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LCI Staff Reactions to the Reactions to the Pandemic (Before and After)

This article is comprised of essays containing our reflections and perspectives on COVID-19.

It’s been over a month since many state governors have ordered citizens to stay-at-home in their respective states, and even longer since COVID-19 has entered our national and global experience. People across the political, ideological, and theological spectrum are advocating a diverse array of theories, policies, and personal advice to a world blindsided by a major event unprecedented in our lifetimes.

It’s also been a wild ride for punditry. Just about everyone has had to walk back a prediction or forecast about what the data say or what the outcomes of a particular state action should be. For our part, we want to offer our perspectives on what’s happening. Some of us at LCI are in rural areas, and others are in epicenters of the pandemic. Not all are in the United States.

Dr. Norman Horn (Missouri)

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected my family and work quite differently than many of my friends and acquaintances. My job is in the infection control industry, so as you might imagine business is actually booming at the moment. In many respects, I’ve been serving the “frontline” people with as much knowledge and research I can muster up to make a difference. Plus, I already work from home most of the time, so there hasn’t been a “work transition” to which I had to adjust. The job has kept me extremely busy and I have had little time even to do what I would normally be doing with LCI. On the family side, my children are all younger and not in regular schooling, but my wife normally takes them out and about frequently. That most certainly has changed, and the effects at home are definitely a stressor to us all.

The nature of my work puts much of the activity surrounding research and policy at the forefront of my mind most of the time, so I think I have reasonable grounding for my thoughts on the crisis so far. I believe there was some prudence to the recommendation to practice some physical distancing in the early stages when there were many unknowns and the concerns were real. It was remarkable how America took the potential threat to heart and out of, what seemed at least to me, to be love and concern for their neighbors made sacrifices in the interest of “flattening the curve”.

The politics, though, has evolved into something that is distinctly unhealthy for this country and ultimately for the world in the long term. First, we had economic “stimulus” which is a fiasco overall. Now, we’re concerned about prolonged economic shutdowns which will have many negative unanticipated consequences even for public health. COVID-19 isn’t going away quickly, and that means we need to adapt in order to thrive. Requiring a lockdown in our homes regardless of age and health considerations until who-knows-when is not the best idea. The data is bearing out that while there are indeed dangers, they do not affect everyone equally. We do need widespread, reliable testing, we need active research efforts into cures, we need to improve our public health hygiene practices (my company can help with that), and we need to keep being productive because a collapsing economy is definitely a health risk too.

It behooves every one of us to keep learning, keep working in whatever way we can to be productive, and to actively seek the good of our neighbors. Don’t give into conspiracy theories, take the threat seriously, but do not panic. Humanity will adapt as we have time and time again.

Doug Stuart (Pennsylvania)

Under normal circumstances, quoting a mythical hero from a 2019 film set in 2025 would be a bit awkward. But my early reaction to how humanity will react to COVID echoes Tony Stark’s very human-yet-heroic response to Thanos. Upon returning to threaten to wipe out half of all life again, Thanos tells Stark: “You don’t give up, do you?” Stark replies, “Yep. We’re all kinds of stubborn.” Perhaps it is mystical naïveté hopeless optimism to believe we can give COVID a proper fight. But fighting for our survival is a feature of human existence, and I believe we will fight (and survive) COVID-19. In fact, I believe we will thrive in a post-COVID world. How we do so is, of course, up to us.

Liberty-loving Americans are rightly concerned about the threat of long-lasting state-imposed suppression of our rights and liberties. What is startling to me about the response to this pandemic is that many people think that command and control responses are the only way to fight this. “Strong leadership” is equated with heavy-handed, one-size-fits-all responses by state governors (though some have resisted the temptation). Even if one reluctantly agrees that temporary restrictions are necessary, what should trouble everyone is that state authorities have put themselves in a position where their actions are inscrutable. It’s a “heads I win, tails you lose” situation. It is this losing position that makes many of us feel outraged.

