there are not many scores of people dying in that beautiful city, the impact has been harsh for businesses, schools, and families. Many people feel like prisoners in their apartment complex. I wince just thinking of the many restaurant owners I know who probably can't operate at all or certainly won't get enough customers to survive for long. So many businesses are suffering and that means people will lose jobs, lose income, not have enough for rent, and have to forego many hopes and dreams, even if they all remain healthy. The impact this may have on students and their college plans (especially if they were preparing for study in a foreign university) may be devastating. So many lives are being affected in so many ways. But I worry most for my friends who are in the lower strata of that very stratified nation. My dearest friends include a family in a tiny farmer village of 180 people in Jiangxi Province who were already devastated with the swine flu that took out all the pigs that were an economic mainstay for many in that community. Now comes COVID-2019, on top of some other painful challenges they were already facing. How will they cope?

I have three friends currently in prison in China. One young Chinese man's mother, once a part-time maid for us, grieves, not even being able to find out what the status of her son is, apart from knowing that he was detained for allegedly transporting tainted food or fraudulent food. Lawyers we contacted recently to try to help her did not respond, and now the virus makes it much more difficult to find help. Two other expat friends are also in jail, awaiting trial, for whom we can do little and for whom I worry daily.

In any nation afflicted with an epidemic, I fear that the grave concerns over the virus might slow relief for all those seeking help in difficult circumstances. Those who are poor, who are in prison, who are ill and can't get medical care now, those in orphanages, those in refugee camps, etc. may be most grievously afflicted, but there is cause to mourn even for people in wealthy families where students may have hopes and dreams dashed, where fortunes may suddenly have reversed, or where businesses that employed hundreds may suddenly fail. I feel so helpless. We all do before such problems. But we can keep China and other afflicted nations in our prayers -- yes, Iran also, no matter how much political tension we have with that nation -- and do what we can to prepare for possible trouble in our own future, seeking to be able to help more in our communities should grave trials arise.

More research is needed to understand the virus and how it may be treated. Understanding why some nations and some communities have higher morality rates from this virus or from pneumonia in general may be valuable. I've seen some amazing quack medicine reports passed on by gullible friends such as claims that drinking garlic water eliminate the infection. But I've also seen some seemingly reasonable arguments for some unexpected but plausible connections between pneumonia mortality and other factors that I hope will be reviewed and explored by competent researchers. Funding for such R&D efforts may be a smart thing, along with efforts to create vaccines and other tools to help cope with a global pandemic (though I recognize that the sensitive and cautious folks at the WHO have not yet dared to call it a pandemic yet, though I suspect that will change shortly). Thanks to one of my readers who shared some fascinating information that could offer a valuable lead. This is a disease for which sharing and careful vetting of good information will be vital. Perhaps there are some breakthroughs just waiting for some open-minded scientific exploration.

Update, 2/28/2020: The missteps taken by the US in coping with the emerging Corona virus crisis are troubling. Why does China have functional test kits for the virus but the US does not? See the story, Caroline Chen et al., "Key Missteps at the CDC Have Set Back Its Ability to Detect the Potential Spread of Coronavirus," ProRepublica, Feb. 28, 2020. I hope we can get this problem solved quickly, even if we have to reach out to China for help.

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