Still talking about COVID

More than two years on the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be a major factor in our lives. The Omicron variant spreads more easily than the original virus and the Delta variant. The current case rate in our county is 267 cases per 100,000 population, which is slightly higher than the state rate of 239. That translates into 609 cases reported last week. Accurate numbers are very difficult to obtain. Cases are underreported because not everyone who gets sick from the virus is tested and some of those who test positive on home rapid tests do not report. It is also the case that some duplicates are a part of the official statistics. While official reports help to get a sense of trends, they don’t tell the entire story.

Another way to gauge the impact of the pandemic is the percentage of hospital beds currently occupied by COVID-19 patients. Our county reported 9% of hospital beds occupied by COVID-19 patients last week. That rate has been hovering around 10% in recent weeks, which is considered to be moderate compared to earlier phases of the pandemic. More people are testing positive for the virus, but fewer are ending up in the hospital. This trend is approximately what researchers predicted for the ongoing pandemic. Subsequent variants become more easily spread, but cause less serious illness.

Vaccination rates are rising. While vaccination helps to slow the spread of the illness and those who are vaccinated may experience milder symptoms if the disease is caught, vaccination is not a guarantee that a person won’t become infected. Increasingly we hear anecdotal evidence of vaccinated people who have contacted the disease.

This week we decided to change a major faith formation event that we have planned for November from an in-person gathering to a virtual event. With case rates running high, we decided that bringing in a speaker from Massachusetts and gathering neighboring churches was not a good idea given the risk to people’s health. We are working hard to make our virtual event as strong as possible. We are getting better at virtual events. But we are disappointed to have to change our planning. In the scheme of things it is a small change. Still, it is frustrating to still have to change our plans due to a pandemic that we expected to be over by now.

The statistics of this pandemic are so overwhelming that they are hard to process. Virtually everyone knows someone who has become ill from the virus. Most of us have multiple friends who have died. COVID-19 has killed 6.32 million people worldwide. 1.01 million have died in the United States. That is a lot of grief. In addition to the grief over deaths, there is grief from jobs lost, careers changed, and loneliness from isolation. Our people are sad and grieving, and we are not able to minister in the ways we once did because of the precautions that the disease demands.

Yesterday thousands of people gathered in Washington, DC, for the Poor People’s and Low-Wage Workers’ Assembly and Moral March on Washington. Rev. William Barber, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign addressed the rally on a wide variety of issues and topics related to poverty. Among them was the disproportionate impact of the COVID pandemic on low-income people. In April the Poor People’s Campaign released a study that showed that Americans in poor counties died at nearly twice the rate of those in richer counties. “Poor people have been 2 to 5 times more likely to die from COVID during this pandemic so far, and we know this can’t simply be explained by way of vaccination results; it’s related to the discrimination in our policy toward poor and low-wealth people,” he said.

COVID-19 protocols will be a part of our common life for some time to come and we don’t know how long that time will last. We have also been told by researchers that COVID-19 could become one of multiple pandemics that will appear in years to come. Despite the rapid decline in their use following the lifting of mandates, masks still are effective in limiting the spread of illness including COVID-19. We are learning to carry masks with us wherever we go and to use them whenever we are in crowded places. Our church continues to require masks for in-person gatherings, which means that we are unable to serve food indoors. That is a huge change for an institution that was used to serving refreshments after weekly worship and regular potluck meals.

Now, this far into the pandemic, we are noticing a kind of COVID fatigue. People are tired of isolation, tired of special protocols, and tired of Zoom meetings. One of the things we hear regularly from the people we serve is the desire to get together in person. Engaging in ministry is a balancing act of responding to the needs of our people while doing what we are able to prevent further spread of disease.

As I write this morning, I am aware that I have already written most of what I know about the pandemic. There is nothing new in today’s journal post. Like other themes to which I return from time to time in my journal, COVID is a topic that keeps showing up. It continues to occupy my conscious thinking when there are so many other topics I want to address. I suspect that regular readers of my journal are tired of the topic as well. COVID, however, is still with us. It is still shaping our decisions and our actions. It is still a threat to the lives of vulnerable people. We are still learning how to deal with its effects.

For now we’ll keep KN-95 masks and rapid test kits among our health care supplies. While we don’t expect to become used to the procedure of swabbing our noses, we have resigned ourselves to the necessity of doing so from time to time. We will do what we can to help prevent the spread of disease. And we will keep revising our plans for church programs and activities as we learn the art of ministry during a pandemic. We will continue to use the tools that our ours including social media and video conferencing despite our desire to be together face-to-face. And we will pay attention to the statistics and respond to the grief of those who lose loved ones and advocate for equal access to care for those who are infected.

As usual, we’ve got our work cut out for us.

Made in RapidWeaver