This article is Part 2 in a series 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.