As we are nearing the end of state suppression, we must remember the power grabs and respond by grabbing that power back from the state. We should do whatever it takes to non-violently restore our liberties so that such an authoritarian period is but a mere blip.

Matthew Bellis (Pennsylvania)

From the moment that COVID-19 looked as though it would be a worldwide epidemiological nightmare, we as free individuals took the stress of the matter upon ourselves to shelter, lockdown, and flatten the curve. The experts seemed to be singing from the same hymnal, and the overwhelming din of medical prognostications lulled people all over the world into a subservient fear induced slumber. Thinking that we were doing the morally right and just thing, we allowed our lives and livelihoods to be intruded upon as a quartered soldier in the sanctity of our homes. As the days turned into weeks, memories grew longer. Individuals all over the country recognized the intrusion that had been so subversively and welcomingly induced had become a millstone of statism around our necks. Stories of devastating economic impact that started to rise and give a light of public scorn onto situations of abuse, suicide, depression, and complacency began to surface to the shared cultural consciousness.

Protestors grabbed their pickets, and a growing voice of opposition began to swell. Many called for reason, and petitioned their governments to use the science and data driven approach that had been originally touted, yet was quickly abandoned. Pressure began to rise in the state house, as well as the farmhouse, to reopen the state, remove the restrictions, rescind the shelter orders, and return to normalcy. Even as the pressure began to work, the science and metrics for decision making still did not make their way into movements of opening the state. The average sovereign citizen is left to wonder in what tarot carded logic was the lockdown put in place, and if the encroachment of his liberty was at best a political game.

Jacob Kim (Pennsylvania)

I am more concerned about the activities of the government and their consequences than I am about the virus itself. Whatever COVID-19 may end up being and how people remember this event, we will be wrestling with the harmful effects of government responses for a much longer period of time. Many people in our society have become overly dependent and trusting of our federal and state governments no matter who is president or governor. Those same people either ignore or are unaware of the medical, mental, dietary and financial needs of others. Authoritarian tunnel vision easily trades many lives in the future for a relative few today; it is easy because few others consider that cost in human life. Human creativity and innovation would have introduced a variety of choices to continue life with less disruption and possibly less loss of life. For example, many hospitals would not have discharged many patients to create room for the flood of virus patients only to remain largely empty.

Whether in the classroom or sanctuary, I am always preaching preparedness for future trouble. Prior to the virus, I urged my congregation in their relative calm to prepare their faith for unexpected trials; it seems logical to prepare when it seems as though nothing can go wrong. I asked them to prepare by growing in the knowledge of the word of God, by experiencing the daily vindication of a life of faith which prioritizes the word of God over human desire, by learning to trust the will of God no matter where it leads and what it brings. Now with the virus upon us and possibly waning, I continue to urge continued preparation for the next big test of faith. A stagnant faith is very much like a planned economy, inflexible and often on the brink of collapse. It is a living and growing faith which enables believers to meet and work through challenges. The Lord did not promise an easy life, but he assured us that he would be with us every step of the way. As we get older, our faith must continue to mature to handle the unexpected far more serious problems yet to come and to remember the blessings of the Lord.

His grace and peace to us all in the coming months.

Kyle Rasmus (Pennsylvania)

Reflecting on the events of this past month, I believe the Coronavirus reinforces a very important message for the modern church. For many, the only obvious way to combat the Coronavirus involves state intervention by way of lockdowns on local businesses that politicians deem “non-essential.” While it is not my job as a believer to decide what elected officials, businesses and individuals do, I am responsible for my own actions and attitude amidst this pandemic.

I believe it is possible for believers to secure victory during this seemingly hopeless season of life in the same that Christ does. The worldly response to the Coronavirus is not unlike what we see in the actions of the Nation of Israel throughout the Old Testament. God tells us to trust Him, yet we reject his desires for us as His chosen people and replace them with our own idolatrous ones. Reminding ourselves of Christ’s faithfulness frees us from the false belief that man has answers that God does not. For the modern church, maybe our victory is not won through public policy, violence, or coercion. As Christians, we must constantly remind ourselves of Christ’s example and allow our thoughts and actions to be influenced by His faithfulness.

Kerry Baldwin (New Mexico)

If I had to gauge the temperament of America based on social media, I’d say that far too many people are completely okay with accepting the state-sanctioned narrative. Only state-sanctioned science (from the CDC and WHO), only state-sanctioned media (from the mainstream networks, yes, including Fox!). Only state-sanctioned education (because homeschooling is authoritarian?!) What I see happening in the world right now is the abandonment of any remaining vestiges of humanity, dignity, and freedom. The powers in ivory towers have formed their conclusions, and are rejecting any findings that contradict their conclusions. This isn’t science! This isn’t journalism! This isn’t education! This is dogmatism. This is communism!

America didn’t build the most prosperous nation in the world through scientific consensus, or regurgitating political talking points, or by turning our children over to the government. Rather, we built communities through the freedom of inquiry, disagreement and dissent, and raising our children how we choose. Regardless of where one stands on the seriousness of COVID-19, what we need more than anything right now is the freedom to disagree with ivory tower powers, and not simply in our minds, but in our actions. Especially when so many experts are pointing to a myriad of factors which contradict the official narrative. This should cause us to stand up and take notice. Instead, we continue to hide in our homes, waiting for the next state-sanctioned instructions.

Surit Dasgupta (India)

This crisis we are faced with today is like a huge mirror that has been presented to us. One that magnifies what we have been doing wrong in society in terms of governance and common interaction. Pandemics will continue to remind us about our mortality, and they will continue to ask questions of us important, age-old questions such as, Should we focus on the use of force to control the population? Should we focus on protecting ourselves at all costs, even at the cost of our neighbors’ well-being?

In my country, people observe with glee when policemen display excessive force towards those who break lockdown laws. This mindset of the masses, as far as I’m concerned, is the real sickness. Once we are healed of this sickness by imitating the perfect human being in Christ Jesus, who voluntarily laid down his life for all of us, we can courageously tackle COVID. We must learn to stop sacrificing our neighbors, even in spirit. Loving our neighbors is the key.

Wade Beavers (Wyoming)

We have had the privilege of social-distancing in Dubois, Wyoming, a town of approximately 960 people (which, according to some, qualifies as the “most remote town in the lower 48”). Life is certainly different under the shadow of COVID-19 (no church, in-person school or sit-down dining), but daily life has not stopped and, in fact, the impact could be accurately described for most people as something more than an inconvenience but less than a disruption. Commerce here picks up significantly around Memorial Day and continues apace through Labor Day, but until then each year it is not uncommon for some shops to close and traffic to cease. In that environment, the Governor’s light-handed mitigation rules have not generated near the angst nor the disruption experienced in other parts of the country. (For reference, Wyoming’s population density is around 6 people per square mile; NYC’s, by contrast, is around 26,000 people.) Some of my rancher friends arguably wouldn’t even know things have changed but for listening to the news, which at least one of them has stopped doing.

It has been fascinating, however, to think about the virus and its disparate psychological impact on different populations. Like everyone else, I read and hear perspectives from culturally and geographically diverse sources. Many of those perspectives, or more accurately, opinions, would be alien to most of the people in Dubois. One venerated Christian organization sent an email newsletter yesterday with the following statement: “The global pandemic known as the coronavirus (COVID-19) is now a local crisis – everywhere.” That characterization is certainly untrue, as it would be inaccurate to describe the virus as a local “crisis” in Dubois and similar rural outposts across the country. That mischaracterization may be attributed in part to simple myopia; people focus on what’s around them. It seems, however, that certain cultures (including political cultures) are simply less defiant than others in denying the virus control over their state of mind and the conduct of their lives. (One can debate the prudence of that stance, but thus far there does not seem to be an inverse relationship between the gravity of perception and the gravity of medical impact.) Much of rural America understands that, for whatever reasons, COVID-19 has not resulted in the health crisis that many predicted and promulgated as the basis for the pandemic panic, and thus they are unwilling to capitulate to the worst of those fears in areas where the actual impact – other than the response – is statistically similar to the health risks we regularly face on an annual basis without panic, fear or, oddly, even temporal awareness. The people of Wyoming certainly don’t lack compassion for New Yorkers or their suffering, but the pervading sense of self-sufficiency and independence that defines Wyomingites leads them away from accepting vicariously the narrative that defines the reality of some pockets of the country and the psychological profile of much of the remainder.

Elias Hage (New York City)

As a doctoral student in NYC, I’m awed by how much change New Yorkers have tolerated thus far. That’s not to say that the change should not be tolerated, but I would not have guessed that thousands of bar, barber, and haberdashery owners would indefinitely close down their primary source of income. And I never could have imagined an Easter of empty churches. It’s all made me wonder how tenuous society and culture is.

I believe that the response to COVID-19 has greatly diminished its spread. I worry that people, having grown weary of staying home, will compare the number of infected to the original estimates and assume that the disease was not as serious as we made it out to be, rather than the fact that we succeeded in diminishing its spread. As a result, people may be less cautious during a second spike. Can NYC go through this again? I have my doubts.

Logistically speaking, I don’t understand why local and state governments are not taking advantage of the hundreds of public schools that have been closed for the year. Each school has hundreds of boxes of gloves, cleaning supplies, office supplies, etc. These supplies were purchased with money allocated for this school year, but they will not be used. The schools are already allocated money to resupply these goods for next year. Rather than leave these supplies in empty schools, they could be reallocated to police departments, fire departments, and clinics that currently need them.

Jamin Hübner (South Dakota)

A new virus emerged from Wuhan China that’s more virulent and possibly more deadly than the flu. Because it’s novel and because there’s no vaccine (and therefore because there’s substantial uncertainty), those in positions of authority (hospital boards, state governors, mayors, city councils, etc.) have tried to err on the side of caution to prevent needless death. The horrifying case of Italy (rightly) got everyone’s attention. In the process, of course, many working for the state have overshot their authority and their ability to both (a) obtain and properly sort through the right information, and (b) execute accordingly in the most efficient and wise manner. (No surprises here.) “Quarantine” is now applying to the healthy instead of the sick, and there has been little risk assessment (in both the medical field and outside of it) of diverting so many resources towards COVID. Nevertheless, despite staggering costs, defenestration of the Constitution and in some cases, common sense, I suspect the lockdowns will help de-intensify the spread of the virus. Regardless about “worth it” arguments, how generally effective such preventative measures have been may always be difficult to tell, but we will have much greater clarity a year from now looking back with tons of more relevant data. On the whole, I tend the lean in the direction of voluntarism when dealing with pandemics instead of coercion, though I doubt all data will simply support that bias.

On the economic side of things, the global economy has entered into the first phases of a depression (yes, the D word). The economy was already well on track for a recession (two consecutive quarters of negative growth/GDP) given (a) longest bull run in history; (b) a decade of zero interest rates; (c) multiple inversions of the yield curve (the only indicator that has 100% accuracy in determining a recession); (d) on-schedule for a contraction in the general 10-year business cycle. Furthermore, (e) the Federal Reserve central bank began massive overnight loans in September of 2019 (before COVID was even discovered) to maintain liquidity in the financial system (mostly, in my understanding, due to problems with hedge funds and over-leveraging). In short, you’d have to have your head under a carcass not to see disaster coming.

The effects of COVID-19 emptied a gas truck on a campfire — twice: (1) production cuts in China because of all those sick and unable to work, and (2) massive unemployment because of the lockdowns and self-quarantining. Something like this hasn’t really happened before in the last century, and it’s kind of a nightmare. In addition to this, the stock market is total chaos – the last two months being the most volatile in modern history (largely due to 10-15x leveraging by hedge funds, which is insane and should be illegal, just like borrowing more than you’re worth, lending more than you have, making promises you can’t fulfill, etc.). The Fed has fired all its nukes within a single week: (1) dropped interest rates to zero (again); (2) dropped reserve requirement to zero (!); (3) declared unlimited QE (money printing via asset purchases); and (4) increased overnight lending injections to even higher numbers than in late fall 2019. The government blew over a trillion dollars on “stimulus” (which will do nothing; most out of work will just pay their bills with it). The price of oil reached an unprecedented -$37/barrel (due to futures contracts), creating the greatest oil crisis in history – and helping Russia and China crush the U.S. shale industry for good. Unemployment has reached the worse level since the Great Depression. Mortgages are defaulting in possibly a bigger real estate crash than 2007. The Senate Majority Leader has suggested that states file bankruptcy while the President is wondering out loud about injecting sanitizer and sunlight into people’s bodies.

Good times.

The world will not be the same after 2020, and things will get worse before they get better. Businesses and universities will quickly go under, and jobs will be permanently erased as new technology will amplify the effects of the employment revolution. I am curious to see what other commodity prices will fall with oil and real estate in the next 24 months. As for me and my house, I sold all my stocks in February, took on a new full-time job to get cashflow and savings for the summer, and continue to take lots of vitamins, extracts, and eat healthy (…except for all the scotch and cookies that are necessary to get through these times). But I’m trying to think about my neighbors and those worse off and helping how I can; there will be a more abundant supply of opportunities to love those in need.

Nick Gausling (Texas)

A true pandemic should concern anyone, especially considering that pathogens don’t care about political boundaries. In that respect, a situation like this presents an opportunity to care for our neighbor on a global scale. And yet, much of the response in this situation has done the opposite. Fear-mongering by presenting highly-improbable worst-case scenarios as if they were confirmed facts, then shutting down whole sectors of the economy (destroying trillions of dollars in value) based on the unverified, rapidly-shifting models of a handful of people — most of which wound up being inaccurate by enormous magnitudes — is not loving.

Our progressive friends are usually quick to point out the personal dimension of business decisions, and yet many of them in this instance seem to have forgotten that lesson. The devastation to peoples’ income — their ability to buy food, shelter, and clothing — from an economic shutdown will wreck exponentially more damage than the virus ever could. If people were simply given the choice to keep their business open or not, or to shop or not, we would be a lot better off. The idea that this would cause mass transmission of serious diseases as businesses blindly stayed open and consumers blindly kept shopping regardless of an imminent, probable danger of contracting a fatal disease is pure fiction. Freedom and market-driven decisions are not at odds with public health.

Ruth Ryder (Indiana)

We have learned a lot about COVID-19 in the last few months, and it’s important to emphasize that medical science is always learning and trying to determine the best course of action based on the information available at the time. I am not an expert, but I have been listening to those experts who are on the front lines, and it seems clear that COVID is much deadlier than influenza, even if not as deadly as initially imagined. All of the measures to social distance, practice diligent hand hygiene, and protect the vulnerable are good measures to flatten the curve so as to not overwhelm hospitals. However, this could have been achieved through education and the voluntary cooperation of individuals and businesses, and not through government mandate.

Many people have been raised on the idea that there should always be a safety net, either from parents or government or God, to insulate them from risk. All of us are at varying levels of risk for serious illness or death when we become infected with COVID – and most of us will. Some of us are at a higher risk of personal harm due to the economic consequences of having their livelihood destroyed than they are of being seriously harmed by COVID. The elderly and those with compromised immune systems have a different level of risk. Those who live in areas with higher population density are at higher risk than those who live in the remote countryside. Risk is a fact of life. Risk is associated with almost everything we do, and its presence teaches wisdom and patience. Only the individual is capable of weighing the risks and benefits for whether they work or stay home, or for anything else they do. If my neighbor doesn’t even know enough about me to make wise decisions for me, government certainly is in no position to do so. Stopping COVID-19 is not the only thing that matters for human flourishing, and the best thing government can do is to let people make their own decisions.